For years, people have touted the powers of superfoods. Thought to benefit your overall well-being, these foods have been linked to a sharper mind, clearer skin, a healthier immune system, and more. Superfoods are foods that have a very high nutritional density. This means that they provide a substantial amount of nutrients and very few calories. They contain a high volume of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.
Antioxidants are natural molecules that occur in certain foods. They help neutralize free radicals in our bodies. Free radicals are natural byproducts of energy production that can wreak havoc on the body. Antioxidant molecules decrease or reverse the effects of free radicals that have close links with various health problems including heart disease, arthritis, stroke and respiratory diseases.
Some of our favourite superfoods and how to include them:
Berries: High in fiber, berries are naturally sweet, and their rich colors mean they are high in antioxidants and disease-fighting nutrients.
How to include them: When berries are not in season, it is just as healthy to buy them frozen. Add to yogurt, cereals, and smoothies, or eat plain for a snack.
Fish: Fish can be a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which help prevent heart disease.
How to include it: Buy fresh, frozen, or canned fish. Fish with the highest omega-3 content are salmon, tuna steaks, mackerel, herring, trout, anchovies, and sardines.
Leafy greens: Dark, leafy greens are a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium, as well as several phytochemicals (chemicals made by plants that have a positive effect on your health). They also add fiber into the diet.
How to include them: Try varieties such as spinach, swiss chard, kale, collard greens, or mustard greens. Throw them into salads or sauté them in a little olive oil. You can also add greens to soups and stews.
Nuts: Hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, pecans — nuts are a good source of plant protein. They also contain monounsaturated fats, which may be a factor in reducing the risk of heart disease.
How to include them: Add a handful to oatmeal or yogurt, or have as a snack. But remember they are calorically dense, so limit to a small handful. Try the various types of nut butters such as peanut (technically a legume), almond, or cashew. Nuts are also a great accompaniment to cooked veggies or salads.
Olive oil: Olive oil is a good source of vitamin E, polyphenols, and monounsaturated fatty acids, all which help reduce the risk of heart disease.
How to include it: Use in place of butter or margarine in pasta or rice dishes. Drizzle over vegetables, use as a dressing, or when sautéing.
Yogurt: A good source of calcium and protein, yogurt also contains live cultures called probiotics. These “good bacteria” can protect the body from other, more harmful bacteria.
How to include it: Try eating more yogurt, but watch out for fruited or flavored yogurts, which contain a lot of added sugar. Buy plain yogurt and add your own fruit. Look for yogurts that have “live active cultures” such as Lactobacillus, L. acidophilus, L. bulgaricus, and S. thermophilus. You can use yogurt in place of mayonnaise or sour cream in dips or sauces.
Cruciferous vegetables: These include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radishes, and turnips. They are an excellent source of fiber, vitamins, and phytochemicals including indoles, thiocyanates, and nitriles, which may prevent against some types of cancer.
How to include them: Steam or stir-fry, adding healthy oils and herbs and seasonings for flavor. Try adding a frozen cruciferous vegetable medley to soups, casseroles, and pasta dishes.
Legumes: This broad category includes kidney, black, red, and garbanzo beans, as well as soybeans and peas. Legumes are an excellent source of fiber, folate, and plant-based protein. Studies show they can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
How to include them: Add to salads, soups, and casseroles. Make a chili or a bean- based spread such as hummus.
Tomatoes: These are high in vitamin C and lycopene, which has been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
How to include them: Try tomatoes in a salad or as a tomato sauce over your pasta. You can also put them in stews, soups, or chili. Lycopene becomes more available for your body to use when tomatoes are prepared and heated in a healthy fat such as olive oil.
Including superfoods as part of daily nutritional intake is great but only when consuming a healthy, balanced diet overall. Eat a “super diet” rather than concentrating on individual foods.