Eating a diet full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can help people feel better, provide multiple health benefits, and even reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases. Superfoods are one aspect to a healthy diet. While there isn’t an exact definition of a “superfood,” they’re generally considered nutrient dense powerhouses that provide large amounts of antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals. Here are some of the benefits of eating these foods and a few tips on how to incorporate them into a healthy diet.
- Benefits of Superfoods
- General Superfood Tips
- Types of Superfoods
- Cooking with Superfoods
- Tips on Pairing Superfoods
Benefits of Superfoods
- Many superfoods are high in fiber. According to the Mayo Clinic, fiber can lower cholesterol levels, lower blood sugar levels, and aid in achieving a healthy weight, which can help normalize digestion, maintain bowel health, and even prevent many digestive problems..
- Superfoods rich in antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, have been found to help prevent multiple diseases, including heart disease and cancer. This is due to the ability of antioxidants to help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.
- Superfoods are high in a plant substance called phytochemicals. They have been found to aid the immune system, protect cells from damage, reduce inflammation, slow the growth cancer cells, and help regulate hormones.
- Carotenoids, including beta carotene and lycopene, may inhibit cancer cell growth, reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, and boost even immunity. These certain types of antioxidants are typically found in tomatoes, orange squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
- Superfoods, such as berries, apples, tea, and walnuts are rich in flavonoids. Flavonoids may help fight inflammation, decrease damage to DNA, and even reduce cancer growth.
- Anthocyanins found in berries may help lower blood pressure. They have also been found to improve vision, reduce cancer cell growth and formation, and prevent diabetes.
- Superfoods are also rich in isothiocyanates, such as sulforaphane. This substance, found in broccoli, cauliflower, and kale, may help protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease.
- Dark, leafy greens, such as spinach and chard, are high in lutein and zeaxanthin. These two substances have been found to reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases, including AMD and cataracts.
- Some superfoods are also rich in healthy fats. Healthy fats can help to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, lower bad LDL cholesterol levels, lower triglycerides, fight inflammation, and lower blood pressure.
- Beta carotene is an antioxidant that has been found to improve cognition, promote skin health, reduce macular degeneration, and prevent cancer. It is found in superfoods, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe.
- Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant with many health benefits, including reduced damage from the sun, improved heart health, and protection from certain types of cancer. It’s most effective when consumed from lycopene-rich foods like tomatoes, red bell peppers, pink grapefruit, and apricots.
- Selenium, found in brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, and eggs, has many health benefits. It has been found to reduce the risk of cancer, protect against heart disease, prevent mental decline, and improve thyroid health.
General Superfood Tips
- There isn’t an authorized list of superfoods. Generally, superfoods must be a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, high in phytonutrients and antioxidants, reduce the risk of heart disease. They also should be easy to find and purchase, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Don’t try to eat just one type of superfood or eliminate all other types of food besides superfoods. Eating too much of one type of food actually can backfire and be detrimental to health outcomes, while preventing people from getting the wide variety of nutrients they need.
- Eat the colors of the rainbow each week. To make sure they’re getting enough superfoods, people can try to challenge themselves to try fruits and vegetables of different colors each day or see if they can consume a rainbow of fruits and vegetables throughout the week.
- Fill at least two-thirds of each plate with plant-based foods. Plant-based foods are the highest in antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals, so it’s a great idea to fill up as much of each plate as possible with these nutritious foods.
- Think in terms of adding, not subtracting. Healthy eaters don’t have to give up their favorite foods. Instead, add on superfoods, such as leafy greens on a sandwich or berries on top of breakfast cereal.
- Make one change at a time. Likewise, healthy eaters shouldn’t overhaul their eating completely. Start small and make tiny dietary tweaks, one at a time, until they become healthy habits.
- Keep trying. It can take some time before new foods become favorite picks. If a new healthy eater doesn’t like a particular food at first, they should try it again in a new and exciting way before writing it off entirely.
- Take the easy route. Instead of taking all the extra time to chop and prepare superfoods, those who are new to healthy eating can start with the easy route and purchase packaged and pre-prepared superfoods.
- Be adventurous. To get off to a great start on a healthy eating journey, people can subscribe to a healthy cooking magazine or purchase a healthy cookbook and experiment with recipes that taste great and are a little outside their comfort zone.
Types of Superfoods
- Most superfoods are plant-based, but some fish and dairy also make the cut. Plant-based foods are often the highest in antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals, but fish is high in omega-3 and certain dairy products, such as yogurt, are a good source of probiotics.
- Vegetables make up the largest group of superfoods. This category includes foods like leafy greens, including kale, microgreens, collard greens, spinach, cabbage, and mushrooms. They’re rich in vitamins A, C, and K and are packed full of fiber. They’re also so low in fat and calories that it’s possible to eat a large amount of these foods without overdoing it.
- Blueberries, raspberries, goji berries, strawberries, avocados, and more are all healthy fruits that are considered superfoods. They’re high in fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants, including anthocyanins and polyphenol.
