What is a superfood?
Superfoods are incredibly nutritious, whole foods that offer a wide arrange of essential micronutrients in high quantities, like vitamins and mineralsthat we need for our bodies to run smoothly and stay disease-free.
Along with essential nutrients, superfoods can heal because they contain very potent and unique compounds beyond vitamins and minerals that protect our immune system, stop renegade cells from reproducing and even kill harmful bacteria in our guts.
These news-worthy compounds like antioxidants, sulforaphanes, and healthy anti-inflammatory fats are just another reason why these foods are so super.
Most superfoods also happen to be low in calories, are very easy to integrate into many diets (from low-carb, dairy free, to paleo) and are gluten free!
And unlike supplements that aren’t always digestible or have the same consistent potency, superfoods happen to have the perfect delivery mechanism for getting these great healing compounds into our bodies — they really do have the whole package, they are real unprocessed foods that our bodies break down and extract nutrients with precision while filling us up with less calories, sugar and fats compared to the packaged stuff.
Though there is no legal or medical definition, superfoods are nutrient powerhouses that pack large doses of antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals. Eating them may reduce the risk of chronic disease, and prolong life, and people who eat more of them are healthier and thinner than those who don’t. Read about several foods that are considered super, what health benefits they offer, and how to fit them into your diet.
When it comes to your health, these foods pack the biggest nutritional bang for your calorie buck. From energy-boosting fruits to snacks that fight wrinkles, these foods are changing the way we define “health food.”
Why Do You Need Superfoods?
Most people in America are overfed and undernourished, because they eat large portions of all the wrong things.
A regular diet doused in sugar, low-grade saturated fats, white processed carbs, and artificial preservatives and colorings fosters not only weight gain and depression, but even more dangerously, a steady level of inflammation throughout the body.
According to medical experts like Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Barry Sears, and Dr. Mark Hyman, chronic disease can be triggered from persistent low level inflammation (and would thus be considered one of the root causes of every modern disease).
So why should you care about inflammation? Inflammation is the auto-immune reaction to push blood and antibodies to a wounded site. Normally, it’s a good thing, but when it happens in a steady low-level state, it can attack tissues and cause havoc with organs and blood vessels, and impede brain function.
Respected medical expert Dr. Sears even goes as far to measure future health based on clinical markers for inflammation.
Inflammation isn’t just caused by stress or eating junk food — it can also be caused by regular undiagnosed food allergies to foods that are normally classified as healthy (like wheat, nuts, dairy, fish, and soy). If you suspect you have a food allergy, try an easy elimination diet to get answers. No matter the cause of regular low-level inflammation, the side effects can range from heart issues, stomach troubles, or even bouts of depression and tender joints.
Superfoods Quench Inflammation
Superfoods have the natural ability to neutralize inflammation and in some cases, reverse existing cell damage.
You’ll find superfoods in many healing ways of eating like the anti-inflammatory food pyramid from Dr. Weil. So a diet high in superfoods not only arms your body with high doses of vitamins and minerals, but they also introduce a world of immune protection with antioxidant power.
Two Rules for Cooking Superfoods
So, eating and cooking more with superfoods is one of the best decisions you can make. But as a professional chef and health coach, there’s a few rules to abide by:
Rule 1: Never overcook superfoods. High heat can damage delicate water-soluble vitamins (like C) and destroy antioxidants that reside in the pigments of plant based foods. Lightly sautee vegetables over medium heat in good quality fats like olive oil, grapefruit seed oil (and even pasture-raised butter if you don’t have heart issues).
Rule 2: To get the most nutrients from your superfoods, synergized by food combining. Most superfoods contain compounds that are better absorbed when eaten with fats, warmed or consumed with other foods that work like a key to unlock their full power and even aid in absorption.
Eat leafy green superfoods, like kale, Swiss card, and bok choy with a health fat source. Enjoy iron-rich super foods like lentils and quinoa with food that are high in vitamin C (like citrus, kiwi, and broccoli). Eat super spices like turmeric and cinnamonwith a fat source in a warm dish, like warm milk or a warm rice casserole with nuts.
1. Greek Yogurt
Regular yogurt’s thicker, creamier cousin is chock-full of protein and probiotics. It fills the belly, improves digestion, and bolsters the immune system. Plus, it’s a great healthy recipe substitute for sour cream, cream cheese, and even mayonnaise!
This teeny-tiny, grain-like seed packs some serious nutritional prowess. With a mild, nutty flavor and a texture similar to rice or couscous, quinoa is one of the only grains or seeds that provides all nine essential amino acids our bodies can’t produce themselves. And it’s filled with protein— eight grams per one-cup serving, to be exact!
Don’t worry; these berries won’t cause an oompa-loompa-like reaction. In fact, they’re nutritional superstars, filled with fiber, vitamin C, and cancer-fighting compounds. And studies suggest blueberries may even improve memory !
This rough and tough green beats out all the rest in terms of nutrition, providing more antioxidants than most other fruits and veggies! It’s also a fantastic source of fiber, calcium, and iron. Prepare it virtually any way, from boiled or steamed to roasted (try it as a chip!) or stewed.
Ch-ch-ch-chia! Yep, this little seed is the same as those adorable little ceramic animal planters of the 90s! But don’t worry, the nutritious part is not the clay pot. Chia seeds are actually loaded with the most essential fatty acids of any known plant! Plus, one serving of the stuff is loaded with magnesium, iron, calcium, and potassium.
