5 Superfoods That Earn Their Name
The term “superfood” was originally coined to distinguish nutrient-dense foods shown to make a highly positive impact on human health. Many do legitimately earn their name, providing diverse, concentrated and essential nutrients the body needs to function properly and/or optimally.
More specifically, a typical superfood may be known to reduce inflammation and thus reduce risk of heart disease. Parallel examples extend to other health issues such as digestive health, arthritis, immune function and cancer.
While it’s important to have realistic expectations, superfoods are definitely worth investigating. If nothing else, they support the old “apple a day” adage and the notion of food as the first medicine…
As we’ll discuss here, perhaps even more. Today we’ll take a closer look at 5 superfoods that live up to the hype!
Arugula – along with various other dark, leafy greens like kale and spinach – packs a powerful nutritional punch.
Also known as rocket, arugula carries very high concentrations of vitamin K, vitamin C, folate, fiber and antioxidants. In just a single cup, this small, peppery green provides nearly 25% of the RDA for both vitamin C and folate.
Along with these key vitamins and minerals, arugula provides a significant source of dietary nitrates – a lesser-known yet crucial benefit. These compounds are known to facilitate greater blood flow in cardiovascular tissue (source) and thus potential for reducing hypertension risk.
With heart disease remaining a leading threat to health, even basic lifestyle modifications are worthy of consideration. A little more arugula on your plate might be one such measure.
Finally, studies also suggest a specific compound contained in arugula (erucin, an isothiocynate) shows potent in vitro anti-cancer properties (source).
It doesn’t mean arugula works magic, but it certainly supports its status as a strong superfood leader. Go ahead: give this one a try in soups, stir-fry or salad!
These berries are both delicious and well-researched…
For people like us, a highly appealing combination!
As far as the basics go, per cup blueberries provide around 16% of your daily needs of vitamin C. They also yield about 4 grams of fiber and respectable quantities of the mineral manganese. This lesser-known micronutrient is responsible for processing cholesterol, protein, and carbohydrates throughout your body.
With regard to the more “super” aspects, blueberries are best known for carrying powerful anti-inflammatory benefits. In particular, blueberries contain high quantities of phytonutrients called polyphenols. A specific subgroup, called anthocyanins, give blueberries their beautiful color.
The polyphenol class of antioxidants is closely associated with reduced risk of heart disease and metabolic syndrome (source). Evidence also appears to convey strong anti-cancer benefits.
Health risks aside, reducing inflammation and cellular damage in the body is highly important even for the healthy and fit. Reduced joint pain, improved exercise recovery and higher energy levels can all be enjoyed from a bowl of berries!
As we move out of the Produce Section, we quickly come across this amazing, highly beneficial nut. Walnuts are a staple in the Mediterranean diet – traditionally rich in fish, vegetables, fruit, olive oil, and nuts.
One serving of walnuts – 1 ounce, 1 handful or 12 halves – provides 4g protein, 2g fiber, and 45mg of magnesium. Walnuts are well-recognized as playing a role in lowering LDL cholesterol and reducing diastolic blood pressure. These are two major risk factors for heart disease.
Walnuts are also the only tree nut substantially rich in the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). The same single serving as above provides some 2.5 grams of ALA.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a hot topic, and rightfully so. This important lipid cannot be made by the body and must be obtained through the foods we eat…
Incorporating omega-3 fatty acids into your daily diet can potentially reduce your risk of developing heart disease and stroke (source). Health afflictions aside, omega-3s also play a role in reducing inflammation from joint pain.
In terms of mental health omega-3s have been shown to lend cognitive support.
They can even help alleviate symptoms of depression…
Quite honestly, we’re starting to wonder if there’s anything they don’t do…
Just a little bit of walnuts go a long way.
Yogurt is filled with many important nutrients: these include quality protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, riboflavin, and vitamin B12.
All of these carry considerable benefits for our nutrition, and can play a vital role in body health…
What really helps set yogurt apart, however, is its status as a fermented food.
Fermentation is a process that utilizes bacteria and yeast to break down sugars.
This process has traditionally been used to enhance and prolong the preservation of foods, such as dairy and vegetables.
The fermentation process does more than add a longer shelf-life to foods, however.
It also significantly boosts their nutritional content by providing the body with beneficial bacteria known as probiotics. Probiotics have been associated with boosting your immune system, as well as effective weight management (source).
They are perhaps best known for promoting optimal digestive health, as well as support the internal environment called the microbiome. Probiotics serve as food for the “good bacteria” living there and competing with less-friendly strains that can harm health.
On that topic: when shopping for yogurt, please keep in mind that not all yogurt is equally nutritious. To get the true superfood benefits, purchase yogurt with live probiotic cultures and minimal added sugars.
Surprising to some, mushrooms, an edible fungus (and despite that, surprisingly tasty) actually contain a wide variety of important nutrients.
As one example, they are the leading source of selenium out of all produce items. As with the manganese above, selenium is another essential trace mineral. Among other things, it’s responsible for building specific proteins and reducing cellular damage in the body. In addition to that, it too works as another powerful antioxidant.
Mushrooms also happen to be the only fruit or vegetable that contains naturally occurring vitamin D. Apart from its traditional role in working with calcium to build strong bones, vitamin D demonstrates many other benefits (source).
This has resulted in recent recommendations from many health professionals for a daily intake of up to 5000 IU. Responding to this data, some growers have even boosted the amount of vitamin D in their mushrooms using ultraviolet light.
Odds are we’d all do a bit better working to optimize our intake of “The Sunshine Vitamin”…
Shop for portabella, white, cremini or maitake mushrooms – they are the varieties richest in vitamin D.
Fundamentally, you just can’t get away from it…
We are what we eat.
Now more than ever, there is the possibility of optimized health and wellness obtained through proper nutrition. As nutritional knowledge grows, so too (hopefully) does our desire for such straightforward, simpler solutions to enjoy a healthier life.
Of course, achieving long-lasting health requires more than focusing on just one or two “superfoods” to get the job done. They can’t do all the work for us.
What they can do, however, is help support us while we get to work on our improved health, fitness and wellness.
That’s always been the role of food, and it’s a great place to start!