No standard criteria or legal definitions classify any food as a superfood at this time. However, most superfoods are plant-based. In this article, we define what qualifies as a superfood, provide some common examples and their benefits, and provide tips on how to include them in the diet.
Superfoods are foods that have a very high nutritional density. This means that they provide a substantial amount of nutrients and very few calories.
They contain a high volume of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.
Antioxidants are natural molecules that occur in certain foods. They help neutralize free radicals in our bodies. Free radicals are natural byproducts of energy production that can wreak havoc on the body.
Superfoods are not cure-all foods. Dietitian Penny Kris-Etherton explains:
"A lot of people have unrealistic expectations about these foods, thinking they'll be protected from chronic diseases and health problems. They may eat one or two of these nutrient-dense foods on top of a poor diet."
Including superfoods as part of daily nutritional intake is great but only when consuming a healthy, balanced diet overall. Eat a "super diet" rather than to concentrate on individual foods.
Studies have demonstrated that superfoods high in antioxidants and flavonoids help prevent coronary heart disease and cancer, as well as improving immunity and decreasing inflammation.
Regularly eating fruits and vegetables also has strong associations with a lower risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions and overall mortality.
The nutrients they contain help promote a healthy complexion, nails, and hair and increase energy levels.
They can also help maintain a healthy weight.
Many foods considered to be "superfoods" are rich in color, often indicating that they are rich in antioxidants.
Tea contains few calories, helps with hydration, and is a good source of antioxidants.
Catechins, potent antioxidants found primarily in green tea, have beneficial anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties.
A study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology examined the effects of green tea, white tea, and water consumption on stress levels in 18 students.
The study suggested that both green and white tea had reduced stress levels and that white tea had an even greater effect. Larger studies are necessary to confirm this possible health benefit.
Green tea may also have an anti-arthritic effect by suppressing overall inflammation.
People often identify kale, spinach, Swiss chard, beet greens, and collard greens as superfood leafy greens. These foods are rich in vitamins A, C, E, and K, and many B vitamins.
Leafy greens also contain an abundance of carotenoids, iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
One cup of kale provides 550 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin K, equivalent to over 680 percent of a person's daily needs. Kale and other leafy greens are high in fiber and water content, both of which help to prevent constipation and promote regularity and a healthy digestive tract.
A person can incorporate these foods into a varied healthy diet when available. However, do not overspend or search too widely trying to find them.
The secret is that any leafy green vegetable or berry in a grocery store will provide many of the same benefits an individual will find in the premium-priced superfoods.
Buy your produce in season and from local sources to ensure the highest nutrient content. Do not discount the humble apple or carrot either — all fruits and vegetables are essentially superfoods.
Replacing as many processed foods as possible with whole foods will drastically improve health.
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