Properties of Superfoods
1. Nutritionally Dense
Although there's no official definition of a superfood, one of the characteristics of a food considered to be exceptionally healthy is that it's high in essential nutrients. This means a superfood will have a lot of fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are vital for first-rate health.
2. Beneficial to the Immune System
There's little hard proof that certain foods are immune system boosters, but there's a lot of clinical evidence that some foods and spices will strengthen your resistance to illness. As one common example, chicken soup has always been considered to be effective for fighting colds. Only recently, scientists have identified micronutrients in chicken soup that fortify the immune system. Most superfoods are believed to have similar pathogen-fighting effects.
Beneficial molecules, enzymes and bacteria can strengthen the body's own detoxifying capability, and many of these are found in superfoods. For example, eggs contain a lot of sulfur, a key component in the disease-fighting molecule glutathione. Glutathione, linked to mitochondrial health, is an antioxidant that helps prevent damage to cells from oxidative stress.
4. Rich in Antioxidants
Antioxidants, a vital component of healthy foods, are on the radar of most people. They combat free radicals, incomplete rogue molecules that scavenge healthy tissues to find what they need. Superfoods contain antioxidants that can deactivate free radicals, keeping them from damaging your health.
5. Rich in Phytochemicals
Carotenoids, flavonoids, anthocyanins and isoflavones are a few of the phytochemicals that are found in plants. We get these beneficial compounds by eating fruits and vegetables, and they're also found in grains, nuts and legumes. Some phytochemicals are so important to wellness that they're classified as phytonutrients, micro-compounds known to have a positive effect on health.
Choose Organic Fruits & Vegetables
Differences have been found in the level of nutrients and antioxidants in organic produce compared to conventionally grown fruits and veggies. Organically grown grains often have lower trace amounts of toxic metals, possibly due to the absence of chemical fertilizers. If you eat superfoods that aren't organically farmed, you're still getting the benefit of the superior nutrition packed into them. Buying produce in season, eating a variety of different foods and scrubbing fruits and vegetables before eating them will diminish the effects of any pesticide or fertilizer residue.
Organic produce is often more expensive than commercially grown fruits and vegetables. One way to get around the added expense is to buy locally from providers that use organic farming methods. Another way to get the freshest and healthiest produce is to grow your own! When you shop at the grocery store, remember that 'natural' and 'organic' aren't the same thing. The word 'natural' is a marketing tool designed to make consumers believe the food they're buying is healthier.
6 Superfoods You Need to Eat Weekly
Blue and red colored berries have high levels of the antioxidant anthocyanin, which can help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow.
Tomatoes are a readily available type of red berry. Classified as a fruit, these large, smooth berries also contain a powerful antioxidant called lycopene. The reason tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene is that they're often prepared with oil, whether in a salad, casserole or pasta dish. The oil makes the antioxidant more bio-available, allowing the body to absorb it more effectively.
Watermelon, another type of berry, is also an excellent source of lycopene and, as you might guess, this beneficial ingredient also gives the fruits their red coloring. Lycopene not only works as an excellent antioxidant, but it also inhibits development of excess cholesterol in the body.
Blueberries are especially rich in anthocyanins, and they have a high vitamin C and fiber content.
Raspberries, cranberries and strawberries are other common berries that are packed with vitamins and antioxidants.
- Guava and jackfruit also have high levels of lycopene, but these are exotic fruits that are hard to find in the United States.
Beans & Legumes
Beans are the fruit of a plant and legumes are the seeds, and we include both when we refer to the benefits of beans. All beans and legumes are high in fiber, and one of the best ways to keep your heart healthy, not to mention your digestion, is to have enough fiber in your diet. These foods also contain a lot of needed protein, but they don't have nearly the levels of saturated fat and cholesterol that red meat does.
The phytochemicals and antioxidants in beans are other reasons they're in the superfood category. To get all the benefits from eating beans that you can get from red meat in your diet, you should consume different kinds of beans and legumes. They each have unique health-giving ingredients and disease-fighting properties.
Black Beans contain anthocyanins, plant pigments that give blue and purple fruits and vegetables their deep color. Like lycopene, anthocyanins are highly effective antioxidants. Research has tentatively confirmed that these blue and purple foods have positive effects on the cardiovascular system and hinder cancer and dementia.
Red Kidney Beans include more omega-3 polyunsaturated fats and antioxidants than any other bean. They've been linked to improved brain function and have a high thiamine content. Thiamine is a nutrient that's been identified as a possible barrier to the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
Lentils are high in vitamin B6, folate, manganese and thiamin, all important to good health. Lentils and kidney beans may reduce the growth of polyps in the intestinal tract. Replacing meat in the diet with lentils has been linked to reduced incidence of heart disease, and they're one of the only foods that provide the anti-inflammatory compound selenium.
