Whether science interests you or not, it is hard to argue with the cold hard facts discovered by continual testing and retesting by scientists. Superfoods exist, and it is because of their incredible nutrient content that they have gotten their title as such. While we will always advocate that eating a healthy and balanced diet is fundamental to achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, it is also important that you incorporate a few superfoods into your diet as well. These foods will give you the nutritional boost that you need, without the added calories you might consume if you tried to get the nutrients from multiple sources. So without further ado, here are the top 22 superfoods that are completely based on scientific findings (and taste bud approval).
Did you know that almonds are rich in monounsaturated fat, fiber, magnesium, copper, and phytonutrients? Well if you did not, now you do. But what does that actually mean? For starters, it means that they are incredibly nutrient dense, give you energy, and help keep you full for a longer period of time than most quick snacks. Do you really need more reasons to enjoy this healthy nut? Okay, how about the fact that one serving of almonds will provide you with 14% of your daily recommended value of fiber. Fiber that will fill you up, keep you full, and help maintain a healthy and fluid gastrointestinal tract. If eating a handful of nuts does not appeal to you, then try spreading some all natural almond butter on your whole wheat toast, celery sticks, or even scrambled eggs (trust me, it is delicious!).
Note that if you decide to buy almond butter look closely at the label and make sure that the only ingredient in your spread is almonds. These packages may cost you a bit more than nut butters packed with sodium and sugar, but your body will thank you for the investment in your health.
Have you ever heard the expression ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’? As it turns out this particular expression caught on so well, because it may actually have some truth behind it. While we in no way recommend avoiding the doctor’s office all together and attempting to treat medical conditions with apples, there is something to be said for the possible health benefits of enjoying apples on a regular basis. High in antioxidants, fiber, and vitamin C, this low calorie fruit will fight free-radicals that can cause illnesses and chronic diseases, all while keeping you full and focused.
To ensure that your apples contain the maximum amount of nutrients buy them fresh at your local farmer’s market any time you can. This allows them more time to ripen and soak up nature’s nutrients before being harvested. Bonus! It also helps drive your local economy (and is usually cheaper than the grocery stores).
Superfoods are named such for their nutritional values, and beans have definitely earned their place on this list with theirs. Many bean varieties contain quite a bit of protein, and a fairly low amount of cholesterol, which makes them a great alternative to fatty cuts of meats. Beans are a fairly inexpensive source of protein and also rich in fiber, which helps to increase satiety for longer periods of time. This may explain why they are such a popular meal item in economically underprivileged areas. As an added bonus beans and other legumes have been shown to reduce cholesterol and risks of certain cancers in lab rats, making scientists hopeful that these results may also be mirrored in humans.
Buying dry beans and cooking them yourself is the healthiest option. Canned and frozen options will often provide you with the same protein and fiber content, but will also increase your sodium and sugar intake.
Antioxidants are vital for strengthening the immune system and helping the body to fight off free radicals and other reactive species that may cause non-communicable diseases, and superfoods like beets are full of them. While beets are naturally high in antioxidants, they also contain a host of other vitamins and minerals including: vitamin C, folate, magnesium, manganese, and even contain some protein. These nutrients work together to support the healthy function of multiple systems within the body. It is believed by some scientists that betalains (which give beets their purple color) are the secret to their health benefits, as it is possible that vegetables with betalains may help to ward off cancer.
Fun Fact: Beets are considered to be aphrodisiacs because their natural nitrates convert into nitric oxide within the body and cause a widening of the blood vessels and an increase in circulation.
Hypertension is a common health concern of postmenopausal women, which can lead to cardiovascular disease. A few studies have shown that the daily consumption of blueberries may reduce the risk of hypertension and high blood pressure by increasing the production of nitric oxide within the body. Other studies show that blueberries contain anti-inflammatory properties, and may even help with memory loss. Blueberries also contain a naturally high level of vitamin C, vitamin K, dietary fiber, and manganese, to help keep the body functioning at peak performance.
