The WORLD'S HEALTHIEST FOODS

The "Superfood" tag has been thrown around a lot recently, but have you ever wondered what the really means? Also, what foods are 'super'? The purpose of this post is to provide research into superfoods, listing what they are, and why they are.

WHAT IS A SUPERFOOD?

A superfood is a food rich in phytochemicals, which are special chemicals that have been noted to have disease-fighting properties. Phytochemicals are best known for: reducing the risk of certain forms of cancer, but also inflammation, and strengthening the immune system. Many of them contain antioxidants, which are molecules that are able to slow, or prevent the oxidization of other molecules (think 'anti-aging'). Among all of these benefits, superfoods are also rich with vitamins, and minerals. Best of all, of these benefits are often packed into a small space (think about a blueberry), which makes superfoods easy to eat foods, that can be incorporated into an everyday meal. Bottom line, think of superfoods as a source of nutritional healing, longevity, and overall well-being.

WHAT ARE THE TOP SUPERFOODS OF TODAY? (AND how can I incorporate them into my diet?)

The list of superfoods could become quite long (depending on what your cut-off point is). Here is the general list of superfoods existent today:
  • red wine, and green/white tea
  • avocado, broccoli, onions, peppers, soy, spinach, and sprouts, hot peppers, leeks, daikon radishes
  • a├žai, apples, blueberries, pomegranates, pumpkin, kiwi, oranges,and tomatoes
  • wild salmon, turkey, eggs
  • beans, barley, seeds, nuts, lentils, oats, walnuts and buckwheat
  • cinnamon, dark chocolates (cocoa beans), garlic, honey, extra virgin olive oil ("cold pressed"), sea salt, yogurt & kefir
  • sea vegetables, irish moss, umeboshi plums, wheat grass, miso
Out of this list, here are my TOP 10 SUPERFOODS, why, and how you can incorporate them into your diet.

1) Goji Berries
A Himalayan berry that has been used to treat diabetes, hypertension, malaria, fever, cancer and other ailments. Gram for gram, goji berries pack more vitamin C than some oranges, and more beta-carotene than carrots. They have been linked to increasing metabolism, and they are also filled with anti-oxidants, which are linked to anti-aging and healthy cell function.

Uses: Goji berries can usually be found dried. The taste similar to a raisin, only much more tart, so they can be used in any recipe that requires raisins. My favorite use for goji berries is to run them through a smoothie, or to put them in my "Easy Peanut Butter Power Bars" recipe

2) Cocoa Beans
If I had to choose just one superfood, it may be this, not just because I LOVE dark chocolate, but because cocoa beans have so many health benefits (too many to list). The best source for all of these benefits is the bean itself (rather than gobbling down several dark chocolate bars, although there are many benefits to that as well). In their natural state, cocoa beans are a superfood, first, because they contain three neurotransmitters that are associated with promoting a healthy mood and positive mental state: serotonin, dopamine and phenylethylamine. They also have strong links to cardiovascular health. As indicated by research, cocao beans can help reduce or control the levels of "bad" cholesterol in our bloodstream while raising the "good" cholesterol (HDL) levels. Studies have also indicated the polyphenols in cacao beans may reduce blood pressure. For this reason, cocoa beans have the same benefits of red wine (another superfood) without the negative effects of alcohol. Last, but not least, cocoa beans are FILLED with, and said to be the greatest source of antioxidants, which (as mentioned before) protect against cell damage, and aging.  

Uses: Dark chocolate does carry some of the benefits, but it is not as beneficial as consuming the cocoa bean itself. Cocoa beans have recently become popularized, so it is easy to find them in many grocery/health/natural food stores (usually in 'nib' form). The best way to consume them is just by taking a handful, but truth be told they can be a bit bitter. Another option is to blend them in smoothies, uses them in cereal or power bars, or if you are lucky enough, find them in a raw chocolate.  Just a pre-warning, they can be quite expensive, but hopefully the more popular they become, the cheaper they will become.  

3) Cinnamon
Valued in ancient times as currency and once considered more precious than gold, cinnamon plays many roles as a superfood. Studies show that it is able to lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes, most likely due to the insulin-like effects of its polyphenols (natural substances found in plants). Also, Studies suggest that it can lower cholesterol significantly, if taken in high doses.

Uses: Cinnamon is one of the more commonly used spices. A half a teaspoon/ day is the amount suggested in order to take advantage of its abilities. Considering you are not going to eat the entire batch of cinnamon buns (or maybe you are), one of the best ways to incorporate this superfood into your diet is sprinkle it on oatmeal/ cereal, blend it in a smoothie, or put it in your morning coffee or tea.