High in fiber, antioxidants, and tons of other nutrients, this breakfast staple has been shown to help lower cholesterol levels, aid in digestion, and even improve metabolism . And it’s downright delicious— especially when flavored like pumpkin pie!
7. Green Tea
This ages-old health secret has been used as a natural remedy for everything from cancer to heart disease! The secret to this delicious drink? Antioxidants! The main superhero here is Epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, a phytochemical that slows irregular cell growth, which could potentially help prevent the growth of some cancers.
This lean, mean, green machine is packed with vitamins, minerals, disease-fighting compounds, and the fiber essential in any diet. Though all members of the cruciferous vegetable family are super-duper healthy, broccoli stands out for its exceptionally high levels of vitamin C and folate (which can reduce riskof heart disease, certain cancers, and stroke).
Vitamin C is the superstar of this superfood. Just one cup of these red beauties satisfies the daily requirement for vitamin C (74 milligrams per day for women, 90 for men)! Studies suggest the antioxidant helps build and repair the body’s tissues, boosts immunity, and fights excess free radical damage. And the vitamin C in strawberries could help promote healthy eye function.
This heart-healthy fish is packed with protein and a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids, which studies suggest may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. And bonus points: Salmon may also protect skin from the sun and the damaging effects of UV rays .
Low in sugar and high in vitamins A and C, this summer treat is the prefect fresh, low-calorie snack. Studies suggest watermelon could also potentially lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. And the lycopene in watermelon could help protect the body from UV raysand cancer .
Antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and vitamins that promote vision and bone health are what make this little ol’ green so super. And those bones will be thanking spinach, too! Just one cup of the stuff packs up to 12 percent of the recommended daily dose of calcium and enough vitamin K to help prevent bone loss .
These lil’ nuts are hiding lots of protein and fiberbehind their earthy flavor and nutty crunch. Plus, they’re naturally cholesterol-free. A one-ounce serving of these nuts has almost as much potassium as one small banana.
A relatively inexpensive protein source loaded with nutrients, eggs certainly earn their superfood status. A single large egg is just about 70 calories and offers six grams of protein. Eggs are also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for normal body function and heart health .
Surprise! Almonds are the most nutritionally dense nut, meaning they offer the highest concentration of nutrients per calorie per ounce. For just 191 calories, a one-ounce serving provides 3.4 grams of fiber (that’s about 14 percent of the daily recommended value) and a healthy dose of potassium, calcium, vitamin E, magnesium, and iron. Plus, you can eat them as BUTTER!
Slightly spicy but oh-so-enjoyable, ginger has been used for years as a delicious flavoring and an all-natural remedy for everything from an upset stomach to unwanted inflammation.
This all-star veggie contains tons of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can help fight disease and strengthen vital organs. And their purple hue may be the secret to their healthy success— some studies suggest betalains, the purple pigments in these veggies, may help ward off cancer and other degenerative diseases .
High in protein and low in cholesterol, beans of any variety can add a healthy twist to any dish (even brownies!). They’re also loaded with fiber, folate, and magnesium, and studies have shown that legumes (like beans) can actually help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of certain cancers (at least in rats…) .
Loaded with antioxidants and vitamins, these gourds aren’t just for carving (or making into pie). The star nutrient here is beta-carotene, a provitamin that the body converts to vitamin A, which is known for its immune boosting powers and essential role in eye health .
Say it with us, people: “Fiber is good.” And apples are a great low-calorie source. (A medium-sized apple weighs in at under 100 calories.) Plus, upping apple intake has been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, diabetes, and asthma .
It’s time to work these fall favorites into dishes year-round. Whether it’s in the shape of a can or fresh off the stove, cranberries have a handful of health benefits and disease-fighting powers. These bacteria-busting berries can help fight inflammation, reduce the risk of heart disease, improve oral health, help prevent ulcers and yeast infections, and may even inhibit the growth of some human cancer cells .
Yes, it might leave breath less-than-desirable, but these cloves can do more than flavor— they’ve been used for centuries as food and medicine. These days, garlic is used to treat anything from high blood pressure and heart disease to certain types of cancer. Plus, studies suggest garlic extract can be used to treat yeast infections in women and prostate issues in men .
While all the vitamins and minerals are a great bonus, the real star here is cauliflower’s cancer-fighting compounds, glucosinolates. These phytochemicals are responsible for cauliflower’s sometimes-bitter flavor, but they have also been shown to prevent damage to the lugs and stomach by carcinogens, potentially protecting agiainst those cancers . And thanks to interactions with estrogen, cauliflower may also help prevent hormone-driven cancers like breast, uterine, and cervical .
Leeks owe many of their anti-cancer superpowers to their organosulphur compounds. These nutrients have been credited with everything from kicking cancer to boosting immunity . Studies also suggest leeks could help protect the digestive system from stomach and gastric cancers .
They’re pretty cheap, easy to prepare, and high in protein, iron and other essential nutrients. Need we say more? The iron may help fight off anemia (a condition that’s especially common among vegetarians and vegans), and they’re low on the glycemic index, too. That means they cause blood sugar to spike less quickly than other starches, so our energy lasts longer .