You know what junk food looks like, but can you pick a superfood out of a lineup?
Although there aren’t any magic cure-all foods lurking in the grocery store shelves, there are certain foods with exceptional nutritional profiles that help your immune system fight disease and make it easier for you to maintain a healthy body.
By being mindful of what you eat, you can reduce your risk of hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, and even some types of cancers.
Are you looking to optimize your diet and boost your overall health? If so, read on.
Compared to average food items, superfoods have more nutrients, fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. And, oftentimes, they also come with fewer calories.
It may seem counterintuitive, but in an age when obesity is rising, we’re all starving — that is, starving for nutrients, antioxidants, and other essentials that enable our bodies to function like well-oiled machines.
Superfoods can help you fill in the gaps. They provide many of the missing pieces needed for your body to perform optimally.
However, if you’re looking to fully optimize your diet, keep in mind that your lifestyle and level of physical activity impact your daily requirements. If you work out at least three to four times per week, you may need more protein as opposed to only adding more superfoods in your diet.
So how can you tell if a food is worthy of the title “superfood”? Let’s take a quick look at a few common traits that all true superfoods share.
All foods contain nutrients, but superfoods are packed with them. These foods deliver more vitamins and minerals in comparison to their non-superfood counterparts.
For example, one cup of white bread comes with 9% of your daily iron, 3% of your magnesium, and 7% of your calcium for 120 calories.
On the other hand, one cup of spinach comes with 36% of your daily iron, 39% of your magnesium, and 24% of your calcium for only 41 calories.
This doesn’t even cover the fact that white bread has a higher glycemic load and more sugars, whereas spinach contains very few carbohydrates. This is applicable in everyday life when making the choice between a salad or a sandwich.
Think about stress at home or at work, pollution in the air, sleepless nights, smoking, a sedentary lifestyle — all those things that we know we should eliminate from our daily lives. The reason we should eliminate them is because a failure to do so can lead to something called oxidative stress. Antioxidants prevent damage from oxidative stress.
In order to function properly, we need to constantly take in antioxidants from food sources so we can combat the everyday stressors that our bodies must deal with.
When you don’t get enough antioxidants from your diet, you increase your risk of many health challenges such as nerve cell damage, joint inflammation, cancer, and accelerated aging.
For decades, fats have served as the scapegoat for heart disease and diabetes.
But not all fats are created equal. Without enough healthy fats, many essential physical functions start to degrade, such as your brain. Without enough healthy fat, eventually brain membranes become more rigid and your risk of suffering a variety of disorders such as an ischaemic stroke rises. Fun fact: your brain is actually the fattiest organ in your body and is made up of at least 60% fat.
Unsaturated fats also help you fight inflammation and absorb fat-soluble vitamins.
Fiber is a must-have for everyone, especially if you have slower digestion or you suffer from insulin resistance.
Studies suggest that increasing your fiber intake slows down the rate at which your body absorbs sugar and may even prevent colon cancer.
Countless studies suggest that adding more vegetables to your diet may prevent serious illnesses. But only recently was some credit given to phytochemicals, or biologically active compounds in plants, and their ability to protect cells from damage.
There are a few promising clinical studies that show improvements in the quality of life of cancer patients who increase their intake of phytochemicals.
In-season, local, and organic produce is always best, but if these foods aren’t grown in your area, imported varieties are still worth adding to your grocery cart for their outstanding health benefits. The food market may be changing, but the following foods are all generally very easy to find at your local grocery store.
Avocado is one of the main celebrities on our list. Practically every fitness guru is now promoting this fruit as part of a healthy diet.
Avocados contain a lot of healthy fats, and they’re also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce cholesterol and help prevent heart disease.
When it comes to vitamins and minerals, avocados are jam-packed with them.
Here’s some of the reasons why avocados are considered a superfood:
- Contains healthy fats (omega-3) that fight inflammation
- Contains vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin C
- Rich in magnesium
- Rich in fiber
Inflammation is one of the main triggers of chronic diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Berries are packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals that lower inflammation levels. Plus, these tasty fruits are also high in vitamin C, which your immune system and skin greatly need.
