“Superfoods are described by some as a marketing term for foods that have health benefits”, others would say “Superfoods have extra large doses of vitamins and minerals that can help us fight diseases and live a longer, healthier life”. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a superfood as ” a food ( such as salmon, broccoli, or blueberries) that is rich in compounds ( such as antioxidants, fiber, or fatty acids ) considered beneficial to a person’s health.” Since there is no regulated definition of superfood and there are no scientific requirements to be classified a “superfood”, I have decided to look at the foods that tend to appear on all the superfood lists you will see on line and look into why they are a consensus pick for being called a superfood and why they should be on your superfoods list as well.
Superfoods on the most lists
1. Berries (Dark Berries): Blueberries, Blackberries, Raspberries, Strawberries and Cranberries.
“Dark Berries” are packed with flavenoids… A study was conducted on the ” Dietary intake of berries and flavenoids in relation to cognitive decline” by Elizabeth E. Devore, ScD, Jae Hee Kang, ScD, and Francine Grodstein ScD and their final conclusion summery stated “Higher intake of flavenoids, particularly from berries, appears to reduce rates of cognitive decline in older adults”.
Flavenoids are one group of polyphenols that have been associated with many health benefits such as: blood sugar control, reduced blood clot formation. Plant polyphenols are also rich in antioxidants that can help fight off harmful free radicals and prevent damage to cells and lower the risk of chronic disease.
2. Green Leafy Vegetables: Kale, Cabbage, Spinach, Bok Choy, Swiss Chard, Turnip Greens and even Brussels Sprouts
“Dark Green Leafy Vegetables” are packed with nutrients like calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C and fiber. They are also packed with cartenoids ( an anti-inflammatory compound ) which is thought to protect against certain types of cancer. It is also thought that because the “Dark Green Leafy Vegetables” are packed with nutrients and fiber, they may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and bok choy are also packed with glucosinolates ( sulfur containing compounds ) that are good for detoxifying your body too.
3. Nuts and Seeds: Pecans, Walnuts, Almonds, Cashews, Macadamia, Brazil Nuts and Pumpkin, Hemp and Sunflower Seeds
Nuts and seeds are rich in proteins, fiber and the fats that are considered “Heart-healthy”, they are also high in the plant compounds that have antioxidant properties and are anti inflammatory. Some studies on nuts and seeds have been shown to help fight heart disease. Macadamia nuts in particular, have the most fat and least carbohydrates and proteins of the nuts, and Macadamia nuts are high in magnesium, manganese and vitamin B1. Dr. Mercola in the article “What Are the Best Nuts and Seeds?” also stated ” about 60 percent of the fatty acid in macadamia is the monounsaturated fat oleic acid. This is about the level found in olives, which are well-known for their health benefits”. Almonds and Cashews are also a great source of monounsaturated fats and protein, vitamins and lots of minerals. Pumpkin seeds are a great source of Magnesium and zinc, a handful of pumpkin seeds is 130 calories though so eat sparingly. Hemp seeds however I almost put into a category of their own not because of the discussion of weather hemp seeds are seeds or nuts but because hemp seeds are one of the superfoods that I think is exceptional because they not only are a great source of protein but they also contain all the essential amino acids for growth and repair but hey also have a great ratio of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids as well as being a good source of amino acids. Hemp seeds are also a great source of magnesium and potassium and vitamins B, D and E. Unlike other nuts and seeds, hemp seeds do not contain phytic acid. Phytic acid can block absorption of minerals like iron and calcium. Hemp seeds are also a great source of soluble and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber helps the digestive tract work well and helps control the pH in the intestines, which can help prevent colon cancer. Soluble fiber helps to regulate blood sugar levels and can control bad cholesterol too.
4. Olive oil and olives
Olive oil and olives are a great source of monounsaturated fat and olives only have 7 calories per jumbo olive. Oleic acid makes up the greatest percentage of the monounsaturated fats which has been connected with decreased inflammation and a reduced risk of heart disease and may help fight some cancer. Olives and olive oil are a great source of vitamin E and other antioxidants, which are good for the heart too and may also help prevent osteoporosis and help prevent cancer.
Avocados are a great source of monounsaturated fat, vitamins C, E and B, potassium, magnesium and antioxidants but avocados contain carotenoids that are found in the dark green part of the avocado by the skin. Carotenoids have been studied and found to possibly fight against certain cancer, heart disease and age related macular degeneration. One study found that if you ate a moderate fat diet and one avocado per day that it could lower your LDL more (by a significant amount), compared to a normal American diet. Another study found that avocados may also improve good cholesterol by adding an avocado a day to your diet. Avocados have even proven to help lose weight if you eat a half of an avocado with lunch, you feel fuller longer. The same study found that eating the half avocado also helped regulate the blood sugar and they help your body absorb fat soluble nutrients from other foods.
Spirulina is a blue-green algae that is grown all over the world and is one of the worlds oldest food sources, the Aztecs consumed this super food in Mexico in the 16th century and people in Chad ate this same algae 1000 years ago. Spirulina has a very high amount of digestible protein so it provides a big energy boost and provides immune system support because of high concentrations of vitamins and minerals. Spirulina is also considered a natural detoxifier because it oxiginates the blood and purifies it of toxins (this is one of the possible problems as well). Spirulina is also high in antioxidants, which can help balance the body pH and it is considered a great natural weight loss supplement because taking spirulina over time can reduce cravings to eat, so over time you may eat less. The main reason this is on my list is because spirulina is a complete protein, so it contains all 9 essential amino acids and 10 times the amount of beta carotin found in carrots. I put an asterisk by this one because even though some people swear by it, I think more studies to determine best growing practices for consumption by people need to be done but I like its possibility of being a true “super food”.
What is special about these “Superfoods”?
The reason I had chosen these foods as “superfoods” out of the many other foods people consider “Superfoods”, is because they are not only easy to come by at your local farmers market or Whole foods or something similar and they have the most health benefits, but some other “superfoods” are more difficult to find or as in the case of salmon, you want to find “wild” salmon and not farm raised. In the case of eggs, they need to be from free-range chickens. Foods like kefir, acai, goji berries, chia seeds, these are not as easy to find and how do you know if you are getting the best quality. Some other foods on some “superfoods” lists like bananas, apples, kiwi, pumpkin seeds and black beans are all good foods but not every good food is a “super food”, or they did not show up on enough super food lists. The exception was one list that had wheat grass and it was being promoted because of the chlorophyll content, however Dr. Steven Gundy says ” humans can’t digest grass” “our bodies weren’t built to process wheat grass or any other kind of grass…if we were, we’d have 4 stomachs like a cow”. Too, the superfoods I listed can (for the most part) be grown fairly easily, depending on where you live, except for the hemp seed and spirulina.
What other foods should be superfoods?
The only food I would want to add to the list would be microgreens. When you look at the list at the top, all the green leafy vegetables and some seeds can be grown as microgreens and some superfoods lists had different sprouts listed, since microgreen are similar and or more nutrient rich than sprouts, microgreens should be on your superfoods list too.
SO IN Conclusion
There are many foods that could qualify as a super food but until additional studies are completed, we have not identified that 1 perfect super food like “mana from heaven”. So until then, including the above superfoods into your normal daily diet will provide the best benefits you can get by just adding some great foods to your existing diet.