Diet and nutrition are big business these days, with millions of products available on the market. Plus, they're definitely not cheap. But did you know that a lot of whole foods readily available at the grocery store already pack quite a nutritious punch? Here's what we learned about these "Super Foods" for a recent episode of Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag.
What are Super Foods?
A balanced diet full of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains is always recommended by health professionals, but not all healthy options are created equal. Those that soar off the nutritional charts are considered Super Foods.
Going beyond the basics of providing nutrients to the body, Super Foods are actually proven to promote health and prevent disease.
So what do Super Foods have that other foods don’t? Phytochemicals, which are disease-preventing compounds, as well as beneficial nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and fibre.
Sub-classes of phytochemicals include micronutrients like flavonoids, plant sterols, phenolic acids, and sulfur-containing compounds, all found in fruits and vegetables.
Flavinoids in particular are known to reduce mortality rates in those who have a diet high in plant-based foods. Flavinoids give plants their pigment, so a general rule to remember is the richer the colour, the more nutrients it will contain.
However, remember that cooking fruits and vegetables drastically reduces the potency and effectiveness of their flavonoids, so its best to eat them raw or steamed for the most nutritional benefit.
Super Foods Examples & Benefits
Soy beans, soy milk, soy beans (edamame), and tofu are known to reduce blood pressure and increase vessel dilation.
Strawberries, red wine, and blueberries improve vision.
Garlic, onions, leeks, olives, and scallions decrease LDL, or bad, cholesterol.
Carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, kale, and horseradish neutralize free radicals that cause cell damage.
Tomatoes contain lycopene, which reduces the risk of prostate cancer. The redder the tomato, the more lycopene it contains.They are also high in beta carotene, which can slow the advance of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Foods such as aloe vera, honey, and those with high amounts of Vitamin C, contain probiotic qualities and have been known to reduce signs of aging and developing cancers.
High-flavonoid super foods include apples, apricots, blueberries, pears, raspberries, strawberries, black beans, cabbage, onions, parsley, pinto beans, and tomatoes, and are known to help protect blood vessels from rupture or leakage and also to prevent the buildup of fatty deposits against vessel walls. They also enhance the power of your vitamin C, protect cells from oxygen damage, and prevent excessive inflammation throughout your body.
Popcorn contains polyphenols, powerful plant compounds known to fight heart disease and cancer. Popcorn contains four times more polyphenols than the amount typically found in fruit! Just be sure to air pop as this is much better for you. Microwave popcorn contains hydrogenated oil, which raises LDL or bad cholesterol levels.
The skin of red grapes contains a protective chemical called resveratrol, known to sharpen mental awareness, and reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Evidence also suggests that eating 1-2 cups of red grapes can protect the body against the harmful effects of eating a fatty meal.
Flax seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids and are very high in fibre, both of help fight diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. It’s also rich in protein and essential nutrients like iron, niacin, calcium, vitamin E, and phosphorous. One tablespoon of ground flax daily provides enough alpha-linolenic acid (an essential omega-3 fatty acid) to meet your dietary needs!
Cinnamon helps regulate blood sugar in diabetics, and also has an anti-clotting effect on blood. Eating only ½ teaspoon of cinnamon a day helps reduce production of LDL or bad cholesterol. Studies also show that cinnamon limits pain of arthritis sufferers, and can boost cognitive function and memory. It’s also a great source of manganese, fiber, iron, and calcium.
Red onions are a very rich source of fructo-oligosaccharides. which stimulate the growth of healthy intestinal bacteria that suppress the growth of potentially harmful bacteria. These properties can also reduce the risk of tumors developing in the colon. Eating half a red onion a day can decrease your risk of many cancers, including breast and colon cancer. Onions also prevent cardiovascular disease and diminish the risk of blood clots, protecting against stomach and other cancers, and against certain infections. Onions can also improve lung function, especially in asthmatics.
Eggs contain iron, biotin and Vitamin B12. Benefits include strengthening your hair, combating anemia, promoting eye health (lutein in eggs helps prevents age-related cataracts and muscular degeneration). Omega-3 enhanced eggs are from hens fed a diet of flax seed or fish oils. As for bad cholesterol, studies have also shown that an egg a day will not significantly affect your cholesterol levels. Eggs actually contain good cholesterol!
Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and selenium, and is low in saturated fats and cholesterol. The fats help reduce the risk of unwanted inflammation and maintain the integrity of our immune, circulatory, and cardiovascular systems. Also a very good source of protein, niacin, and vitamin B12 and a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamin B6, a 4-ounce portion of baked or broiled salmon contains approximately 265 calories, 30 grams of protein, and around 34% of the body’s daily value for omega-3 fatty acids.
Walnuts are rich in protein, fiber, vitamin B, magnesium, and antioxidants such as Vitamin E, and are high in plant sterols and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – the good kind! They have also been shown to lower LDL or bad cholesterol and have significantly higher amounts of omega 3 fatty acids compared to other nuts
Pomegranate seeds contain ellagic acid and punic alagin, which fight damage from free radicals and preserves the collagen in your skin. Pomegranate juice contains almost three times the antioxidants of red wine or green tea, and tons of Vitamin C. They’re also known to fight heart disease and some cancers such as breast and skin cancer.
Green tea contains an antioxidant known as ECGC, which protects against a range of cancers, including lung, prostate and breast cancer. Research has also shown that lungs with cancer cells slowed growth after patients drank 2-3 cups of tea. Green tea raises metabolic rates, speeds up fat oxidation and improves insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance.
Acai berries are packed full of antioxidants, amino acids and essential fatty acids and have 10 times the antioxidant power of red grapes, and twice that of blueberries. Brazilian natives traditionally consumed the berries to treat intestinal illnesses as well as skin conditions.
Blueberries are extremely high in antioxidants and flavinoids and contain fiber, folic acid, manganese, and vitamins C and E. They also contain condensed tannins that prevent urinary tract infections, as well as a natural compound linked to reducing eye strain.
Dark chocolate is packed with antioxidants and is in the same health category as green tea and blueberries. The higher percentage of cacao, the better. (70% or above is a good choice.)Dark chocolate contributes to cardiovascular health, enhanced blood flow, healthy cholesterol levels and reduced blood pressure.Two tablespoons of natural cocoa have more antioxidant capacity than four cups of green tea, 1 cup of blueberries and one and half glasses of red wine. Scientists have also discovered that cocoa may help maintain healthy arteries.
Super Foods Shopping List
This is a list to get you started. Try to choose organic and local options whenever possible. (Click for buying tips.)
- Aloe vera
- Beans (black, pinto)
- Berries (acai, blueberries, cranberries, goji berries (wolfberries), strawberries, raspberries)
- Cocoa/Chocolate (70%+ cacao)
- Edamame/soy beans
- Pink grapefruit
- Popcorn (air popped, not microwave)
- Seeds (flax, hemp)
- Soy products