The Superfood Sensations
Why do some cultures live longer and healthier with lower rates of diseases like diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s? The answer may simply be the foods they eat every day, so why not give them a try? Experts say dozens of easy-to-find 'superfoods' can help ward off heart disease, cancer, cholesterol, and more.
The effect that diet can have on how you feel today and in the future is astounding. Superfoods truly are powerful enough to help you lower your cholesterol, reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer, and, for an added bonus, put you in a better mood. Did we mention there are no side effects? You'd surely stock up on a lifetime supply. Guess what? These life-altering superfoods are available right now in your local supermarket.
These multitasking "super foods" provide multiple disease-fighting nutrients, fill you up so you can enjoy plenty of food without excess calories, and are easy to include in everyday meals. After all, what good is a super food that is hard to find, difficult to prepare, and the kids won't eat? Of course, experts are quick to point out, no list of top super foods includes all the nutritious foods that should be part of a healthy diet. Point is—foods that are as close to whole and natural will tend to be healthier, each with varying nutritional benefits. Of course, there are more than just 10 "superfoods." In fact, just about every brightly colored fruit and vegetable fits the category of a superfood, as do nuts, beans, seeds and aromatic and brightly colored herbs and spices. The beneficial properties of each one of these superfoods could fill an entire book.
Top 10 Multitasking Super Foods
- Low fat or fat-free plain yogurt is higher in calcium than some other dairy products and contains a great package of other nutrients, including protein and potassium. It can also be enhanced with other good-for-you substances. Yogurt is a vehicle food that can be enriched with probiotics for a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut, and beneficial, heart-healthy plant stanols. Look for plain yogurt fortified with vitamin D, and add your own fruit to control sweetness and calories. Versatile yogurt can also be used in entree and bakery recipes, in dips for veggies, etc. Don't like yogurt? Skim milk is another super dairy food that has only 83 calories per cup and is easy to slip into coffee to help you get one of the recommended three servings of dairy each day.
- Eggs make the list because they are nutritious, versatile, economical, and a great way to fill up on quality protein. "Studies show if you eat eggs at breakfast, you may eat fewer calories during the day and lose weight without significantly affecting cholesterol levels," says Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, author of The Pocket Idiot's Guide to the New Food Pyramids. Eggs also contain 12 vitamins and minerals, including choline, which is good for brain development and memory. Enjoy them at any meal or hard-cooked as a portable snack.
- Nuts have gotten a bad rap because of their high fat content. But their protein, heart-healthy fats, high fiber, and antioxidant content earn them a place on the superfood list. The key to enjoying nuts, experts say, is portion control. "All nuts are healthful in small doses, and studies show they can help lower cholesterol levels and promote weight loss," says Today Show nutritionist Joy Bauer, MS, RD. "I like pistachio nuts because they also contain plant sterols and it takes longer to crack the shell and eat them, making it easier to control the portion. Whether you prefer pistachios, almonds, peanuts, walnuts, or pecans, an ounce a day of nuts help fill you up. Nuts add texture and flavor to salads, side dishes, baked goods, cereals, and entrees. They taste great alone, too. Elisa Zied, MS, RD, author of Feed Your Family Right!, recommends putting together your own "100-calorie packs" of nuts for easy and portable snacks.
- Kiwis are among the most nutritionally dense fruits, full of antioxidants, says Ward. "One large kiwi supplies your daily requirement for vitamin C,” she says. “It is also a good source of potassium, fiber, and a decent source of vitamin A and vitamin E, which is one of the missing nutrients, and kiwi is one of the only fruits that provides it." The sweet taste and colorful appearance of kiwis makes it easy to slice in half, scoop out with a spoon and enjoy alone, or slice it into desserts, salads, or side dishes. Kiwifruit can also have a mild laxative effect due to their high fiber content.
- Quinoa is now readily available in many supermarkets and is one of the best whole grains you can eat, according to Zied. "It is an ancient grain, easy to make, interesting, high in protein (8 grams in 1 cup cooked), fiber (5 grams per cup) and a naturally good source of iron," she says. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) also has plenty of zinc, vitamin E, and selenium to help control your weight and lower your risk for heart disease and diabetes, she says. Quinoa is as easy to prepare as rice and can be eaten alone or mixed with vegetables, nuts, or lean protein for a whole-grain medley. Try to make at least half your daily grain servings whole grains. In addition to quinoa, try barley, oats, buckwheat, whole wheat, wild rice, and millet.
- Beans, beans, good for your heart -- really! Beans are loaded with insoluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol, as well as soluble fiber, which fills you up and helps rid your body of waste. They're also a good, low-fat source of protein, carbohydrates, magnesium, and potassium. Bauer favors edamame (whole soybeans) because they also contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Beans can easily substitute for meat or poultry as the centerpiece of a meal, says Bauer, but they also work as a side dish, or tossed into soups, stews, or egg dishes. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend 3 cups weekly.
- Salmon is a super food because of its omega-3 fatty acid content. Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids help protect heart health. That's why the American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish like salmon twice weekly. Salmon is low in calories (200 for 3 ounces) has lots of protein, is a good source of iron, and is very low in saturated fat. You can simply grill or bake it, top it with salsas or other low-fat sauces, or serve it on top of salad greens. If you don't like salmon, Lichtenstein recommends eating other kinds of fish, like canned tuna. And what about the mercury content? (Mercury is known to accumulate in fish.) "The benefits of eating salmon or other fatty fish twice weekly far outweigh any risks, but if you are concerned, check with your doctor," says Zied.
- Broccoli is one of America's favorite vegetables because it tastes good and is available all year long. It's a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and bone-building vitamin K, and has plenty of fiber to fill you up and help control your weight. "Some people think beta-carotene (vitamin A) is only found in orange and yellow vegetables, but broccoli is an excellent source," says Ward. You can eat broccoli raw, lightly steamed, stir-fried, roasted, or grilled. Eat it as a side dish, or toss into grains, egg dishes, soups, and salads.
- Sprouts are a highly nutritious food. Grown locally year round, sprouts are a good source of protein and vitamin C. A sprout is produced when a seed starts growing into a vegetable. Sprouts can grow from the seeds of vegetables, grains, legumes, buckwheat, and beans. Sprouts vary in texture and taste. Sprouts are a concentrated source of the living enzymes and "life force" that is lost when foods are cooked or not picked fresh from your own garden. Additionally, due to their high enzyme content, sprouts are also much easier to digest than the seed or bean from which they came. Because sprouts are so fresh, and do not sit for days or weeks in warehouses, we know that we are getting optimum nutrition.
- Berries pack an incredible amount of nutritional goodness into a small package. They're loaded with antioxidants, phytonutrients, low in calories, and high in water and fiber to help control blood sugar and keep you full longer. And their flavors satisfy sweets cravings for a fraction of the calories in baked goods. Blueberries lead the pack because they are among the best source of antioxidants and are widely available. Cranberries are also widely available fresh, frozen, or dried. All can add flavor and nutrition to numerous dishes, from salads and cereals to baked goods and yogurt.