The Truth Behind Superfoods
In our attempt to stay disease-free, some of us turn to nutritious foods. The concept of a “superfood” can be attractive to those of us looking to make positive changes to our health. We might picture a miraculous food with unique properties, such as boosting weight loss or treating sickness.
The question is, do these foods really work miracles? Or is this simply a passing trend? In this article, you will learn more truths behind superfoods and why certain foods are labeled with such titles.
Find out by reading on!
What are Superfoods?
Superfoods are nutrient-dense foods deemed beneficial to a person’s health. They contain potent nutrient compounds, such as antioxidants, fiber, fatty acids, and phytochemicals, that help boost energy while the body is regulating disorders like high blood pressure, hyperglycemia, and elevated cholesterol and fighting infections.
The idea of superfoods may be new to you, but they’re not just a bunch of vegetables wearing a cape. These foods can boost your health and protect your body from developing certain diseases.
However, the original concept of a superfood was created as a marketing gimmick to capitalize on a growing health and anti-aging trend in the food industry rather than referring to a food’s nutritional value.
What is Considered a Superfood?
To be considered a superfood, a food must have an exceptionally high concentration of nutrients, be associated with reducing illness risk, or provide multiple additional health benefits.
Superfoods are high in nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, while also low in calories. They have been shown to help prevent heart disease, cancer, and other lifestyle-related health conditions.
Therefore, the majority of superfoods come from plant-based sources. Among their many other beneficial compounds, plants contain significant amounts of phytonutrients like flavonoids that are known to possess anti-inflammatory and antioxidative qualities.
In addition, foods containing high amounts of fiber may also be considered a type of superfood. After all, fiber supports a healthy microbiome and has the potential to reduce bad cholesterol levels, prevent cardiovascular disease, and manage type 2 diabetes.
Even though it may sound like it, superfoods aren’t hard to obtain. They can easily be found on the shelves of most supermarkets, and pretty much all health food stores carry them.
The Top 10 Superfoods
Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, bok choy, radishes, turnips, and arugula are all cruciferous vegetables that are part of the Brassica genus. These vegetables are excellent sources of carotenoids, vitamins C, E, and K, folate, minerals, and fiber.
According to various studies, cruciferous vegetables help lower the risk for many types of cancer. In fact, a high intake of these powerful veggies can help protect against prostate cancer. How? Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower contain phytochemicals that inhibit the growth of tumors and prevent the proliferation of cancer cells.
Whole grains differ from refined grains in terms of the processing procedure. They are less processed, meaning the bran, germ, and endosperm are left intact. These three layers are responsible for the health-boosting nutrients found in whole grains—really makes you wonder why they took out the good stuff to begin with!
Whole grains are rich in fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. And evidence of their benefits is very clear. Two meta-analyses suggested replacing refined grains with whole grains to help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer. And two large prospective studies and a systematic review of the evidence showed that eating whole grains lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, and death from all causes.
These small, sweet fruits rich in fiber and antioxidants are linked to many health benefits. Some popular berries are blueberries, acai, goji, cranberries, and raspberries.
A study on the positive impact of berries on cardiovascular health showed they help reduce bad cholesterol and regulate blood glucose levels. Even though more evidence is needed, blueberries are being studied for their contribution to weight loss, noncommunicable disease prevention, and neuroprotection.
Legumes are one of the largest groups of plant food sources belonging to the Fabaceae family. Some examples are soybeans, peas, kidney beans, chickpeas, and black beans. A great source of protein, legumes are also rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, folate, iron, and healthy fatty acids.
A meta-analysis looking at the relationship between nuts and legumes and ischemic heart disease, stroke, and diabetes found that consuming legumes regularly can reduce the risk of coronary artery disease. Similarly, various studies have also linked legumes with cancer prevention, improving digestive health, reduced risk for type 2 diabetes, and weight management.