White Navy Beans are excellent for heart health since they have the highest fiber of any bean and a significant amount of potassium per serving. Limiting salt and increasing dietary intake of potassium is a healthy way to lower your blood pressure.
- Soybeans are versatile in the types of foods that can be prepared with them. This legume is the only one that contains all the essential amino acids, making it a healthy substitute for some of the red meat in your diet. Soy has high levels of antioxidants called isoflavones, and studies have indicated soybeans may reduce the risk of stomach cancer and heart disease.
Isn't it yummy that this favorite made it onto the superfoods list? When we think of chocolate, sweet milk chocolate comes to mind, but that's not exactly the best way to get your chocolate ration for the day. Dark chocolate is better for you, and 70 percent or more cacao content is best. Classic Mexican mole sauce is made with chocolate in the recipe, and that's a savory way to include some of this healthy food in your diet.
Chocolate is full of antioxidants and it helps your body absorb and deliver oxygen, which means it's beneficial for wound healing. It also has antibacterial properties and may lower cholesterol levels, slow cognitive decline and reduce cardiovascular risk. The healthy ingredient in chocolate is cacao, and it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. It's also full of flavonoids and polyphenols that lower blood pressure and reduce oxidative stress.
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, one of a family of vegetables that have health-giving phytochemicals and a high density of vitamins and minerals. The cruciferous vegetables include cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage and bok choy. One cup of fresh, raw broccoli gives you a complete day's requirement of vitamins K and C. It also contains folate, vitamin A and other vitamins necessary for good health. Researchers have found evidence that the anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral ingredients in cruciferous vegetables may reduce the incidence of cancer.
This superfood is high in anti-inflammatory molecules and antioxidants that reduce oxidative stress, and it boosts immune function in the body. Broccoli is also high in vitamin C, which is necessary for the repair of all the body's tissues. The health-giving component that gives broccoli much of its value is called glucoraphanin, an antioxidant enzyme that helps protect cells by detoxifying carcinogens before they can do damage.
Why is kale such a superfood compared to other types of greens? One reason may be that it has more in common with cruciferous veggies like broccoli and Brussels sprouts than lettuce. Low in calories, kale is high in fiber and protein. It also has significant amounts of vitamins A, C and K and the B vitamin folate that's vital for healthy brain function. Similar to red and blue foods, the nutrient lutein not only provides health benefits but gives kale its deep green coloring. Lutein and zeaxanthin in kale have been identified as substances that may protect against cataracts and macular degeneration of the eyes.
You can eat kale raw or sauté it with olive oil and pepper, a couple of other healthy additions to your diet. Kale chips baked in the oven with olive oil and pepper are a tasty snack. The calcium and iron in kale are more easily digested than in many other foods, and it's high in magnesium, potassium and antioxidants. Kale has high levels of glucosinolate phytonutrients that have been identified in studies as inhibiting cancer cells, and the fatty acids in this superfood have been linked to a lowered risk of heart disease.
This is a tasty and pungent spice made from black peppercorns that grow on a climbing vine. The peppercorn is actually the berry of the plant. One of the most beneficial aspects of black pepper is that it interacts with other healthy foods to make them more bioavailable. For example, adding black pepper and oil to turmeric gives you a healthy dose of the beneficial substances in both spices. Pepper is thought to be a detoxifier, and it can help with weight loss because it breaks down fat cells. It also helps with digestion by eliminating excess gas and releasing digestive enzymes.
The antioxidant vitamins A and C are found in black pepper along with flavonoids like carotenes and lycopene, and it's high in potassium. Piperine, a key ingredient in pepper, is being explored for anti-cancer properties. Pepper is an antioxidant and antimicrobial spice, and clinical studies suggest it has the ability to lower blood pressure. To get the most benefit from black pepper, use fresh peppercorns and grind them as needed. Commercial preparations lose some of the health benefits through evaporation of the piperine oil during processing.
Your Consumption of Superfoods
The human body is an awe-inspiring biological machine. The key to optimal health in thousands of bodily functions is homeostasis, or balance. Here's an accurate definition of homeostasis:
"The state of equilibrium (balance between opposing pressures) in the body with respect to various functions and to the chemical compositions of the fluids and tissues."
What this means for you is that all of these superfoods are beneficial in moderation, and none of them are magic bullets that will suddenly create glowing good health. People tend to assume that if a food or spice is good for you, more must be better. But that's not the way the human body works, and any food or spice can cause unpleasant side effects if it's consumed excessively.
Including each of these superfoods in a balanced diet allows you to sample a variety of beneficial and tasty foods and spices. The key is to give your body enough of the raw materials it needs to maintain the balance and equilibrium that will help you feel good, look good and be as healthy as possible.