The power of superfoods
We’ve all heard the term ‘superfood’ being thrown around over the past decade and for many of us, this has admittedly caught our attention. The problem is, with almost every week having a new vegetable, fruit, or nut being labelled as a superfood, we are often left wondering - is this all just a superhype?
In this blog, we break down what exactly is a superfood, and share a list of some of the most common superfoods you can easily incorporate into your diet.
What is a superfood?
Believe it or not, the origin of ‘superfood’ appeared in the early 20th century as a strategy to market bananas. Introduced by The United Fruit Company, the term was used to promote the fruit as a convenient source of cheap and easily digestible nutrition. While nutritionists and dietitians may not have defined it, and there’s no scientifically based or regulated definition for the term itself, in general, a superfood is a food that is laden with natural nutrients that can have specific health benefits and functions.
The 5 most popular superfoods
1. Dark leafy greens
Flashback to the days when you were told to eat your greens – well, this was for a good reason! As nutritionist Taylor Wolfram says, the darker the green, the more nutrients it contains. Chlorophyll makes up the vibrant color for greens such as spinach, arugula, kale, broccoli, and swiss chard. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, the dietary fiber found in dark greens can decrease the risk of colorectal cancer.
Spinach is heralded for its high levels of iron, potassium, and magnesium and is packed with vitamins A and K. Research also supports that spinach can prevent inflammation and oxidative damage to cells. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, bok choy, brussel sprouts, and kale contain powerful compounds called indole glucosinolates which help to regulate a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut.
From acai, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, every type of berry earns its superfood status and is always ranked at the top of any superfood list. Brimming with antioxidants that help fight against cancer-causing free radicals, berries are also credited for their low-calorie, low-sugar, and high fiber levels.
The star of the show, however, is the blueberry. An abundance of anthocyanins lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, it also improves weight maintenance, reduces inflammation, and slows down aging. According to a publication by Advances in Nutrition in July 2019, blueberries have also been found to help lessen the risk of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
3. Garlic and onions
Pungent yet powerful, allium vegetables such as onions, garlic, leeks, and chives all deliver potent health benefits. From antiviral and antibacterial properties, many cultures use these vegetables for these medicinal purposes. According to a published meta-analysis by Food Science and Nutrition, some compounds found in allium vegetables suggest they can protect against multiple cancers and benefit people with diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
Another plus? They’re delicious and can be used in so many dishes!
4. Ancient grains
Eaten for thousands of years across China, India, Africa, and the Middle East, ancient grains are a group of grains and seed-like grains that have been minimally processed.
Unlike modern grains (such as rice and pasta), ancient grains keep their nutrient-dense kernel (the outer layer), which contains the bran, endosperm, and germ that holds all the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.
Studies have shown that these types of grains can prevent cholesterol from being absorbed in the gut, improving overall cardiovascular health. Examples of ancient grains include quinoa, buckwheat, rye, bulgur, and spelt.
5. Healthy fats
Yes, we know the title isn’t a specific superfood per se, but we wanted to categorize some superfoods into our final entry.
Healthy fats refer to monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids. These types of fat are considered good for heart health and cholesterol and also helps minimize the risk of strokes. Fats are essential to build cell membranes and to support muscle movement, inflammation, and blood clotting.
The best examples of superfoods with good sources of healthy fats are:
· Nuts & seeds – a great source of fat, fiber, and a plant-based protein
· Oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines) – loaded with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and high-quality protein
· Avocado – high quality polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and high levels of magnesium that helps regulate blood sugar and blood pressure
· Extra virgin olive oil – loaded with antioxidants, contain vitamins E and K-has been shown to lower blood pressure, fight inflammation, and reduce heart disease and stroke risk.
As far as superfoods go, the key is that you consume a variety of wholesome foods in their purest form. A downside of the concept of superfoods is that many of us will start focusing on only a small handful of options. If we focus too much on micronutrients, we can miss out on essential nutrients and health benefits from other food options. Remember to maintain a holistic mindset when it comes to your diet and healthy eating – diversity is key!
Author: Courtney Black