Blueberries are one of the easiest superfoods (and fruits) to grow yourself, because they do not require any pruning, spraying for disease or insects, or any other manual maintenance. While disease and insects are not a problem for blueberry bushes, birds can be. To avoid issues with birds plant these bushes close to a regularly used entryway to your home.
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable high in vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and dietary fiber. Studies have shown that eating the recommended amount of cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, (as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans) can lower the risk of various cancers including: prostate, colorectal, lung, and breast cancers. The consumption of broccoli allows for a variety of healthy functions to occur within the body, including using antioxidants, controlling the cell cycle, and regulating certain enzymes.
Although broccoli does maintain many of its nutrients when cooked, you will benefit more from the vitamins and minerals that it contains if you choose to eat this particular vegetable raw.
Another nutrient rich cruciferous vegetable is the cauliflower. This vegetable is rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, potassium, and dietary fiber. On top of that it even contains a bit of protein. Cruciferous vegetable superfoods are often high in antioxidants and fiber, making them one of the most popular vegetable choices, since they help to both prevent diseases in the long term, and keep you full and satisfied in your day to day life. Cauliflower is one of the most diverse vegetable options since it can be used in salads, omelets, as a thickener in soups, or even as a pasta, it should be no problem getting enough of this delicious superfood into your diet.
If you are on a low-carb diet, you can use cauliflower in place of rice in many different dishes, including: fried cauliflower rice, stir fry, and stuffed peppers or portobello mushrooms. Use a food processor to get just the right rice consistency from your head of cauliflower.
If you are looking for a food source that is high in dietary fiber, with a significant amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, manganese, and healthy antioxidants look no farther than the versatile chia seed. A single serving of chia seeds is only one ounce (or one tablespoon), and yet this tiny ounce contains 19% of your recommended daily fiber. Studies have shown that consuming chia seeds on a regular basis prevents the risk of insulin resistance, and reduced the visceral adiposity that was present in rats. More studies are needed before a link can be made in humans.
Chia seeds can be incorporated into many different recipes to add an extra kick of nutrients to your diet. Since the natural flavor of chia seeds is fairly bland, they tend to absorb the flavors of the ingredients around them, creating a more flavorful and delightful treat.
This food made its way onto the list due to its super antioxidant properties, high fiber content, and high vitamin C content. Studies have shown that the regular inclusion of cranberries to your diet may help to reduce dental plaque, which is the number one cause of gum disease. It has also been shown that while cranberries may not do much to treat stomach ulcers or urinary tract infections, consuming them may help to prevent their occurrences in the first place. More research is currently being performed on this topic to help explain how cranberries might be used to prevent these health problems, and others.
Commercially grown cranberries are grown mostly in Washington, Wisconsin, Oregon, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, although since they are one of only three fruits that are natively cultivated in North America, they can be home grown in most states, provided there are appropriate and stable weather conditions.
A single large egg accounts for 13% of your recommended daily value of protein, and 23% of your recommended daily value of selenium. Selenium is essential for thyroid hormone metabolism, DNA synthesis, and it is also used in the roles of reproduction. Because of these nutritional facts, eggs are an especially important food for: pregnant women, children, athletes, the elderly, and others who require more high quality protein in their daily diets. Whether fried, hard boiled, scrambled, or poached, eggs retain their nutritional value and superfoods status throughout a variety of cooking processes. Most of the protein of the egg is contained mostly within the whites of the egg, and many of the other nutrients can be found in the yolk, however due to high levels of cholesterol found within the yolks this part of the egg should be consumed less frequently than the whites.
There is no inherent nutritional difference between brown eggs and white eggs. Egg colors are determined by the breed of the chicken that laid the egg. White eggs are more common simply because there was once a higher demand for white eggs, so farmers bred the type of chickens that would lay them.
Garlic is a superfood that can be eaten raw or cooked, but is most often found as a flavor booster or seasoning in a variety of dishes. The flavor profile of garlic allows it to be complementary in many different recipes but can easily overpower the dish if too much is used. Some studies show evidence that garlic may be able to reduce blood pressure, especially in patients with high blood pressure. Garlic also has natural antibacterial properties that may aid in the prevention of cancers and heart diseases, and lower blood cholesterol levels, but more studies are needed to validate these claims.
