CHAPTER
21

Superfoods: Are They Real or Just Good Marketing Tactics?

In This Chapter

  • What exactly constitutes a “superfood?”
  • What superfoods can do for you
  • What foods are considered superfoods and why
  • How to incorporate superfoods into your daily diet

Have you ever wondered if foods really have superpowers? Well, there are many nutrient-packed foods that just might. Their value comes not from anything added to them but from just what Mother Nature provides.

In this chapter, we’ll find out exactly what the term “superfoods” means and discover the many benefits these powerful foods provide for our physical and mental health. Many of the foods we’ll discuss are known to boost strength and energy, help prevent disease, and keep us living healthier and longer.

What Makes a Food Super?

Most of the time the term “superfood” is more of a marketing term than a true label claim. However, this term does still carry some merit. The problem is that it’s not a technical definition, so companies are at liberty to label nearly anything a superfood. So it’s buyer beware when you purchase a packaged food product or supplement that is labeled a superfood!

The foods we’ll discuss are not packaged as superfoods, but are considered super due to the wide array of nutrients they naturally contain. There’s no one single food that contains all the phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and so on your body requires on a daily basis for good health and to fight disease. Almost every food in the produce section is a superfood in some way, whether it’s categorized that way or not. Your best bet is to eat a variety of fresh and wholesome foods daily to get the nutrients you need to stay healthy and feel your best.

Superfoods and Their Benefits

There are many healthy foods that have never been called “super.” However, certain foods are deemed superfoods because they’re nutrient powerhouses that pack large doses of antioxidants, polyphenols, phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and more in a fairly small serving. Including them daily in a healthy and well-balanced diet may help to reduce your risk for chronic disease, prolong your life, and support better overall health.

DEFINITION

Polyphenols are micronutrients found in certain foods that act as powerful antioxidants. Studies have proven that polyphenols can help to prevent degenerative diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, as well as reduce the effects of aging.

Longevity

One of the benefits to consuming superfoods, and healthier foods in general, is that they lower the risk for both chronic disease and age-related diseases. Research has found groups of people around the world who live longer and enjoy healthier lives due to the foods they regularly include in their diets.

Mental Health

When we discuss mental health, we’re talking about a whole host of issues ranging from depression and anxiety to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Food matters when it comes to your brain power and mental health. Although some mental health issues can be genetic, your overall lifestyle can still help lower your risk for these mental disorders and sometimes help manage them once you have them. Not only can true mental disorders be affected by nutrition, but your everyday mood can also be affected by the foods you eat, and vice versa. In fact, a diet high in sugar and processed foods has been linked to depression. For or many people, when they get depressed or stressed they turn to emotional eating and consume more processed foods that are high in sugar. It becomes a vicious cycle that needs to be broken.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are not a natural part of aging. For many of these debilitating and deadly mental sufferers, the major factors were lifestyle and the foods they generally ate during their lifetime. Of course, genetics and medical history also play a part, but lifestyle and diet are also a large piece of the picture. There’s no one superfood or even a handful of superfoods that can guarantee good mental health, but generally eating a healthier diet and exercising on a regular basis will go a long way toward lowering your risk.

Energy

Food is our number one source of energy. However, you must consume the right foods to attain the energy your body truly needs. Much of society is accustomed to consuming unhealthy diets, which provide minimal energy levels. Many people don’t even realize how much better they could feel and how much more energy they could have by simply eating a healthier diet. Lower energy levels can greatly affect everyday life, including the motivation to exercise and stay active, which in turn can affect health and mood.

When people consume unhealthy diets and feel exhausted, they turn to more unhealthy foods and beverages containing sugar and caffeine to give them the boost they need for their energy reserves. Again, it becomes a vicious cycle that needs to be broken. Not only does their low energy affect the way they feel both physically and mentally, but it wreaks havoc on their immune system as well, leaving them more susceptible to illness, depression, and even chronic conditions such as heart disease.

NOTABLE INSIGHT

Proper nutrition and the timing of what you eat can make all the difference, making you feel alert and powerful. It provides you with the energy you need to be physically active, think clearly, and feel positive. Shoot for eating three healthy meals a day with portion-controlled healthy snacks in between for all-day energy.

A Healthy Sex Drive

Nutritional deficiencies from not eating properly can also have an impact on your libido. Essentially, what’s good for your heart is also good for your sex drive. A low sex drive doesn’t have to be a part of normal aging. With proper nutrition and a healthier lifestyle, you can achieve a normal libido at any age. Without you even realizing it, the unhealthy foods you’re eating may be contributing to a low sex drive. You might feel it’s simply part of the aging process, but it’s simply not. Proper nutrition, including superfoods, and a healthy lifestyle can make an immense difference in your sex drive.

