You may have heard the term “superfood” and asked yourself, “What exactly is a superfood?” And you wouldn’t be alone in wondering! The term is relatively new and has no exact definition, but, generally speaking, a superfood is any unprocessed food that is dense with nutrients (typically with a high nutrients-to-calories ratio). Because they are packed with minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, they are beneficial for your health. Most (though not all) superfoods are plant-based.
A varied diet rich in fruits, vegetables, healthy grains, and lean proteins — and including superfoods — can help to ward off certain medical ailments, in part because natural antioxidants scavenge free radicals from the cells of the body and reduce or prevent damage caused by oxidation. Some health issues that superfoods may help prevent include:
• Heart disease
• Respiratory disease
• Parkinson's disease
Leafy greens are packed with vitamins such as A, C, E, and K, as well as most B vitamins. They also contain carotenoids, iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Many are high in fiber, so these veggies are ideal for promoting gut health and keeping constipation at bay. (Curious about maintaining a healthy gut? Read “How to Improve Gut Health: Everything You Need to Know.”)
Commonly recognized leafy green superfoods include:
• Collard greens
• Swiss chard
• Beet greens
For instance, just one cup of kale provides 680 percent of your daily value of vitamin K — it’s thought to be one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. Consuming leafy greens raw is the way to get the most nutrients possible from them. Cooking leafy greens, such as kale, can lead to a loss of nutrients. (But they are still very beneficial to eat!)
Several whole grains are considered superfoods, thanks to their rich supply of nutrients. Grains like white rice or enriched flours are not superfoods. These grains no longer contain phytonutrients or the fiber that makes a superfood a superfood. True whole grains are just that — whole: they still have all of the parts of the grain including the germ (the outer layer that is full of fiber) and the endosperm. Processed grains have been stripped of many of their nutritional benefits.
Grains are not only a great resource for fiber — they also contain protein. Because they are rich in nutrients such as B vitamins and antioxidants, whole grains are a fantastic superfood to add to your diet. Enjoy them in salads, as the base of a superfood-filled stir-fry, or in baked goods. Replacing pasta and bread with whole-grain options is a great way to start introducing whole grains into your diet. (Be sure to read the labels of whole-grain products, like bread, as some contain a lot of added sugar.)
Examples of whole grain superfoods include:
• Whole wheat
• Brown rice
Berries are not just nature’s candy; they are also a powerful superfood. Berries have been shown to help reduce the risk of heart attacks and other medical maladies. Many berries are rich in antioxidants, which are important for keeping your body healthy. Acai berries are native to South America and are rich in antioxidants, as well as 19 amino acids. Blueberries may help you avoid urinary tract infections, thanks to a particular flavonoid they contain.
Some other common superfood berries include:
• Goji berries
• Tart cherries
Nuts are an easy, tasty snack — and they are superfood royalty. Although they may be higher in fats and calories than other superfoods, they are also packed with essential nutrients. Nuts contain healthy fats (a necessary part of any diet), fiber, and protein, and as part of a nutrient-rich diet, they are very beneficial (and filling). You can add nuts to many different dishes and enjoy them with foods like fruit, yogurt, and salads.
Almonds are a very beneficial nut to add to your superfood-studded diet. They have been shown to help prevent and decrease the risk of heart disease and elevated levels of bad cholesterol (LDL). Other healthy and nutritious nuts include:
• Macadamia nuts
• Brazil nuts
Salmon is rich in omega-3s, protein, and healthy fats. Also rich in important nutrients such as selenium, phosphorus, and B vitamins, salmon is a healthy addition to meals. It is beneficial for the production of red blood cells and for maintaining the health of the central nervous system, due to its high levels of vitamin B12.
Do you have questions about nutrition‚ or how you can make strides toward your health goals? Carbon Health primary care providers are ready to help you make informed decisions and partner with you on your journey to better health. Make a same-day virtual or in-person appointment today.