4) Umeboshi Plums (you can also find it in a paste, or vinegar)
Truth be told, this one is slightly more difficult to find, and can be expensive, however it is one of the best superfoods to incorporate into your diet. This plum is closely related to the apricot (which is also a superfood) and is one of the oldest components used in some Japanese medicine. Their powerful acidity has a paradoxical alkalinizing effect on the body, neutralizing fatigue, stimulating the digestion, and promoting the elimination of toxins. In Japan, it is equivalent to 'an apple a day', or taking an aspirin, because of its high nutrient, and diseases fighting properties.
Uses: Probably one of the easiest ways to consume these plums is in a tea (which you can find in better grocery stores, or health food stores). Since it comes in many forms, it can also be used in a dressing, or in smoothies.

5) Blueberries and Pomegranates
Both are rich in antioxidants, which have been shown to help fight heart disease and lower cholesterol. Both have been linked to reducing free-radicals, which can accelerate aging. Along with the 'heart-healthy' benefits, both have also been linked to 'brain-health'. Because of the high levels of vitamins, selenium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, copper, etc., these fruits can heal neurotic disorders by preventing degeneration or death of neurons, brain-cells and also by restoring health of the central nervous system.

Uses: The best way to take advantage of these fruits is to drink them as a juice (especially pomegranate), or in a smoothie. Both are also great in a salad, and blueberries are excellent in any baking item. 

6) Dark Leafy Greens
Your mom was right, eating your dark greens and vegetables is probably the best thing you can do (nutritionally) for your body. Dark green leafy vegetables are, calorie for calorie, perhaps the most concentrated source of nutrition of any food. They are a rich source of minerals (including iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium) and vitamins, including vitamins K, C, E, and many of the B vitamins. They also provide a variety of phytonutrients including beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, which protect our cells from damage and our eyes from age-related problems, among many other effects. Vitamin K is an important one, because it is able to regulate blood flow, protect bones, inflammation, and even prevent diabetes.

Uses: Some of the best dark, leafy greens to eat are kale, collard, and spinach. I often put these into green smoothies, but you can use them in salads, stir-frys, or even as a snack, as in "Lemon Kale Chips".

7) Quinoa
Regarded as a sacred food by the Incas, quinoa provides a wide range of vitamins and minerals. This supergrain seed contains more protein than most cereal grains and is considered a complete protein because it contains all eight of the essential amino acids we need for tissue development. Quinoa is higher in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, manganese, and zinc, and lower in sodium compared with wheat, barley and corn. This gluten-free grain is also low in saturated fat (one gram of fat per one cup/250 millilitres uncooked quinoa).
Uses: Quinoa comes in several varieties, all of which are easy to cook and can be used in a variety of ways. My favorite was to use this grain is in the place of rice (try it with a stir-fry). Recently I have been mixing it in with my baking, as well as in my homemade granola. You could also try stuffing it into vegetables, such as in my "Quinoa Stuffed Zucchini".

8) Avocados
Avocados are one of the most recommended fruits for body-building, as well as cholesterol related issues, due to their high degree of healthy fats, and oleic acid. They have been linked to the treatment of some cancers (breast and prostate), and are a good source of nutrient contents such as vitamin K, dietary fiber, potassium, folic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin C, copper, etc,. Avocados are high-calorie, so you may want to be conscious of how many you are eating, but because of this they are used in developing countries as a nutritional supplement. They are also said to improve blood flow, which increases brain activity.

Uses: One of the best ways to get the most 'bang-for-your-buck' is to eat avocados in a Guacamole, such as in my "Special Guacamole". You could also slice them and put them on a sandwich, or wrap, or even blend them in a smooth or in baking, such as in my "Chocolate Avocado Muffins".

9) Walnuts
These are recommended by Dr. Oz himself, people! Surely that means something :) Walnuts are one of the best plant sources of proteins, and are rich in vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, fiber, B vitamins, and antioxidants. Walnuts have been shown to lower LDL chloresterol (the bad one) because of their high amount of Omega 3 fatty acids. Incorporating walnuts into your diet on a regular basis has been shown to lower the risk of heart diseases.

Uses: By far, the best way to incorporate walnuts into your diet is just by eating a small handful of them. Around 4 walnuts/ day will give you all of the benefits you need to lead a healthy 'heart-happy' life.

10) Sprouts
Sprouts take a bit more time to find, or make, but are well worth the efforts in the end. The commonly used sprout that can be found in grocery stores is alfalfa, but virtually any bean, legume, nut, seed, or grain can be sprouted in order to receive the extra nutrient benefits. Sprouting (simply put) allows the above to 'grow', and this growth unleashes more nutrients than would have been found in the original state. Sprouts are easier to digest, and the body is able to receive all of the benefits of the nutrients, with little effort.

Uses: If you would like to learn more about sprouting, check out my sprouting post at the following link: "SPROUTING: What are the benefits, and how do you do it?"


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1 comment:

  1. WOW. There is SO much good info in this post - love it, Heather! I will be book-marking it and coming back to it. The superfoods I'm into these days include kale (mainly in smoothies!), quinoa, and blueberries - sometimes all three together in a smoothie, most often spread throughout the day. Feels so good to treat your body well. Thanks for gathering all this good info!

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