Great Superfoods are a hot topic among consumers and health and wellness professionals. Because the information about superfoods is continually expanding, pinning down an exact definition is challenging. A good working definition is:
Superfoods are nutrient-rich foods that provide essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients in higher amounts than most other foods. These foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, and dairy products. (Note: some fish, such as salmon, have been added to the superfood category).
These nutrient-dense foods are often linked to disease prevention and are believed to provide health benefits for the brain and body. [This article, “7 Great Superfoods To Bring Out Your best Physical Health And Mental Sharpness” was originally published in NewHealthwatch]
How many superfoods are there? To date, there is no answer to this question. As food researchers continue studying these extraordinary foods, the list will change and grow. This article will focus on seven well-studied and popular plant-based superfoods you can incorporate into your diet.
What does science say about superfoods?
Before we discuss our seven superfoods, let’s answer the questions that may be lurking in the back of your mind: “are superfoods real or nothing more than a myth? Are there scientific studies supporting how superfoods help your body? The short answer is “yes.”
Certainly, there is a lot of hype around superfoods in the marketplace, which can lead to skepticism for those who prefer evidence-based science regarding claims made by superfood proponents. The good news is that scientists are conducting ongoing studies on superfoods. For example,
Superfoods: Recent Data on their Role in the Prevention of Diseases by: CHARALAMPOS PROESTOS
“In recent years, many scientiﬁc studies demonstrate the importance of a non-class processed foods whose nutritional composition is ideal for strengthening and promoting the proper functioning of the human body.1 These foods are known as superfoods.”
MDPI provides their study: Nutritional Profile and Potential Health Benefits of Super Foods: A Review
These studies are proof that superfoods are taken seriously by the scientific community. While there will always be snake oil salespeople that take advantage of those who don’t do their homework, that should not stop you from exploring and finding a few superfoods that are good for you. Our list begins with one of the oldest and most used superfoods in the world.
Olive Oil – an ancient heart-healthy superfood
Olive oil is one of the world’s oldest known oils; it’s estimated that production started before 4000 BC. This versatile oil was often used as medicine and was once considered a miracle cure, and it is still used to treat various ailments, including arthritis and high cholesterol.
Olive oil is one of the best sources of monounsaturated fats, which help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, olive oil contains vitamin E, which helps protect against cell damage caused by free radicals.
Olive oil is commonly used in Mediterranean cooking and is easy to add to your meal planning.
Kale – the other green superfood Popeye should’ve been eating.
Dark, leafy greens like arugula, kale, collard greens, spinach, lettuce, and Swiss chard are all considered superfoods, but kale stands out among them as the most nutrient-dense. Woman’s Health reported that Kale has been harvested since the 17th century and gained popularity during World War II “to combat malnourishment during food scarcities.” Women’s health Mag: Kale Nutrition.
Kale is one of the healthiest vegetables around. It contains high levels of vitamins A, C, E, iron, calcium, fiber, folate, potassium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, copper, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. Kale has more vitamin C and A than spinach.
If you don’t like the bitter taste of some varieties, try buying tender, sweeter baby kale. Toss it into your salad or sauté it with olive oil and your favorite seasonings – you might be surprised at how tasty kale can be.
Garlic – a superfood that does more than keep vampires away
Garlic is another food that has been used as medicine for thousands of years. It contains powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce pain and swelling, such as that caused by arthritis.
Garlic is said to be effective in fighting many diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. It contains sulfur compounds called thiosulfinates, which help fight bacteria and viruses.
The health benefits of garlic also include reducing cholesterol levels, fighting infections, boosting immunity, and protecting against certain cancers.
Along with olive oil, garlic is an ingredient found in culinary traditions throughout the world and is very easy to use in cooking. If you dislike the smell, garlic supplements are available in capsule form.
Hemp seeds – a tiny superfood with enormous benefits.
Many kinds of seeds have been elevated to the category of superfoods: chia, flax, and sunflower, to name a few, but hemp seeds have risen to superstar status – and for a good reason. Hemp seeds are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help maintain brain function and cardiovascular health; they also contain plenty of fiber and protein.
The protein hemp seeds contain makes them truly super, even among superfoods. It is a “complete” protein because it has all nine essential amino acids the human body cannot produce on its own. (What are the nine essential amino acids) These are the amino acids humans must consume in their diet to maintain healthy skin, hair, and nails. Essential amino acids are found in meat and dairy products which is an issue for those following a vegan lifestyle. Hemp seeds have solved the complete protein problem for vegans and are a staple in a healthy vegan diet.