Berries are a superfood because they:
- Contain polyphenols that act as antioxidants
- Lower bad cholesterol
- Improve insulin sensitivity
- Promote brain health
3. Dark chocolate
Having a little bit of chocolate every day might sound like cheating on your healthy diet. But if you choose chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content and a natural low glycemic sweetener (such as monkfruit, coconut sugar, or stevia) you can feel good about eating this superfood and super treat.
Unlike most types of chocolate, dark chocolate isn’t loaded with sugar. The higher the cacao content percentage, the lower the sugar content. One trick is to buy really dark chocolate and then enjoy it with fruit or nut butter. You can even just add raw cacao to your superfood smoothies. It’s rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals, and important minerals such as magnesium and zinc.
As unlikely as it may sound, dark chocolate is considered a superfood because it’s:
- Packed with antioxidants
- Rich in minerals
- Known to reduce stress levels
- Able to aid digestion
Not only does watermelon help you stay hydrated during the summer, its sweet taste comes with a lot of antioxidants and vitamins that help prevent heart disease.
Do you work out often? The citrulline in watermelons may help relieve your muscle soreness and post-workout pain.
Here’s why it’s a superfood:
- Rich in antioxidants
- May boost heart health
- Rich in vitamins
- Contains citrulline
Do you love grains? Well, quinoa is a guilt-free variety. Compared to rye, wheat, and barley, quinoa is gluten-free, and it comes with fewer carbohydrates, making it a good grain option for people who suffer from insulin resistance. It is also a complete protein (i.e. it has all the essential amino acids that our body needs to get externally from food because our bodies can’t make it internally), so it is a favorite among vegans and vegetarians.
Quinoa contains many key minerals and antioxidants. As an added bonus, people suffering from celiac disease can eat it too.
Quinoa is a superfood because it’s:
- Packed with protein and fiber
- Rich in minerals
- Full of flavonoids (which are thought to reduce the risk of cancer, asthma, stroke, and heart disease)
- A gluten-free grain
Best Superfoods for Weight Loss
There’s many reasons for weight gain and many different ways to lose weight, but the most popular practice is to reduce the amount of calories consumed. No food is going to melt the weight off of you, but some foods offer more nutrients in fewer calories, making it easier for you to sustain a low-calorie diet. Here are three of the best superfoods for weight loss.
At only 41 calories per cup, spinach not only helps you lose weight while filling you up, but it also beats out most foods when it comes to vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Even though this leafy green vegetable is low in calories, it’s quite high in iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, and B vitamins.
Plus, spinach contains strong antioxidants such as alpha lipoic acid, commonly used as a complementary treatment for Type 2 diabetes.
Here’s why spinach is a superfood:
- Low in calories and sugars
- Packed with essential minerals and vitamins
- Contains alpha lipoic acid
- Helps with bowel movements
2. Wild caught salmon
Wild salmon is a weightlifter’s best friend. Are you looking to build muscle and lose weight at the same time? This superfood is not only a high-quality protein source, but it also helps protect your joints when you exercise.
An added bonus is that it’s low in carbs, which makes salmon a perfect addition to your diet if you want to keep your sugar intake low.
There are lots of reasons salmon is a superfood, but here are a few of our favorites:
- Contains healthy fats
- Packed with protein and filling
- Fights inflammation
3. Unsweetened coconut yogurt
The bacteria in your gut is vital to staying healthy, but this bacteria can be affected by an imbalanced diet, antibiotics, and illnesses. Any disruption in microbiota can impact digestive health and potentially lead to weight gain.
One of the best ways to restore your gut health is to eat food that contains probiotics. Unsweetened coconut yogurt has plenty of probiotics and lots of healthy fats. Unlike regular (dairy) yogurt it does not provoke inflammation, autoimmune disease, nor cancer.
Unsweetened coconut yogurt is most definitely a superfood — here’s why:
- Rich in probiotics
- Contains minerals
- Contains healthy fats