Amino acids are used in nearly every function, and chemical reaction of the body. It is essential to get enough amino acids in your diet daily because they cannot be stored within the body for later use. Garlic alone, contains an impressive seventeen amino acids that your body requires for proper functioning. Talk about hitting the superfoods jackpot.
Ginger is a commonly used spice to add flavor to many foods as well as an herb that has historically been used to treat a variety of illnesses and health problems. The two most important components of ginger include, gingerol and shogaol, which have been shown to help prevent various cancers. It can also be used to safely reduce inflammation and nausea in pregnant women and chemotherapy patients, as well as surgery patients. Studies have found that ginger tends to accumulate within the gastrointestinal tract which may be the reason that it works to reduce nausea and may work to prevent colon cancer.
When using ginger for any medicinal purposes, it is important that you first talk with your doctor or primary care physician. When taken in high doses ginger can cause intense gastric irritation, so a moderate intake is most often suggested.
Regular yogurt has its benefits, but greek yogurt takes the superfoods crown. It includes all of the healthy probiotics and anti-inflammatory properties of regular yogurt, and adds a significant amount of protein, and potassium to the mix. The protein content of greek yogurt insures when eaten as a part of a balanced breakfast, you are able to attain satiety and produce adequate amounts of energy to get you through your morning. Potassium has been shown to help steady blood sugar levels, and is an especially important nutrient for those with diabetes.
Even if you are not a huge yogurt fan you can get the benefits of greek yogurt simply by using it as a food substitute to make recipes healthier. Instead of using sour cream on a taco, put a bit of greek yogurt on top. You can even use it to make your desserts healthier.
Kale is another example of a cruciferous vegetable that may help prevent a variety of diseases. It is an outstanding source of vitamins A, C, and K, and also contains a good amount of dietary fiber to help keep you feeling fuller, longer. It is also rich in calcium, potassium, iron, and fiber, making it one of the most nutrient rich foods by volume available. Studies have shown that kale, and other green leafy superfoods have a positive effect on protecting eyesight, whether you have 20/20 vision or currently need glasses or contacts to be able to see well.
Avoid kale if you are taking blood thinners, or have a cruciferous vegetable allergy, as it may do you more harm than good. It is also important to note that kale can taste rather bitter to some, but that cooking it will often reduce this bitterness so that you may enjoy all of the nutritional benefits of this leafy green vegetable.
High in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, fiber, and manganese, leeks provide a host of health benefits when incorporated into a balanced diet. Studies have shown that leeks may help to lower both cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as help the body to fight off infections, which could mean a lowered risk of heart disease. The fiber content of leeks also aid in maintaining gastrointestinal, and colonic health. It has also been suggested that fiber may play a significant role in weight management and immune system health.
If you are new to gardening, and looking for easy food plants to grow in your home garden consider the leek. It is one of the easiest plants to grow, and although it is a member of the onion family it has a much more mild taste, which means you can substitute it, or add it, in a variety of recipes.
A serving size of cooked lentils is about a half of a cup, and contains just 115 calories. The nutritional heavy hitters here include fiber, protein, folate, and iron. As far as superfoods go, lentils are unique because they are a legume which means they fall under the category of vegetable and protein, thanks to their nutrient makeup. The carbohydrates found in lentils are used slowly by the body meaning that they provide a more steady form of energy than the carbs you would find in refined pastas and breads. This makes them an ideal food source for diabetics. The protein content makes them vegetarian friendly superfood.
If you eat two servings of lentils (one full cup, cooked) you will ingest 90% of your recommended daily allowance of folic acid, which is especially important in the diets of pregnant women, as it helps with the brain development of the fetus.
