What are super foods? They seem to be a popular topic on many talk shows, health shows and health and fitness programs. Super foods are vegetables, fruits, grains, meats and spices and herbs that we consume that are packed with nutrients vital to our health. While everyone probably eats some of these super foods, I wanted to share a fairly comprehensive list of super foods and how they are beneficial.
Cruciferous Vegetables: Broccoli, Spinach, Kale, Bok Choy, Collard Greens, Cabbage and Chard are just a few in this category. These leafy and mainly green vegetables pack in lots of needed vitamins and minerals for your health. The benefits of eating these include: anti-carcinogenic properties, boosting immunity, slowing the progression of age related diseases, help maintain hormone balance. (People who have thyroid problems may need to be careful of how much cruciferous vegetables they eat.)
Allium Vegetables: Onions, Garlic, Leeks, Shallots and Scallions are the common vegetables in this group. Not only do allium vegetables add lots of flavor to our food, they have many health improving properties. Allium veggies contain flavenoids which help prevent cancer. But they also improve cholesterol (lowering the LDL and raising HDL), help reduce heart disease, diabetes, age-related diseases and build immunity. These can also stabilize blood sugar.
Fruity Vegetables: Okay, I made up this category. These are the foods that we call vegetables, but they are actually fruits. This category includes red peppers and tomatoes. These two are included as super foods because they contain lycopene which is great for preventing and treating cancer. Most veggies have more nutrition raw, but lycopene is more accessible to the body when it is cooked. So scramble up some eggs with some sautéed tomatoes and red pepper! I feel that avocado can also fall into this category. Technically avocado is a fruit, but this fruit is versatile and healthy. It contains carotenoids that can be helpful in fighting prostate cancer, they contain ample amount of magnesium which is helpful in bone strength, cardiovascular system, prevention of migraines and prevention of type 2 diabetes. Avocadoes are also help us absorb nutrients from other foods.
Legume Vegetables: Eat more beans! One of the main reasons beans are on the super foods list is because they are great low-fat alternative source of protein, instead of meat (especially red meat). Beans also have lots of fiber which is great for stabilizing blood-sugar. (Beans are great for people who have diabetes or at risk for diabetes.) Beans contain lignin and phytates which both help prevent certain cancers.
Berries: Gogi and Acai berries. These exotic berries have many health benefits which include anti-oxidants, help reduce cardiovascular disease and anti-aging benefits. Other berries, especially wild blueberries, are extremely beneficial to you as well. Anthocyanins which give fruits the purple color is helpful in preventing heart disease and some cancers.
Citrus Fruits: Oranges and Grapefruits are also considered as super foods. We have known for a long time that citrus fruits give us vitamin C, which is important to the body. (Vitamin C is important in immunity, fighting disease, cholesterol, dental health, cell growth, etc.) Citrus fruits also contain anti-oxidant properties as well.
Freekeh is harvested when the kernel is still young and so it contains more vitamins and minerals than other grains. Freekeh also has more fiber than most grains (four times more fiber than brown rice.)
Farro is similar in taste and texture to barley and is rich in vitamins B and E and magnesium. Farro is nature’s muscle relaxer. Try adding farro to your diet if you have muscle cramps or tension.
Amaranth is full of calcium, fiber and protein. It contains the amino acid, lysine, that is important in tissue repair. Amaranth can be bought as a puffed cereal and eaten as an easy, breakfast full of great nutrients! It is also gluten-free.
Quinoa is technically not a grain but a seed. However, most of the time it is cooked like a grain and can be used instead of rice. Because it is a seed, it has more protein than the average grains.
Salba or Chia is also a seed. It has more omega-3 and omega 6 than flax, which is important in brain health. They also contain lots of fiber and help with feeling full, which can promote weight loss. You can sprinkle chia in your cereal or oatmeal or add to your home-made breads.
Nuts and Seeds:
Good sources of good fats and protein.
Especially plain greek yogurt is a super food because of high amounts of protein and live active cultures (the good bacteria that help with digestion). When adding yogurt to your diet, try using plain greek yogurt and adding your own berries for flavoring.
Tea, especially green tea is considered a super food because it can lower blood pressure, help prevent cancer and osteoporosis, lower your risk for stroke, promote heart health and plays a probable role in preventing sunlight. And all of that is available in a low calorie, refreshing beverage! Also, tea can be beneficial for your teeth. It helps prevent bacteria from adhering to your teeth surface and helps prevent the acid production of oral bacteria.
Water is important for so many reasons. Your body needs water for all of its metabolic processes, so remember to drink those 64+ ounces everyday.
Spices and Herbs:
Cinnamon, Basil, Ginger, Turmeric, Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano and Red Pepper are not just your flavor boosting additives to food. These spices and herbs are anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, metabolism boosters and full of anti-oxidants. So go ahead and flavor up your dishes!
Turkey makes it as a super food because skinless turkey breast is one of the leanest meats you can eat. It is also readily available and inexpensive and it packs in nutrients like protein, niacin, selenium, zinc and vitamins B6 and B12.
Wild Salmon is best known as a super food for the omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that our body cannot make. These fats are GOOD! They help reduce heart disease, cancer, age related diseases, and they boost brain health.
Now that you know more about the superfoods, I wanted to leave you with a few recipes that include multiple superfoods. The super foods will appear in bold.
The Super Food Smoothie (and Super Delicious Too!)
(Makes 1 generous serving.)
1 cup of spinach or kale and enough water to blend.
1/3 cup of plain greek yogurt
1/3 cup of milk
¾ cup of blueberries (or other berries)
1 ripe banana or honey to sweeten
Optional: add ground flax or chia for fiber and omega 3 fatty acids.
Quinoa Salad (adapted from Epicurious)
(Serves 4 to 6)
1 ½ cup of quinoa
1 ½ of cooked black beans (rinsed and drained if canned)
1 medium tomato (diced)
1 ½ cup of cooked corn
¾ cup of green bell pepper (diced)
2 pickled jalapeno peppers (diced)
¼ cup of fresh coriander (finely chopped)
5 Tablespoons of lime juice
1 teaspoon of salt
1 ¼ teaspoon of ground cumin
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
- In a bowl wash quinoa in at least 5 changes cold water, rubbing grains and letting them settle before pouring off most of water, until water runs clear and drain in a large fine sieve.
- In a saucepan of salted boiling water cook quinoa 10 minutes. Drain quinoa in sieve and rinse under cold water. Set sieve over a saucepan of boiling water (quinoa should not touch water) and steam quinoa, covered with a kitchen towel and lid, until fluffy and dry, about 10 minutes (check water level in kettle occasionally, adding water if necessary).
- While quinoa is cooking, in a small bowl toss beans with vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.
- Transfer quinoa to a large bowl and cool. Add beans, corn, bell pepper, jalapeños, and coriander and toss well.
- In a small bowl whisk together lime juice, salt, and cumin and add oil in a stream, whisking.
- Drizzle dressing over salad and toss well with salt and pepper to taste. Salad may be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring salad to room temperature before serving.
1 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 3/4 cups chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cups cooked brown rice
10 medium tomatoes
Salt and pepper
- Toast the pine nuts on a baking sheet or in a cast iron pan in a preheated 325 degree oven until just golden.
- Toss the pine nuts, basil, and olive oil with the brown rice.
- Cut off and discard the tops of the tomatoes.
- Remove the pulp and seeds.
- Fill each tomato with the rice mixture.
- Serve warm or chilled.