Examples of Superfoods

You should be sure to make the following superfoods a regular part of your healthy diet. While this section doesn’t discuss all the superfoods that exist, it will give you a good place to start. The key is to eat a variety of healthy foods so you receive a wide variety of nutrients.

Dark Chocolate

Lucky for us that dark chocolate is considered a superfood! Yum! But there is more to dark chocolate than just its creamy, melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Dark chocolate is made from cocoa beans that are chockfull of polyphenols and antioxidants and rich in flavonoids. Flavonoids help protect plants from environmental toxins and help repair cell damage. The great news is that it appears we, too, get these same benefits when we eat flavonoid-containing foods such as dark chocolate, fruits, and vegetables.

Flavanols are the main type of flavonoid found in cocoa and dark chocolate. In addition to their powerful antioxidant properties, flavanols may benefit vascular health by lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow to the brain and the heart, thus reducing the risk for heart attack and stroke. Other benefits of flavanols include acting as an anti-inflammatory and lowering the risk for cognitive impairment and certain cancers.

Other foods rich in flavanols include cranberries and other specific berries, apples, pomegranates, peanuts, onions, tea, and red wine. Keep in mind that even though dark chocolate may have some amazing health benefits, you should eat it in moderation and look for 70 percent cacao in the chocolate. Most commercial chocolate has not only raw cocoa but added fat, sugar, and calories.

Here are some ways to enjoy dark chocolate:

  • Add plain cocoa powder to low-fat or fat-free milk.
  • Grate dark chocolate over fresh fruit or smoothies.
  • Add grated dark chocolate to savory sauces.
  • Add dark chocolate chips to oatmeal.
  • Mix chocolate into low-fat Greek yogurt.

FOODIE FACTOID

If you want to add all of the amazing health benefits of dark chocolate without the added fats and sugar, you need to select a product containing least 70 percent cacao. The darker the chocolate, the less sugar it will contain.

Berries

Berries are at the top of the list as far as superfoods go. There’s a vast variety to choose from, including blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, and raspberries, just to name just a few. If you want to get a little more exotic, there are açai berries and goji berries.

Berries are packed with disease-fighting phytochemicals, including anthocyanins, another part of the flavonoid family of polyphenols. These powerful compounds have antioxidant properties that studies suggest help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), cognitive decline, and cancer. These red and blue fruits can also help boost your immunity and are anti-inflammatory.

When choosing berries, the darker they are, the more disease-fighting antioxidants they contain. Shoot for a serving of some variety of berries daily. Fresh is great, but frozen are just as good if they’re out of season.

Here are some ways to enjoy berries:

  • Put berries on your morning cereal (cold or hot).
  • Add them to low-fat yogurt—layer them with yogurt to create a parfait for a yummy and snappy-looking dessert.
  • Add them to smoothies. (Using frozen berries gives your smoothie a thicker consistency.)
  • Enjoy them plain or mixed with other fruits in a fruit salad.
  • Sprinkle them over your favorite salad.

Kale

Kale is a super-healthy green, actually a member of the cabbage family, and falls under the heading of cruciferous vegetables. Kale isn’t the only cruciferous vegetable that’s super-healthy. Others include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, and brussels sprouts.

Kale is very nutrient-dense and loaded with a wide array of nutrients, including vitamins A, K, C, and B6, manganese, calcium, copper, potassium, and magnesium. Kale also contains fiber and very little fat, but the fat it does have is an omega-3 fatty acid.

Kale is loaded with all types of beneficial compounds that have tremendous health benefits. Two of these include quercetin and kaempferol, both of which provide heart protection and lower blood pressure, and have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antidepressant, and anticancer effects. In addition, kale is high in lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that are linked to good eye health.

Here are some ways to enjoy kale:

  • Steam kale plain as a side dish.
  • Use thinly sliced raw kale in salads.
  • Make kale chips by brushing with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkling on a little salt, and baking until crisp.
  • Mix kale with brown rice or whole-grain pasta.

FOODIE FACTOID

Kale is not really high in vitamin A itself, but it’s an excellent source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that turns into vitamin A in the body.

Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are tiny black seeds that come from the chia plant, which is native to Mexico and Guatemala. These seeds are rich sources of insoluble fiber and omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Chia seeds are one of the best-known plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, even higher in these healthy fats than flaxseeds. In addition, they provide high-quality protein (meaning they contain all of the essential amino acids) and loads of essential minerals and antioxidants such as manganese, phosphorus, copper, selenium, copper, magnesium, and calcium.

