Superfoods are foods that have a very high nutritional density. This means that they provide a substantial amount of nutrients and very few calories. They contain a high volume of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. Most of them are plant-based, but some fish and dairy also make the cut
Antioxidants are natural molecules that occur in certain foods. They help neutralize free radicals in our bodies. Free radicals are substances that occur naturally in our bodies but attack the fats, protein and the DNA in our cells, which can cause different types of diseases and accelerate the aging process.
Antioxidant molecules decrease or reverse the effects of free radicals that have close links with the following health problems:
- heart disease
- respiratory diseases
- immune deficiency
Some Popular Superfoods
The higher levels of flavonoids in berries have been shown to lower the risk of heart attack. A few commonly identified berries include acai berries, blueberries and goji berries.
Acai Berries: These are small, dark purple berries grown in South America. They contain 19 amino acids and many antioxidants.
Blueberries: These are high in fiber, manganese, and vitamin K. Cranberries are high in a particular flavonoid that helps lower the risk of urinary tract infection.
Goji Berries: These are a small red berry native to Asia that are high in vitamin C and E, along with many different types of flavonoids. They are frequently used in Eastern medicine to help treat diabetes and high blood pressure and maintain eye, liver, and kidney health.
Soybeans have a high concentration of isoflavones, a type of phytochemical. Phytochemicals are compounds that occur naturally in plants.
A few studies have shown that soy may prevent age-related memory loss. Soy isoflavones might also reduce bone loss and increase bone mineral density during menopause, as well as decreasing menopausal symptoms.
Tea contains few calories, helps with hydration, and is a good source of antioxidants. Catechins, potent antioxidants found primarily in green tea, have beneficial anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties. Green tea may also have an anti-arthritic effect by suppressing overall inflammation.
4. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens such as Kale, spinach, beet greens and collard greens are rich in vitamins A, C, E, and K, and many B vitamins. Leafy greens also contain an abundance of carotenoids, iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium.
Kale and other leafy greens are high in fiber and water content, both of which help to prevent constipation and promote regularity and a healthy digestive tract.
The high omega-3 fatty acid content in salmon and other fatty fish, such as trout and herring, can decrease the risk of abnormal heartbeats, reduce cholesterol and slow the growth of arterial plaque.
6. Dark Chocklate
Research has found that dark chocolate is high in flavonoids. Flavonoids demonstrate antioxidant activity, prevent coronary heart disease and certain types of cancer, and boost the immune system.
The component in chocolate specifically responsible for these benefits is cacao powder. Manufacturers derive this from cacao beans.
7. Sweet Potato
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of fiber, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, iron, magnesium and potassium. All of these nutrients can help prevent heart attack, keep you looking younger, promote immune system health, improve vision and maintain healthy teeth, bones and skin.
Some other superfoods gaining popularity include: garlic, wheat grass, beets and beet juice, turmeric, barley.
Benefits of superfoods
The high vitamin and mineral content found in superfoods can help your body ward off diseases and keep you healthier. When incorporated into a well-balanced diet, these foods can promote heart health, weight loss, improve energy levels and even reduce the effects of aging.
Regularly eating fruits and vegetables also has strong associations with a lower risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions and overall mortality. Antioxidants found in many superfoods may help prevent cancer, while healthy fats can reduce your risk of heart disease.
Fiber, which is also found in many superfoods, can help prevent diabetes and digestive problems while phytochemicals have numerous health benefits including reducing your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. They are also known to protect your organs from toxins, help lower cholesterol, regulate metabolism and reduce inflammation.
Eating a well balanced diet
It’s important to note that while superfoods are good for your health and provide many nutrients you need on a daily basis, eating superfoods alone does not contribute to a healthy diet. Eating too much of one type of food can actually be detrimental to your health and prevent you from getting all of the nutrients you need. For this reason, they should be added to a well-balanced diet, not replace one.
A well-balanced and nutritious diet should include fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, legumes and nuts while limiting the intake of sodium, bad fats and refined sugar. When combined with exercise and regular physical activity, a healthy and nutritious diet can work wonders for your health.
Taking superfoods in supplement form is not the same as getting the nutrients from the real foods. Many supplements contain ingredients that can cause a strong biological effect on the body. Supplements might also interact with other medications. Taking supplements could result in vitamin or mineral toxicity, affect recovery after surgery, and trigger other side effects.
Tips for safe use of supplements include:
- Use non-commercial sites for information, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and FDA.
- Beware of claims that a product “works better than a prescription drug” or “is totally safe.”
- Remember that natural does not always mean safe.
- If using supplements, the FDA recommends choosing high-quality products that have been tested by a third party.
Making superfoods a part of your daily diet is almost always of great benefit. But you need to understand what you are getting into. They are powerful. You should be careful with them. Introduce your body to them slowly, preferably one at a time from a reputable provider who really knows their product. Carefully observing the effect of each superfood slowly over time should ensure that you are gaining maximum benefit and avoiding any side effects or allergic reactions.