What is a superfood?
You’re probably familiar with the superfoods that get a lot of attention: hello kale, salmon, and blueberries! However, there are many more superfoods that line the (outer) grocery aisles, and are probably already in your refrigerator or pantry. Keep in mind that all fruits and vegetables are good for you in their own way, providing unique nutrient combinations that aid our wellbeing. While there is no formal definition, superfoods are nutrient-dense foods—meaning that they pack a large amount of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals) for their serving size or calorie content. Many superfoods act as antioxidants, which fight free radicals—highly reactive chemicals that cause damage to our cells. Free radical damage has been associated with cancer, heart disease, eye disease, and memory decline. What’s more, nutrient-packed superfoods can also lead to healthier aging, improve skin, and boost energy.
While superfoods may frequent the media spotlight, they should not be thought of as trends because they are simply real foods with stellar nutrient profiles. Fruit and veggies aren’t going out of style anytime soon, friends! The buzz around these foods becomes cautionary once companies start to include them in products solely for marketing advantages and financial profit. Cereal, chips, crackers, and cookies are all processed food that should be limited or eaten in moderation regardless if they contain goji berries, almonds, or dried kale.
Take home advice: eat the rainbow
Include a colorful variety of superfoods in your diet to supply your body with the mix of nutrients needed for optimum function and repair. Eating a wide range of foods also reduces your exposure to repetitive pesticides. A good way to switch up your plate is to buy seasonal produce, what looks the most appealing at the market each week, or join a CSA.
You don’t need to search for exotic foods; examples of everyday superfoods that pack a healthy punch and are accessible at most supermarkets, include:
· Dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables: bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, spinach, Swiss chard
· Other vegetables: artichoke, butternut squash, mushrooms (technically fungi), pumpkin, red bell pepper, watercress
· Fruits: apples, avocado, blackberries, blueberries, lemons, raspberries, strawberries, tart cherries, tomatoes
· Nuts/Seeds: almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds
· Legumes and beans
· Dark chocolate, cocoa
· Proteins: eggs, Greek yogurt, salmon
· Spices: cinnamon, clove, garlic, turmeric
What about super herbs? Why aren’t they on the list?
Adaptogens are a group of medicinal herbs that may help your body respond—or adapt—to stress. We’ll dive more into these in a future post, but first want to emphasize the importance of choosing a foundation of real, wholesome foods for nourishment before adding special additions to your diet.
Five superfoods to eat this week:
Challenge yourself to rotate new superfoods into your meals and snacks each week for a variety of health benefits. Here are five superstars to try now:
1. Spinach: Not on the kale bandwagon? No problem. This super-versatile dark leafy green is an excellent source of water-soluble vitamins (B2, B6, C, and folate), fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, and K) and many minerals such as magnesium and iron. Further, spinach boasts a wide variety of phytonutrients with anti-inflammatory properties that help fend off cancer. Spinach may also help with digestion (due to fiber), protect against heart disease, maintain bone health and preserve eye health, among other benefits.
Try this: You can’t go wrong with dark leafy greens sautéed in olive oil or ghee with garlic then topped with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. There are many options to upgrade your weekly meals with spinach or other dark leafy greens: use in stir-frys, stews, soups, and smoothies or on your egg and avocado toast.
2. Cinnamon: One of the oldest spices, cinnamon is a natural blood sugar stabilizer, and may have antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. Plus, it tastes great and can help curb a sweet tooth.
Try this: Add a dash to your next smoothie, turmeric milk latte, or overnight oats. Top some toasted bread with nut or seed butter, bananas or berries and cinnamon. Switch up your seasoning and try roasting sweet potatoes with cinnamon and paprika—delish!
3. Lemon: Lemons are an excellent source of vitamin C, a powerful water-soluble antioxidant. Vitamin C has been linked with a lower risk of ischemic stroke; it can also boost the immune system, aid digestion, help with absorption of iron and the production of collagen. Lemons also help balance your body’s pH levels and have many therapeutic and antibacterial properties.
Try this: Rehydrate and flush out toxins by starting your day with warm lemon water. Also try squeezing fresh lemon on salads, cooked meats or fish. Add to salad dressings or sauces for an added zing.
4. Chia seeds: Packed with omega-3 fatty acids and high in fiber, these small seeds are also a complete source of plant protein, and contain calcium, phosphorus, and manganese (minerals important in bone health). Chia seeds can help improve digestion, lower cholesterol, and stabilize blood sugar. Cha-ching.
Try this: Chia seeds work well blended in smoothies, added to overnight oats, or sprinkled on top of almost any meal. Tip: try blending in a food processor before adding to smoothies or recipes to prevent them from getting stuck in your pearly whites.
5. Walnuts: Antioxidant-rich, walnuts also contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids and can protect against inflammation, heart disease, and may improve brain function.
Try this: Though they contain good fat, keep an eye on portion size. Try a small handful of nuts for a mid-day snack (they pair well with dark chocolate or blueberries) or top off your yogurt or salad for an added crunch.
While including superfoods in your diet can provide added benefits, remember that striving to consume a diet of colorful fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains, nuts/legumes, and quality proteins is more important than focusing too much on any select food or nutrient. It’s likely not one nutrient responsible for these amazing health effects but rather nutrients together in a whole food, or foods eaten together, that work some magic.
Now, grab your cape and eat up.
Blogpost written by Ascend content expert, Ashley H