Chia seeds may improve risk factors for both heart disease and diabetes and improve digestive health.

Here are some ways to enjoy chia seeds:

  • Add chia seeds to baked goods.
  • Sprinkle chia seeds on cold or hot cereal.
  • Mix chia seeds in your oatmeal.
  • Top your low-fat yogurt with chia seeds.
  • Mix chia seeds in your vegetable or rice dishes.

WAKE-UP CALL

In large doses, chia seeds can have blood-thinning effects. If you’re taking blood-thinning medications, consult with your doctor before incorporating these seeds into your diet. Chia seeds also contain a plant compound called phytic acid, which can combine with minerals such as iron and zinc and inhibit their absorption.

Pomegranates

Pomegranates are one healthy fruit. They’re classified as part of the berry family, but look more like a red apple with a funny stem. Their skin is very thick and inedible, but inside are hundreds of sweet edible seeds called arils. These arils are the part of the fruit people eat, either raw or processed into juice.

Pomegranates sport an impressive nutritional profile starting with 7 grams of fiber per 1 cup of arils. They also contain protein, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and potassium. There are two plant compounds in pomegranates that are responsible for most of their amazing health benefits: punicalagins and punicic acid. Punicalagins are very powerful antioxidants found mainly in the juice and peel of the fruit. Punicic acid, sometimes called pomegranate seed oil, is the main fatty acid found in the arils.

Pomegranates have anti-inflammatory effects, help fight against prostate and breast cancer, may lower blood pressure, help alleviate arthritis and joint pain, lower your risk of heart disease, help improve memory, and improve exercise performance. And if that isn’t enough, pomegranates also have antibacterial and antiviral properties, which may help against common gum diseases.

Here are some ways to enjoy pomegranates:

  • Add pomegranate seeds to low-fat vanilla yogurt.
  • Try pomegranate juice as an alternative beverage.
  • Juice the seeds and use them as a marinade on chicken, fish, shrimp, or pork.
  • Toss pomegranate seeds on salads.
  • Eat them as a snack.

Black Beans

Beans are one of the key food groups for preventing disease and optimizing health. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming at least 3 cups of legumes or beans weekly. When it comes to beans, black beans top the list and provide a good source of molybdenum, folate, fiber, copper, and magnesium.

DEFINITION

Legumes are a class of vegetable and include not only beans but peas and lentils as well.

All beans in general are a winning combination of high-quality carbs, lean protein, and soluble fiber, which helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and keep hunger in check. In addition, they aid your digestive tract and provide cardiovascular benefits. Black beans are chockfull of an impressive array of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients.

Beans are very inexpensive, versatile, and even fat-free. You can buy them dried or canned. When using canned beans, rinse them thoroughly to lower the sodium content. Besides black beans, other great varieties of legumes that provide as many health benefits include chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, soybeans, navy beans, and pinto beans.

Here are some ways to enjoy black beans:

  • Add the beans to chili, casseroles, and soups.
  • Toss beans in your salad.
  • Use them to make a hummus-style dip.
  • Use them as a stuffing for tacos and/or burritos.
  • Toss beans with brown rice and salsa for a quick, nutritious side dish.
  • Use them with guacamole as a layered dip for veggies.

Salmon

Salmon and other fatty fish (such as lake trout, sardines, herring, albacore tuna, and mackerel) are a great source of lean high-quality protein, contain no saturated fat, and are an excellent concentrated source of omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon provides omega-3 fatty acids in the form of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Salmon is also an excellent source of vitamin B12, vitamin D, selenium, niacin, and phosphorus.

EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids are known to reduce the risk for diabetes; increase the effectiveness of insulin; support joint cartilage; support eye health; be anti-inflammatory; and decrease the risk for heart disease, some types of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and other cognitive issues.

The goal should be to include at least 7 ounces of fatty fish, such as salmon, in your diet each week.

Here are some ways to enjoy salmon:

  • Grill it.
  • Use cold salmon in a salad.
  • Make “salmon burgers.”
  • Use salmon to make fish tacos.
  • Add it to a chowder-based soup.

Turmeric

Turmeric is an Indian spice that comes from the root of the curcuma longa plant, which is a relative to ginger root. Best known as a main ingredient in curry, tumeric’s deep yellow-orange color is also what gives mustard its bright yellow color.

The pigment that gives turmeric its yellow-orange color is called curcumin, which is believed to be the primary component that contributes to its amazing health benefits as well as its powerful antioxidant properties. Curcumin has been found to provide anti-inflammatory effects, be an effective treatment for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), provide relieve for arthritis sufferers, improve liver function, offer protection from cardiovascular disease, lower cholesterol, lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and help prevent some types of cancer.