Oatmeal has long been known as a breakfast food, and for good reason. The high levels of dietary fiber and protein help to balance out the starchy carbohydrates, to create an energy profile that is jump started, and remains steady for hours. It has been shown that when oats are incorporated into a diet, which is low in fat and cholesterol, they can help to reduce the risk of heart disease. The soluble fibers found in oatmeal also help to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol in patients with higher cholesterol levels. Oatmeal is a good option for diabetes patients, and anyone else who is interested in keeping their blood sugar levels stable throughout the day.
Both stovetop, and microwavable oatmeal are superfoods due to their multitude of nutritional benefits. Avoid oatmeals that are pre flavored though, as they contain more sugar and sodium than the plain varieties, and instead flavor them yourself with fruits, nuts, and spices.
Although pistachios are high in fat, the majority of that fat is monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, which are actually beneficial to your health. They are also a great source of protein and vitamin B6. Studies show that the consumption of nuts, including pistachios, has been found to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Their rich macronutrient profile also promotes healthy weight, glucose levels, insulin levels, and hormone functioning. It has also been suggested that the rich antioxidant content of pistachios may aid in lowering cholesterol.
Some people shy away from pistachios because of their green hue, but the green coloring of pistachios is not only nothing to worry about, it is actually a sign that this nut definitely deserves a spot on the superfoods list. The green comes from the high levels of antioxidants that can be found in this increasingly popular nut.
It is unlikely that you would eat raw pumpkin, but that is okay, because as it turns out the nutrients of a pumpkin do not change all that much between when they are raw and when they are cooked. A cup of cooked, mashed pumpkin contains an astonishing 245% of your daily value of vitamin A, as well as a good bit of vitamin C, vitamin E, and potassium. Adding pumpkin to your diet may help help to reduce hypertension and insulin resistance, which in turn can reduce the risks of heart disease and diabetes.
The largest recorded pumpkin was 1,140 pounds, and although pumpkin pies may not qualify as superfoods, the largest pumpkin pie ever made was more than five feet in diameter, and over 350 pounds. It took six hours to bake and eighty pounds of cooked pumpkin, thirty six pounds of sugar, and twelve dozen eggs were needed to make it.
A cup of cooked quinoa contains 16% of your recommended daily values of protein, which means that whether you are a vegetarian, and sensitive to gluten, or just someone looking for a healthy alternative to grains and fatty meats, you can consume this grain and attain the benefits of high protein at the same time. The physiological effects of eating quinoa instead of processed grains and fatty meats include, weight loss (or weight stabilization), and improved lipid levels. The psychological effects of quinoa revolve mostly around its ability to reduce stress.
Quinoa contains all nine of the essential amino acids, which makes it a complete protein, and since a single cup of quinoa contains 16% of your daily value of protein, in just fifteen minutes of cook time you will be on your way to protein heaven.
Salmon is an oily fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are often known as heart healthy fats, and should be regularly incorporated into everyone’s diet. A single serving of salmon is about 150 grams (or ½ of a fillet) and contains 78% of your daily value of protein, and 103% of your daily value of selenium. It is also rich in vitamin B6, vitamin B12, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and copper. Studies show that salmon, and other superfoods high in omega-3’s, may play significant roles in the development and health of the brain and eyes. It has also been suggested that they can reduce the risk of heart diseases and certain cancers.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the healthy functioning of the body, despite the fact that the body cannot actually produce this nutrient, which is why the consumption of foods high in omega-3’s or fish oil supplements are important.
Spinach contains 56% of your recommended daily values of vitamin A, and 181% of your recommended daily values of vitamin K. But those are not the only noteworthy nutrients. It is also rich in vitamin C, folate, manganese, and antioxidants. The antioxidants that can be found in spinach can help lower the risk of stress induced diseases, according to studies performed on hyperlipidemic rats. It has also been associated with a decreased risk for developing breast cancer, although additional testing is being performed to validate this statement. This leafy green can be added to, or substituted in, salads to create a more nutritiously rich profile.
Although spinach is best eaten raw and fresh, it can be added to a number of different recipes to create a more flavorful and nutritious dish. When cooked, it is most often sautéed and added to pasta, or chicken dishes as a nutrient booster.
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