- Superfoods include grains, such as quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat. They’re rich in fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants and can help reduce inflammation, prevent certain diseases, and promote a healthy weight.
- Fish, packed with protein, vitamins D and B2, and healthy omega-3 fatty acids, is another superfood. Fish has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, lower symptoms of depression, and much more.
- Eggs are another type of superfood. They’re rich in choline, which is an important nutrient for the brain, as well as iron, phosphorus, and selenium. They’re also great sources of protein, selenium, vitamin D, and multiple B vitamins.
- Kefir and yogurt are two types of dairy products that are high in probiotic. Probiotics help populate the gut with beneficial bacteria, which helps improve digestion, reduces the risk of bowel diseases, and may even improve other health concerns, such as anxiety and depression.
- Nuts, such as almonds, pistachios, and walnuts, are also considered superfoods. These nuts are high in healthy fats, fiber, and protein, as well as many antioxidants and beneficial properties.
- Flax, chia, and hemp seeds are also superfoods. These healthy seeds include omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and protein and can help reduce blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure.
- Herbs are another type of superfood. Herbs, such as cloves, sage, oregano, and thyme, are rich in antioxidants and reduce low-density lipoproteins, also known as “bad” cholesterol.
- Spices, such as turmeric, cumin, and cinnamon, area also considered superfoods. In fact, herbs have been used as medicinal superfoods for centuries. They have numerous benefits, including reducing inflammation, lowering triglycerides in the blood, and lowering blood sugar.
- Herbal teas are high in natural antioxidants, called polyphenols and catechins. These natural phenols in tea help prevent cell damage and reduce free radicals.
- Oil is the last type of superfood. Though most varieties of oil don’t make the cut, olive oil and avocado oil are both considered superfoods due to their high content of monounsaturated fats, vitamins E and K, and powerful antioxidants.
Cooking with Superfoods
- Puree superfoods to sneak healthy nutrients into other foods. Add a puree of roasted vegetables into mac and cheese or marinara sauce. Pumpkin, zucchini, or carrot puree adds moisture to breads and muffins and ups the nutrient content.
- Chop it up and stir it in. Diced vegetables work great in soups, stews, omelets, quiches, and so much more without even changing the flavor or texture of the dish.
- Substitute superfoods in place of less healthy options. Yogurt can be used instead of vegetable oil in baked goods, sweet potatoes can be used in place of white potatoes, and spaghetti squash can be used instead of pasta.
- Roast vegetables for better flavor. Roasting vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and peppers causes them to caramelize, which reduces bitterness and enhances their natural sweetness.
- Dip them in low-fat or fat-free dressings. Bell peppers, carrots, broccoli, and celery can all be chopped up and served with delectable dressings. Just be sure the dressing isn’t loaded with fat or sugar.
- Blend them up. Superfoods make a great addition to smoothies without impacting their flavor. For instance, puree some kale or spinach with a banana and some plant milk, and it’s nearly indistinguishable.
- Enjoy superfood desserts. Top desserts with favorite superfoods to increase their nutrition. Top a piece of chocolate cake with berries or toss in some heart-healthy nuts into ice cream.
Tips on Pairing Superfoods
- Certain superfoods work better together to sort of supercharge their effects in the body. The ingredients used in a meal can affect the absorption of vitamins, minerals, and other important compounds.
- Pair foods rich in iron with those high in vitamin C. A study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences showed that ingesting vitamin C with foods rich in iron helps the body absorb more iron. Iron helps improve general energy and focus, digestion, and boosts the immune system.
- Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble. In other words, eating foods rich in these specific vitamins, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, apricots, spinach, and kale, with healthy fats (like olive oil) helps the body absorb them more efficiently.
- Consuming inulin fiber-rich foods can assist in the absorption of calcium. Inulin fiber is found in foods like bananas, garlic, and onions, while calcium can be found in yogurt, beans, salmon, and broccoli.
- Calcium should be consumed with vitamin D to help with absorption. Calcium supports strong bones and healthy teeth, and most Americans fall short of getting the amount of calcium they need. Pairing calcium with foods rich in vitamin D helps the body absorb more than it would on its own.
- Zinc should be paired with vitamin A. Zinc helps bring vitamin A from the liver to the retina in order to produce melanin, which helps protect your eyesight and prevent certain eye diseases, such as macular degeneration.
- Adding lemon juice to green tea not only perks up the flavor of the tea, but actually increases the body’s ability to absorb its catechins. A study by Purdue University found that citrus juice boots the bioavailability of antioxidants by more than five times.
- Fruit and chocolate is a match made in heaven. When foods that contain catechins (found in dark chocolate) and quercetin glycosides (found in apples) are ingested together, they work to help prevent heart disease and boost heart health.
- Turmeric must be paired with piperine for the body to absorb the maximum amount of curcumin. Researchers have found that piperine can improve the absorption of curcumin by 1000 times. Curcumin is the substance in turmeric that gives it its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antiviral, and antibacterial properties.
Superfoods are a healthy addition to any diet. They’re nutritious, packed with antioxidants and plant compounds, and help stave off diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.