Are Superfoods the Secret to Unlocking a Super You?


Can Superfoods give you super powers? Maybe Popeye was on to something when he sucked down his spinach before saving the day. While stepping into the phone booth to tie on your red cape and toss down a handful of blueberries might not give you the power to rescue Lois Lane, dining on different Superfoods may help you live a longer, more enjoyable life. How exactly? A balanced diet rich in Superfoods is associated with a reduced risk for obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and stroke– debilitating diseases that rank among the top killers in the United States. superfruit

Photo Courtesy of Enokson

What are Superfoods?

Superfoods might as well be foods that have come to life like the Sensation Strawberry Man above.  The term Superfood is really an arbitrary denotation with no real scientific meaning. Marketing hype has placed this classification on a few foods that you may know such as spinach, kale, and blueberries. What these foods have in common is a high content of various nutrients that are key components in maintaining your health without excessive amounts of potentially harmful nutrients and food additives. So this will be the definition that I go by for the rest of this article. Going by this simple description puts the term Superfood in a whole new light and is why I said earlier that Superfoods can reduce your risk for chronic disease.

Superfoods can be Simple!

You won’t need to go to the health food section of your grocery store or Whole Foods to find that new fancy Superfood with a name that you can’t pronounce. Although they are healthy, quinoa and acai are comparable to “normal” diet staples like oatmeal and strawberries. Most whole plant products and minimally processed, lean animal products should have the title of Superfood. All fruits and vegetables in their unadulterated form are Superfoods as long as they don’t have added sauces or sugars. This even includes the humble potato*, which you may be surprised to hear is a good source of eight essential vitamins and minerals, fiber, and multiple phytonutrients that fight off free radicals (1, 2). And what’s simpler than a grain? Grains are Superfoods* too as long as you choose whole grains that aren’t heavily processed. Whole wheat, barley, rye, oats, quinoa, brown rice, and other whole grains have fiber and vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that may complement those in fruits and vegetables (3). You may be contemplating, “But potatoes, grains, and fruits have a lot of carbs!” You’re correct, but don’t fret. You’ve started to figure it out; most of the typical Superfoods touted by the media are predominantly carbs, but according to the earlier definition, there are many more Superfoods with protein and fat as well. You need to bring balance to how you think about Superfoods.

*Note: Yes, potatoes and whole grains do contain more Calories and often times less nutrients per Calorie than some of the typical dark colored, non-starchy vegetables and fruits, but they are still nutrient dense foods that get a worse reputation than they deserve in the dieting/health conscious community. If your goal is to lose weight, then eating more lean protein sources (see How Much Protein Do I Need?) and non-starchy vegetables and eating less concentrated sources of fat and starchy foods (including whole grains and potatoes) may be beneficial because you can “fit more nutrients into fewer Calories.” This doesn’t mean that whole grains and potatoes are bad for you and you can still eat them in moderation while losing weight. However, there are just some foods that may be better to focus your diet around while making whole grains and potatoes something that you enjoy less often. For an explanation of this please read, Energy Density: Why Some Healthy Foods Aren’t Good Dieting Foods and Nutrient Density: A Huge Chunk of Healthy Weight Loss)

Balancing the Benefits of Different Superfoods!

A super amount of the same Superfood may not be so, umm… super. The trick is to eat a variety of the different Superfoods that give you carbohydrates, healthy fats, and protein and different phytochemicals. You can get a balance of phytochemicals simply by eating a variety of different foods. Look for fruits and vegetables that are different colors. Eat eggs, beans/lenitls, fish, and Greek Yogurt a few times week to mix up your protein sources. You could even replace grains with beans or lentils for more fiber, protein, and different phytonutrients. the key to balance is to eat a variety.

Check out this chart to see great Superfood sources of fat, protein, or both!

Healthy Fat Superfoods Protein Superfoods Protein and Healthy Fat Superfoods
AvocadoRaw Olives and Olive Oil

Flax Seeds and Flax Oil

Chia Seeds and Chia Oil

Fish Oil

Canola Oil

Lean Poultry (chicken with the skin removed, lean turkey)Very Lean Red Meats

Other Lean Meats, Fish and Seafood

Eggs

Beans and Lentils

Skim Milk and Other Fat-Free Dairy Products

Plain Non-Fat Greek yogurt

Fatty Fish (Salmon, Mackerel, and Sardines)Nuts

Hemp Seeds

Seeds

Grass-fed Lean Red Meat*

Pastured Chicken Eggs*

Grass-fed Lean Poultry*

*Omega-3 (Heart Healthy) Fat content is higher than conventional farming.

As you can see, Superfoods can come from all of the food groups. In fact, no Superfood is super on its own, which is why you need a balance.

Make the Change! Now that you know Superfoods are more than just mysterious new fruits and vegetables, you can make yourself a meal plan and a grocery list of all the Superfoods that you’ll be eating this week! Be sure to include Superfoods from all the food groups to reduce your risk for chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and stroke. You’ll probably even lose a few inches!

What Matters in this Blog Post:

  1. Superfoods can help you live a longer life and reduce your risk of chronic disease.
  2. Superfoods don’t have to be exotic and uncommon. Superfoods just have to nutrient dense foods with minimal harmful components.
  3. Superfoods include foods other than vegetables and fruits. In fact, even whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein sources can be Superfoods.
  4. Although foods from all food groups can be Superfoods, you may need to choose different Superfoods based on your goals (for weight loss, you may find reading these articles helpful: Energy Density: Why Some Healthy Foods Aren’t Good Dieting Foods and Nutrient Density: A Huge Chunk of Healthy Weight Loss).

References

  1.                   Basic Report: 11356, Potatoes, Russet, flesh and skin, baked. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. The United States Department of Agriculture. Web. Accessed March 4, 2013. <http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/3131&gt;.
  2.                 Suszkiw, Jan. Phytochemical Profilers Investigate Potato Benefits. Agricultural Research Magazine. The USDA Agricultural Research Service. September 2007. Web. Accessed March 3, 2014. <http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/sep07/potato0907.htm>.
  3.                 Jonnalagadda S et al. Putting the Whole Grain Puzzle Together: Health Benefits Associated with Whole Grains—Summary of American Society for Nutrition 2010 Satellite Symposium. J Nutr. 2011; 141: 1011S-1022S.
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