You can enjoy turmeric by using it in your daily meal plan. Turmeric is also available in powdered capsule form. The general recommendation is 400 to 600mg three times per day of a standardized powder (curcumin). Be patient, as it may take up to a few months before full benefits take place. You shouldn’t use turmeric supplements if you have gallstones or bile duct dysfunction. Speak with your doctor before using a turmeric supplement if you have diabetes, are pregnant, on a blood-thinning medication, and/or on medication to reduce stomach acid.

Here are some ways to enjoy turmeric in your daily diet:

  • Mix it with brown rice for a side dish.
  • Add it to egg salad or deviled eggs.
  • Add it to salad dressings.
  • Use turmeric as a spice to flavor lentils and beans.
  • Add it to spice up and add color to white cauliflower.

Walnuts

Who doesn’t like a handful of walnuts, pistachios, cashews, pecans, or macadamia nuts? All of these are part of the tree nut family. It only takes a very small amount daily, 1 ounce in fact, to provide significant health benefits. In the case of walnuts, that equals about seven whole shelled nuts.

Besides tasting yummy, walnuts are a rich source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats as well as omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic (ALA). Walnuts are best consumed in their whole form, including the skin. Researchers are convinced the skin contains the vast majority of the polyphenols, which are micronutrients that act as powerful antioxidants. Walnuts offer cardiovascular benefits, reduce issues in metabolic syndrome, provide significant benefits for those with type 2 diabetes, and can help lower the risk for certain cancers. But keep in mind that as healthy as they are, nuts are also considered a fat—though a healthy fat—and a little bit packs in lots of calories, so be mindful of your portion size.

Here are some ways to enjoy walnuts:

  • Sprinkle them on salads.
  • Eat them as a snack.
  • Use them to make a pesto.
  • Sprinkle them on top of oatmeal or yogurt.
  • Mix walnuts in with chicken, tuna, or curried turkey salads.

Avocados

Did you know that avocados are part of the fruit family? They’re a nutritional gem rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats—one of the healthiest fats around. They’re also a good source of fiber; potassium; vitamins C and K, folate, and B6, just to name just a few.

In addition, avocados help reduce excess cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and inflammation; benefit heart health; combat cancer cells, and help to protect the liver. The fat in avocados also helps to increase absorption of antioxidants from other foods you eat. In addition, they contain two antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which are incredibly essential for good eye health.

Here are some ways to enjoy avocados:

  • Add sliced avocado to sandwiches, chicken, or burgers.
  • Use them to make guacamole dip.
  • Dice them up and mix with chopped tomatoes and onions along with a pinch of salt and pepper and use as a side dish.
  • Toss cubed avocado into a salad or pasta salad.

NOTABLE INSIGHT

Avocados are high in potassium, which is an important mineral that is lacking in the diets of the majority of Americans.

Sample Superfoods Recipe

Wilted Kale Salad

Dressing:

3 TB. extra virgin olive oil

1 TB. balsamic vinegar

1 TB. agave nectar

⅛ tsp. salt

Ingredients:

1 TB. olive oil

1 bunch lacinato kale

⅛ tsp. kosher salt

8 oz. salmon, grilled and chilled

1 pear, diced

¾ cup pomegranate seeds

¼ cup feta cheese

¼ cup walnuts, chopped and toasted

1. Make the dressing by whisking the olive oil, vinegar, agave, and salt in a small mixing bowl. Set aside.

2. Stack the kale leaves into manageable stacks and slice into ¼-inch strips. Discard the stems or save for another use.

3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add kale and cook for 1 minute. Immediately remove from heat and transfer to a mixing bowl.

4. Combine salad dressing, kosher salt with kale. Mix well.

5. Plate each salad individually. Begin with a layer of wilted kale, 2 ounces salmon, 2 tablespoons pear, 1 tablespoon pomegranate seeds, 1 tablespoon feta cheese, and 1 tablespoon walnuts.

Cook’s note: Substitute other nuts such as pine nuts, pecans, cashews, or sliced almonds to change up your meal.

The Least You Need to Know

  • Recognizing superfoods will help aid you in eating a nutrition-packed diet.
  • Superfoods come from every food group.
  • Superfoods have numerous health benefits, including aiding your sex drive as you age.
  • If there’s a healthy superfood you haven’t tried, do it now. Don’t be afraid to explore and try something new. You may even find you have a new favorite food that also benefits your health.
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