Green tea is a beverage made from the dried leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. It contains few calories and is a rich source of catechin and antioxidants, phytonutrients responsible for the tea’s anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic qualities. Matcha is a high-quality powdered form of green tea created by shading the plants, enabling them to retain higher quantities of their beneficial compounds.
A study showed how green tea can help manage stress from mental tasks. Thus, green tea has been linked to promoting mental alertness and headache relief. In addition, the catechins in green tea (found in higher levels than in black tea) have been shown to prevent the development of cardiovascular disease, infections, and cancer.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds may be tiny, but they hold large amounts of protein, fiber, and monounsaturated fatty acids. Nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts are the seeds of tree plants. What we usually think of as seeds, such as sunflower, chia, and flax, are obtained from vegetables, flowers, and crops.
Turmeric, a plant belonging to the ginger family, is commonly used as a cooking spice and for medicinal purposes. Its yellow pigment curcumin, a polyphenol, is responsible for turmeric’s antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antidiabetic properties. Moreover, the use of turmeric to alleviate chronic conditions such as arthritis, digestive issues, allergies, liver disease, and cardiovascular and pulmonary disease is recently being more fully explored.
Avocado is an edible fruit from the Lauraceae family of trees. It is a rich source of fiber, potassium, folate, monounsaturated fats, carotenoids, and other beneficial phytonutrients.
An epidemiologic study supported the consumption of avocados to help lower the risk for cardiovascular and coronary heart disease. Another review also explored avocados’ potential for weight management, preventing cardiovascular disease, and improving aging.
Fermented food products
Yogurt is fermented milk made with the bacterial strains Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. Even though most yogurt products are not plant-based, it was added to the list of superfoods for its calcium, protein, and probiotic content.
Furthermore, it has been shown that consuming yogurt can also help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
But before you toss some yogurt into your shopping cart, make sure to read the food label. Opt for the one that is plain, naturally processed, and free from added sugars. Then, check to make sure it contains “live and active cultures.”
Kombucha is a beverage made from fermented black, green, or oolong tea. Like most tea, kombucha contains polyphenols known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In a literature review, its role in disease prevention and central nervous system health was explored. Kombucha has shown promising health benefits in animal studies, but the authors recommend more clinical studies in humans to confirm these findings.
Kimchi is a traditional food hailing from Korea. It is made from fermented vegetables, usually cabbage or radish, with other phytonutrient-rich ingredients such as garlic and ginger. The beneficial lactic acid bacteria it contains are responsible for its anticancer, antiobesity, antioxidative, anti-aging, immune, and brain health-boosting properties.
Kefir is a fermented beverage made from milk, kefir grains, beneficial bacteria, and yeast. Its flavor profile is like drinkable yogurt—sour and acidic. Besides providing all of the benefits of fermented foods, it has antibacterial properties that can inhibit the growth of certain harmful bacteria.
There is not just one food type that can provide all of the nutrients your body requires. A healthy and balanced lifestyle can increase your chances of living a long and disease-free life. Here are some suggestions on how to best nourish your body.
- Eat a variety of foods every day.
- Eat more vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and nuts.
- Reduce your intake of animal products, especially red meat and processed meats.
- Minimize your intake of lean meat, fish, poultry, and eggs.
- Consume less salt, fat, processed foods, chemicals, and sugar.
- Eat more fiber.
- Replace harmful fats with healthier ones.
- Drink enough water.
- Avoid consuming more calories than you need.
- Avoid or minimize alcohol intake.
Superfoods are becoming more known in the wellness community for a reason. While there is not just one type of food that can provide complete nourishment, a variety of superfoods are available to include in your daily dietary choices. Because they are backed by research, these foods have been shown to be beneficial for overall health.
In our attempt to stay healthy and active, we turn to nutritious foods. These superfoods are gaining popularity for the many nutrients they offer. Now that you know which healthy ingredients to work with, you can start planning more of those nutritious home-cooked meals.