What Makes Superfoods "Super"

photo: www.superlife.com

photo: www.superlife.com

“Superfood” is a term used to excite the general public about foods that have high nutrient density. As there are no scientifically defined thresholds for the types or amount of nutrients that determine what makes a food “super,” it is actually safe to say that the list of superfoods goes beyond the popular walnuts, chia seeds, and pumpkin.

Always be wary when something is advertised as a “superfood” as the term may be used for marketing purposes more than anything else. Always read the label - is the food made from fresh, wholesome ingredients? Or, does it contain added sugars, partially hydrogenated oils, MSG, and other ingredients that aren’t items that you could buy in the produce section? Just because a product like a granola bar contains a “superfood” ingredient like chia seeds, doesn’t mean the entire product may be the most “super” for your health.


Keep in mind, “superfoods” usually contain only one or two essential nutrients in high amounts. In order to have a “super” or very nutrient dense, balanced diet, my advice is to shop for for colorful, fresh foods that don’t require advertising - like seasonal vegetables and fruits, whole grains, low fat dairy, eggs, lean meats, and oils high in essential fatty acids. It’s important to include a wide variety of fresh foods in your diet.


Here’s a few examples of foods that are known for their high nutrient density - aka Superfoods!



Leafy Greens - Dark, leafy greens like spinach, chard, kale, arugula, romaine, and collard greens are high in vitamins like C and K, and minerals like iron and calcium. In addition, leafy greens have antioxidant properties derived from the carotenoids, which are what gives the plants their color. This also what makes them cancer-fighting/preventing foods because these antioxidants fight off free-radicals. Pair your leafy greens with oils like olive oil to achieve maximum absorbance of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin K.



Green Tea - Just like the carotenoids in leafy greens, catechins and flavonoids in green tea function as highly-efficient antioxidants in the body. Green tea also contains an amino acid L-theanine which can be used by the brain quickly, and thus, improving brain function [1]. In addition, studies have shown that green is very beneficial for weight loss by increasing the metabolic rate and fat oxidation by as much as 17% [2].



Salmon - Salmon contains more than just a healthy dose of essential omega-3 fatty acids. It also very rich in vitamins B6, B12, and D, and minerals selenium, phosphorous, and potassium. It’s best to consume wild salmon, or organically farmed salmon to obtain maximum benefits, as farmed salmon may not be as nutrient rich, and may contain artificial chemicals and dyes to make salmon look more pink.



Whole Grains - Whole Grains include Amaranth, Barley, Buckwheat, Corn, Millet, Oats, Quinoa, Rice, Rye, Sorghum, Teff, Triticale, Wheat, and Kamut. The definition of a whole grain is a grain which contains all three of its components: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. Refined grains are those which the bran and germ are removed, leaving just the starch and very little fiber and protein. Whole grains offer fiber, protein, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, and B vitamins - all very important components which aid in weight maintenance and metabolism, bone and muscle strength and recovery, healthy immune and nervous system functions, and healthy skin, nails, and hair.



Avocado - This fatty fruit is made up of 77% heart healthy monounsaturated fats, mainly one called oleic acid. Oleic acid has been shown to be anti-inflammatory and have effects on genes that lead to cancer, making it a great cancer-preventing food. Avocado is also very high in potassium, offering 14% of the RDA in one 3.5 oz serving. Adequate intake of potassium can help reduce the risk for high blood pressure, metabolism function, and electrolyte balance [3].




Sources Cited


[1] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924224499000448


[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18326618


[3] http://atvb.ahajournals.org/content/26/5/995.abstract