As more and more research is done on foods and the nutrients that they contain, certain foods are emerging as extraordinary sources of nutrients. These foods– some traditional, others exotic– are packed full of vitamins, minerals, and specialized nutrients with exciting health benefits. It’s becoming popular to call these “superfoods”. Superfoods can potentially help fight aging and illness and are some of the best possible food choices you can make.
What Makes a Superfood?…
- A key factor that makes a food super is nutrient density. Nutrient density refers to the number of nutrients for the given volume or caloric value of food. Superfoods are good sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, enzymes, probiotics, antioxidants, phytonutrients, Omega 3 fatty acids, or other beneficial chemicals.
- While there is no official definition of a superfood, and no regulations concerning how the term can be used in marketing products, most foods that receive the label have solid research behind them. Still, when new food is being proclaimed a superfood, it’s always wise to research its health claims to make sure that studies have been done regarding its nutritional content and safety.
- Superfoods are nearly always natural foods, most often fruits and vegetables, in their unrefined or minimally processed state. If a superfood is overprocessed, it will likely lose much of its beneficial nutrients and potential health benefits. Be wary of packaged and processed foods that jump onto the superfood bandwagon. Often, they capitalize on the consumer’s increased awareness of the latest trend by adding minimal or inferior ingredients just to claim them on the packaging.
- Superfoods are essentially the healthiest foods you can eat, and they should be seriously considered for almost anyone’s diet. Of course, it’s still necessary to pay attention to portion sizes, natural sugar content, and overall calorie intake. Even if a food is super nutritious, too much of it can cause weight gain and all the health risks that go along with it. It’s also possible to “overdose” on some vitamins and minerals, even from food sources.
- Many green vegetables are considered superfoods, but broccoli is one of the most potent. Few foods measure up to broccoli for cancer-fighting potential. Broccoli is rich in several vitamins and fiber but is especially notable for two cancer-fighting chemicals. Sulforaphane is an antioxidant linked with a reduced risk of a number of cancers, especially lung, stomach, colon, and rectal cancers. Broccoli also contains phytochemicals called glucosinolates that our bodies convert into bioactive substances called isothiocyanates. These ‘ITCs’ are a triple threat against cancer: they stop certain cancer-promoting enzymes, help eliminate some potential carcinogens from the body and induce the death of damaged cells that could otherwise turn cancerous, especially in the digestive tract.
- Another high-powered green vegetable superfood is spinach, one of the richest dietary sources of an antioxidant called lutein. Lutein helps protect against heart disease and some cancers and has been shown to reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Spinach is rich in beta-carotene, which may protect against cancer. It’s also high in vitamin K, has a combination of thirteen flavonoids, and is associated with higher brain functioning.
- Pumpkin is one of the best sources of carotenoids, antioxidants that reduce the risk of cancer. Like sweet potatoes, carrots, and butternut squash, pumpkin is rich in disease-preventive beta-carotene, and it’s the best-known source of alpha-carotene, a potential cancer-fighter. Pumpkins also provide vitamins B5, C, E, potassium, calcium, and fiber. And don’t throw out the seeds, as they are an excellent source of zinc, essential fatty acids, and plant protein.
- Berries are packed with nutrients, and blueberries are among the best dietary choices you can make. Blueberries are one of the richest sources of antioxidants and flavonoids, which can cross the blood/brain barrier to protect the brain. In addition to helping prevent memory loss, these versatile and delicious berries have been shown to be effective in fighting chronic degenerative diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, muscular degeneration, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.
- Other nutrient-rich superfoods include walnuts, almonds, flaxseeds, yogurt, avocados, beets, garlic, red wine, chia seeds, wild salmon, and many others.
1. List of Superfoods http://www.nutripeople.co.uk/super_healing_foods_index.asp
2. What Are Superfoods? http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-super-foods.htm
3. Nutrient Density http://nutrition.about.com/od/nutrition101/a/nutrient_dense.htm
4. 6 Superfoods That Prevent Disease http://www.redorbit.com/news/health/1020788/6_superfoods_that_prevent_disease/index.html
5. 7 Cancer Busting Foods Sitting In Your Fridge Right Now http://www.alternet.org/health/146841/7_cancer_busting_foods_sitting_in_your_fridge_right_now
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