Superfoods are nutrient- packed fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish that deliver a powerful dose of disease- fighting substances, cleansing the body of toxins and neutralizing cell-damaging free radicals. A diet rich in plant-based chemicals, phytochemicals, can slow the aging process, increase longevity, protect against cancer, and prevent heart disease. Oils in nuts and some fish also have strong disease-fighting properties, earning them the superfood label. While studies have long shown the healthful benefits of including a lot of fruits and vegetables in a diet, and eating coldwater fish, researchers are now beginning to identify the specific elements that fresh produce, fish, and nuts bring to the plate.
Superfruits and Berries
High on the list of anti-oxidant foods are fruits and berries that fall in the blue-purple and red family of colors. Blueberries, blackberries, acai berries and plums get their color from Anthocyanins, which have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, and may even prevent the formation of tumors, by interacting with other phytochemicals to inhibit the production of enzymes that stress the body’s cells. Citrus fruits, and melons such as cantaloupe, are high in vitamin C, making them superfruits that give a boost to the immune system and help protect against, and reduce the severity of, the common cold. New research suggests that vitamin C is also effective in preventing arteriosclerosis, hardening of the arteries caused by the buildup of plaque along artery walls. Arteriosclerosis can lead to heart attack and stroke. Studies have also shown Vitamin C is effective in cancer prevention, and it may improve the condition of those suffering from macular degeneration, deterioration of the retina that leads to a severe loss of vision.
The Healthful Benefits of Nuts and Fish
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to normal body functions and a dietary necessity, as the body does not produce these on its own. Fatty coldwater fish such as salmon, albacore tuna, and sardines are rich in omega-3s. Nuts are also a good source, with walnuts containing the highest level of this nutrient. Pistachios and almonds are also good choices. They are not as rich in omega-3 fatty acids as walnuts, but they are lower in calories. Women suffering from hot flashes, and other symptoms of menopause, report that consuming one ounce of walnuts every other day relives their discomfort. Omega-3s lower the triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels in the blood, promoting heart health. They have also been found to reduce inflammation, the body’s response to physical and mental stressors. While some inflammation is normal and necessary — consider the body’s response to a cut, the redness and swelling is how the body battles harmful pathogens — continued inflammation wears on the body, accelerates aging, and is linked to many ailments once considered unavoidable consequences of growing old. New research is showing that omega-3 fatty acids can alleviate the joint pain and stiffness of rheumatoid arthritis, boost the effectiveness of anti-depressant medications, and may even prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Kale, collards, Swiss chard, and spinach are nutrient-dense vegetables that add important vitamins, minerals, and fiber to a diet. Because they are extremely low in calories and are very filling, there is no danger of eating too much of these healthy foods. They add bulk to a diet, facilitating movement along the digestive tract, and they release sugars into the blood gradually, preventing unhealthy insulin spikes. Vitamins found in leafy greens work to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol. Oxidation allows LDL cholesterol to go directly to arteries in the body where it accumulates and causes inflammation.
Incorporating these healthy foods in a diet requires a new way of looking at meal planning. Rather than select a meat entrée, and then add fruits and vegetables as side dishes, begin with superfoods as the main course. Center dinner around a large salad of dark greens, chopped vegetables, slivered nuts, and berries. Meat and dairy products should be included as small accompaniments. Fruit is a natural snack food. Keep a variety of fresh superfruits in the house for a quick bite. For an easy breakfast, combine fresh berries with non-fat yogurt and a little milk in a blender to make a satisfying fruit smoothie.
While many of the healthful compounds found in superfoods are available in pill form, it is specific combinations of phytochemicals that produce health benefits. Many of these chemicals have yet to be identified by researchers, and therefore cannot be found in dietary supplements. Consuming superfoods as nature grew them will provide the maximum health benefits, and the maximum taste.