You’ve heard of superfoods, right? Maybe you’re wondering what all the hype is about. I mean, are these foods wearing a cape and fighting crime under the cover of darkness? Well, sorta…except for the cape part. Superfoods are crimefighters for our bodies, if you consider cancer and other age related diseases criminals. Which I do, of course. These nutritional superstars help reduce inflammation, offer protection against heart disease, and support healthy immune function. Superfoods are first and foremost whole foods that are minimally processed, if at all. They are packed with wholesome nutrients, healthy fats, high quality proteins, and of course, antioxidants. More importantly, the claims about superfoods are also backed by fairly strong science. Best of all, you can find many of these superfoods in ready supply throughout the season at your favorite farmers market, ahem….
Top Ten Superfoods
10. Berries. Either fresh or frozen, healthy berries include raspberries, blueberries and strawberries. Eat them as nature intended or toss them into smoothies, in fruit salads, with yogurt or baked into healthy desserts.
Elderberries are known for their anti-viral properties.
Blueberries are rich in antioxidants, phytoflavonoids, potassium and Vitamin C. They help reduce inflammation, heart disease risk and protect against certain cancers.
The antioxidant, anthrocyanins, found in dark blue and purple berries protect the micro-vascular system, including tiny blood vessels to the eyes. A half a cup a day of blueberries is often recommended by nutritionists.
9. Alliums. Garlic, onions, shallots, chives, scallions and leeks are familiar alliums. For me, these are culinary staples. I like to use them liberally in almost every meal I cook. These vegetables are rich in flavonoids that stimulate the liver to produce its most potent antioxidant, glutathione. Glutathione enhances elimination of carcinogens and toxins in the liver.
Garlic lowers blood clot risk. It encourages the immune system to produce more natural killer cells to fight infections and tumors. Garlic has both antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Onions are known for their heart-healthy benefits. They are a rich source of sulfur and the antioxidant quercetin.
8. Orange and Red Vegetables and Fruit. Peppers of all colors, melons, sweet potatoes, oranges, vine-ripened tomatoes and red cabbage are nutritional superstars.
Orange fruits and vegetables are rich sources of beta-carotene and Vitamin C.
Lycopene in tomatoes, especially when cooked, protects against various cancers, especially prostate cancer.
Carotenoids in pumpkins, sweet potatoes and carrots help the immune system defend against cancer and aging.
7. Greens. Greens are rich in vitamins, minerals, chlorophyll, phytonutrients and fiber.
Wheat grass, kale and Swiss chard are green all-stars. I like to camouflage the taste of these powerhouses in my daily green smoothie with a banana, carrots, and peanut butter (all natural, of course). Daily smoothies are a great way to add more greens to your diet.
Spinach protects your eyes from macular degeneration and your cardiovascular system from disease.
Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables earn a place on the superfoods list in more than one category because they are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. They are touted for their liver supporting, cancer-fighting ability.
6. Dark Chocolate. Oh yeah, here’s the good stuff!! An ounce or so of minimally processed dark chocolate a day is a great source of antioxidants and magnesium. When it comes to chocolate, the darker the better – at least 75% is best. For the most benefit, buy raw cacao as the nibs or powder. My favorite is the Lindt 85% Bar, although I feel like one day I’ll find out they’ve been lying to me since its SO. DARN. GOOD.
5. Fermented, cultured foods. Fermented, cultured foods make the top 10 superfoods list because they deliver healthy bacteria to the gut. Probiotics are essential to a healthy immune system and digestion. These foods have a long history as dietary staples. In some cultures, a small serving of cultured vegetables is served with the daily meal (think kimchi).
Yogurt and kefir are rich sources of protein and calcium. Kefir is made from different cultures than yogurt and is usually a fizzy, thick, sour drink.
Raw sauerkraut and a variety of cultured vegetables are rich in vitamins, enzymes and healthy bacteria.
4. Nuts and Seeds. Nuts are a good source of protein, heart-healthy fats and antioxidants.
Pistachios contain cholesterol lowering plant sterols. Brazil nuts contain selenium for cancer protection. Pumpkin seeds are rich in prostate protecting zinc. Pomegranate seeds are noted for keeping LDL cholesterol from oxidizing.
Eat one ounce of nuts a day to enjoy their benefits, including appetite control. A small handful makes a great snack.
3. Fiber-rich Foods. Fiber makes the top 10 superfoods list because it is essential to the proper functioning of the digestive system. Fiber helps you feel full longer after a meal, absorbs toxins on the way out of the body and feeds healthy bacteria in the intestines.
Soluble fiber promotes healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Insoluble fiber absorbs water and bulks up stools. Your body needs both kinds. Manufacturers add inulin (mostly from chicory root) to foods as fiber. This type of fiber feeds healthy bacteria, but does not offer the same benefits as soluble and insoluble fiber. So the best fiber comes from real whole foods.
Excellent sources of fiber include whole fruits, vegetables, beans.
Whole grains contain some fiber. If you are sensitive to glutenous grains, try buckwheat. Buckwheat is a gluten-free fruit. It contains all eight essential amino acids and is a better source of complete protein than soybeans. It can be ground into flour or eaten as a hot cereal.
2. Avocados. Yes, they are high in fat, but they contain a healthful monounsaturated fat that has been linked to a reduced risk of certain cancers, heart disease and diabetes.
They are LOADED with fiber and are a good source of lutein, an antioxidant linked to eye and skin health.
They aren’t exactly locally grown, and you probably won’t find them at the farmers market (unless you happen to be in Mexico or Costa Rica) but they are so good and so good for you, that I just HAD to include them in this list!
And the Number 1 Superfood….
Quality Proteins. Protein is the essential nutrient used in building and repairing body tissues. It is a building block of enzymes and hormones.To protect proteins from damage, cook meats for longer periods at low heat.
Eggs contain twelve vitamins and minerals including choline for memory and brain development. Hard-boiled eggs make a nutritious snack.
Wild-caught salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring are good sources of quality protein and essential Omega-3 fatty acids that protect against heart disease, memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, inflammation, and depression.
Chicken, turkey and some cuts of pork are lean sources of protein. Grass-fed beef, buffalo and venison are naturally low in saturated fats.
Include foods from this list daily to see the health benefits. The best part is that you will be able to find most, if not all, of these foods at your local Farmers Market. Aren’t you ready to start eating powerfully?!?
See you at the market!