For individuals who are concerned about “getting high” when consuming hemp products – no worries. Hemp seeds (nor any hemp products) contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
In addition, hemp seeds contain high levels of vitamin E, magnesium, zinc, iron, copper, manganese, phosphorus, and calcium.
If seeds are not something you like to eat, there are hemp supplements on the market that have all the benefits in a concentrated form that’s easy to use. Rawlife Organics is one example of a company providing an extensive selection of legal full spectrum hemp products that are organically sourced and do not require a medical marijuana card.
Açai Berries – A bowl full of tasty superfood benefits
Acai is a berry found on acai palm trees native to South American rainforests. It is known to contain a large number of antioxidants and, for that reason, is considered a superfood.
Acai berries contain anthocyanins, which have anti-inflammatory properties that can provide relief to people who have arthritis. They also contain fiber, which helps in lowering cholesterol.
Acai berries are used to assist in clearing skin conditions, and they support brain and heart health, thanks to their high volume of antioxidants and healthy fats.
Acai bowls, a treat from Brazil, are now found in many states across the U.S. The bowls start with a puree base made from Acai berries and are topped with fruits, nut butters, and granola, among other toppings. An Acai bowl or smoothie is an easy and delicious way to try this powerful purple superfood. However, when ordering your Acai treat from a vendor, ask if the puree contains added sugar. And don’t overdo the toppings, or you’re likely to turn your healthy treat into a not-so-healthy sugary disaster. Another way to experiment with acai is to buy the puree in frozen or powder form, where you can easily read the label and check for added sugar.
Red Beets – The beautiful superfood that’s especially good for your heart
Beets have been around for millenniums and originated in the Mediterranean Region. They are bursting with folate (vitamin B9), which improves cell health and is critical in protecting blood vessels against damage, ultimately reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease. Beets also support the heart with betaine and choline, which lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
Want to improve your stamina for a better workout? Try drinking beet juice. The nitric oxide in beets can help your heart and lungs work better, which increases blood flow to your muscles during exercise.
Beets have anti-inflammatory properties, which inhibit the body from triggering inflammation, and they naturally detoxify the blood by cleansing it of toxins, heavy metals, and other waste. They can boost your immune system because of their high vitamin C content and protect your gut by promoting the growth of good bacteria. Their fiber content improves digestion.
Beets are versatile in the kitchen; they can be eaten raw, boiled, roasted, or pickled.
Spirulina a potent green machine and superfood champion
Spirulina is made from algae that grow in fresh and salt waters. The Aztecs initially used it to treat disease as early as the 16th century.
Spirulina’s powerful plant-based protein is called phycocyanin and is the plant pigment giving spirulina its blue-green color. Research shows this protein may have antioxidant, pain-relief, anti-inflammatory, and brain-protective properties. Additionally, it has been found to block tumor growth and kill cancer cells. And by the way, with protein levels comparable to eggs, spirulina is an excellent supplement for those who don’t eat animal proteins.
Spirulina provides immune system support with a variety of vitamins and minerals such as vitamins E, C, and B6. Additionally, “Research finds that spirulina also boosts the production of white blood cells and antibodies that fight viruses and bacteria in your body.” https://www.webmd.com/diet/spirulina-health-benefits
Spirulina comes in powder form and tastes bitter but mixes easily into yogurt, juices, and smoothies. You can buy it on its own or as an ingredient in better-tasting superfood supplements. Rawlife Organics uses all organic greens, including spirulina, in their Raw Green Juice Mix. Quality powder supplements are easy to use because most only need to be mixed in water.
Become a superfood explorer
If you’re not sure about where to buy superfoods, start with an internet search. In recent years more mainstream retailers have begun to carry them in fresh and supplement form. Local health food stores and farmer’s markets are always a good choice.
Which superfoods to eat? Why the ones you like, of course! Try picking two or three from this list and incorporating them into your regular diet. Keep in mind that only eating superfoods is not the goal as they are meant to supplement a generally healthy and balanced diet. Remember that variety is the spice of life (and makes for a more nutritious diet). Try new recipes and have fun!
The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be construed as health or medical advice, nor is it intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease or health condition. Before embarking on any diet or program of nutritional supplementation, it is advisable to consult your healthcare professional in order to determine its safety and probable efficacy in terms of your individual state of health.