If we're going to be eating anything, no question we're going to want to be eating superfoods. Foods that help us watch our weight, give us endless energy, promote good overall health, have all the vitamins and minerals we need, and taste great. Everything that is packaged basically makes a health claim touting its ability to be natural, low-fat, nutritious, filled with fibers and grains, and have the highest nutritional value. But truly, some foods are far more "super" than others when it comes to overall health.
There's no accepted definition for a superfood, except that often you know it when you see it. Leafy greens, for instance, probably have more nutrients, phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals than virtually anything you can eat. The most nutritious and loaded ones are spinach, mustard greens, kale, and collard greens. You can add them to salads and they have very high levels of folate, potassium, calcium, and vitamins A, C, and K. Remember that you don't always have to eat them raw, they can be added to almost anything, including blended into juices and smoothies.
The category known as cruciferous vegetables is particularly healthful. Cauliflower has glucosinolates and broccoli has glucoraphanin - both cancer fighting chemicals. They reduce the production of free radicals and promote a healthier environment for the body. More people like Brussels sprouts than you'd imagine, and the glucosinolates they contain help detoxify the body. Other good tasting vegetables include avocadoes (which have healthy fat content), asparagus (which supplies half the body's daily need of folate and Vitamin K), edamame (with over 20 grams of plant protein), bok choy and mustard greens.
Fruits are notorious superfoods. Apples have antioxidants which help vision and reduce cancer risk. Pumpkin has alpha and beta carotene, oranges (just one gives you close to all the vitamin C you need for the day), grapes (they have the same plant chemical as the red wine promoted to be heart healthy), and blueberries (which have phytochemicals and flavonoids that fight disease), all are particularly healthy and also delicious. Blueberries also have high fiber content and reduce bad cholesterol, and are great as snacks instead of less healthy alternatives.
Superfoods can be found when you look for alternatives for foods you like that may be just as tasty but more healthy. Soy milk, for example, is a great choice of vegetable protein and has as much Vitamin D and calcium as the traditional variety of milk. Instead of white bread, a whole wheat English muffin saves at least a third of the calories and provides needed fiber. Lean turkey breast can proved 20 or more grams of protein for less than 100 calories per serving. Three to four ounces of salmon is an outstanding source of Vitamin D, protein, virtually all B vitamins and heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids. And nuts from walnuts to Brazil nuts have been shown to add alpha-linoleic acid, omega-3s, and gamma tocopherol that help improve memory and concentration and may ward off diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Perhaps just as important as anything you do in buying foods and shopping is to become a good reader. You can never take a manufacturer's word that something is filled with whole grains, has all the vitamins you need, or is nutritious or heart healthy. Learn to be a label-reader. How many calories are there in a serving? Does that one package you thought had a serving really have three servings and those calories and chemicals should be also multiplied by 3. Are there truly no trans- or saturated fats? There are many times you'll just hold up that label, put the food back that you thought was healthy, and choose an alternative right alongside that tastes just as good and is far more nutritious. Remember, the ingredients list what is present from most to least prevalent. You may not want to pick up something with fruit when there are five other ingredients and additives that are more plentiful in the processing.
Lastly, eat processed foods with caution. Superfoods in a can or mixed with other food additives may lose some of their potency and benefit when mixed with unhealthy alternatives, such as sugar or preservatives. Cooking may disable some of the healthy vitamins and they can be cooked or processed right out of the mixture to have less of the perceived value. The real deal is most often the natural form of food the way nature intended. You'll be surprised after a few weeks of eating healthy how many of the foods you ate before just don't taste as good. Most importantly, you'll be doing yourself a favor, having more energy, and staying healthier every step of the way.
Authored by Dr. Bob Goldstone, M.D.
The information contained on this page is not intended to provide medical advice, which should be obtained directly from your physician.