The term “superfood” is often applied to foods that are thought to have a very high content of certain nutrients, making them exceptionally worthwhile to include in our diets. But the truth is, the term “superfood” has no scientific definition — and no definitive lists exist either.
So, rather than searching for a miracle food (that often comes with a hefty price tag), what we should be aiming for is a “super diet” that is based on eating a wide range of whole foods every day in the amounts recommended. This includes fruit, vegetables, dairy, nuts, legumes, whole grains and quality protein such as lean meat, fish and eggs. These foods are naturally nutrient-rich, low in saturated fat, sodium and added sugars.
However, there are still some foods that deserve the spotlight among this group that are not only higher in antioxidants than some of the much-publicized “superfoods,” but most importantly are readily available and easy to incorporate into everyday meals. So add these real food superstars to help make up a “super diet.”
Of all the cruciferous vegetables, broccoli stands out as the most concentrated source of vitamin C and vitamin A — two essential antioxidants that have been linked to a boosted immune system defense and reduced risk of cataracts and heart disease.
Tip: You can eat broccoli raw or cooked. Ideally it should be steamed to retain the nutrients, but it’s also very tasty sautéed in olive oil and garlic and a great addition to almost any pasta dish.
Salmon is one of the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids. There’s strong evidence that omega-3 reduces the risk of heart disease, lowers cholesterol and reduces inflammation, particularly in those with joint problems. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish high in omega-3, like salmon, at least two times a week. Other oily fish such as sardines, tuna, herring and mackerel are also great sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Tip: Aim to eat 3.5oz of oily fish 2-3 times per week. Enjoy fresh fish grilled, barbecued or baked, or use varieties in sandwiches, wraps, omelets, pastas or salads.
Beans, lentils and dried peas are inexpensive and versatile and packed full of protein. They are also rich in slow-releasing carbohydrates that are important for peak exercise performance and reduced fatigue. They contain important probiotics that encourage growth and protection of beneficial bacteria in the gut, aiding digestion, improving complexion, boosting immunity and helping to balance the digestive system for optimal internal and external health.
Tip: Legumes can also be purchased dried. Choose the low-salt varieties wherever possible. Toss them in a salad, add to soups, casseroles or use to bulk out meat dishes. They make a great base for patties or a low-fat dip, such as hummus.
Oats are unique in that they are high in soluble fiber and beta-glucan, which helps reduce cholesterol absorption. Beta-glucan has also been shown to improve blood glucose control and insulin responses after a meal, which ultimately promotes less fat storage.
Tip: Opt for the rolled varieties rather than the “instant,” which have been processed and digest a lot faster. Bored by porridge? Try a refreshing Bircher-style muesli prepared the night before with 3/4 cup of oats, grated apple and nuts all soaked in yogurt. You can also add oats to smoothies or use when baking cookies, muffins, meat patties, fruit loaves or crumbles.
One of njature’s most powerful elixirs of youth, the antioxidants in blueberries can slow the aging process by helping to prevent sun damage, reduce the onset of wrinkles, help with balance and coordination and sharpen your mind. The antioxidants in blueberries can also improve your learning capacity and slow down the onset of age-related memory loss. Along with their exceptional antioxidant content, blueberries are extremely low in calories and high in water and fiber to help control blood sugar levels and keep you full without filling you out.
Tip: Enjoy berries as a snack or add them to fruit salads, cereal, yogurt, smoothies or whole grain muffins. Frozen varieties are just as good as fresh.
One egg contains high-quality protein and at least 11 essential vitamins and minerals. Eggs are the richest source of the mineral choline, and one of the few food sources of vitamin D — a nutrient many of us lack, putting ourselves at increased risk of conditions ranging from brittle bones to cancers.
Tip: Poached, baked or scrambled — however you like them — eggs are also versatile team players in casseroles, omelets, frittatas or added to your favorite stir-fries, rice dishes and even desserts.
What makes a real super food?
Nutrient dense: foods that are rich in nutrients relative to their calorie content.
Minimally processed: and not enriched during processing.
Credible: has good scientific research supporting its role in producing health benefits.
Easily available: not just from a health food shop, online or through direct marketing, often at considerable expense.