Spirit of Women
Super Foods Can Be Diet Superheroes
"Super foods" get a fair amount of attention in the media these days - and with good reason. They are food sources packed with higher nutrients per calorie as compared to other foods. When you consider some of their benefits - they can help lower cholesterol, protect against heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes and respiratory infections, and even put you in a better mood - it's worth striving to include more in your diet.
"The standard American diet tends to be high in processed foods, which are high in added sugars, fats and sodium as well as food additives and flavoring, and very low on whole foods like fruits and vegetables," explains Gloris Xynos, RD, LD, MS, CDE, an education coordinator and registered dietitian with St. Luke's Hospital. Super foods are rich in minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and other nutrients. They are all 'real' (unprocessed) foods. Here is a sampling of 10 super foods:
- rich in fiber and vitamin C; high levels of antioxidants; contain important phytochmicals believed to destroy cancer cells in the liver (Also beneficial: purple grapes, cranberries, boysenberries, raspberries, strawberries, currants, blackberries, cherries and all other varieties of fresh, frozen or dried berries)
- look for the word "whole" listed as the first ingredient; bread products should have at least 3g per serving of fiber (Also beneficial: wheat germ, ground flaxseed, brown rice, barley, wheat, rye, quinoa, yellow corn, couscous)
- lower heart disease; help arthritis; high in monounsaturated fats, which can lower cholesterol; most prevalent in fatty cold-water fish such as wild salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel (Other forms: Eggs, flaxseed, walnuts)
- dark chocolate before it's been processed and sweetened; filled with iron, magnesium and fiber; abundant in antioxidants and 3 neurotransmitters (these elevate your happiness level)
- rich in antioxidants and high levels of resveratrol, a plant phytoalexin linked to a decreased risk for breast and prostate cancer
- lowers cholesterol as much as statins, most widely prescribed cholesterol medicine; extra soy is not recommended if you have a history of breast cancer (Forms: tofu, soymilk, edamame, not soy powder or sauce)
- source of fiber and calcium; the darker the greens, the better, because it will contain more bioactive phytonutrients (Also beneficial: kale, collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, bok choy, romaine, orange bell peppers)
- high in fiber; lower glycemic index value than white potatoes, which helps slow the breakdown of glucose in the bloodstream
- overall antioxidant power in both black and green forms; green tea has ECGC, an antioxidant that may help lower cholesterol; some benefits may come from caffeine content; brewed is better than instant
- source of fiber, beta-carotene and vitamin C; excellent source of lycopene when cooked; can potentially reduce risk of developing prostate, breast, lung and colon cancer (Also beneficial: red watermelon, pink grapefruit, red-fleshed papaya, strawberry guava)
Other super foods to add to your grocery list include, but are not limited to: apples, beans (all kinds), broccoli, brussels sprouts, garlic, hummus, olive oil, oranges, peanut butter (natural), pumpkin (and its seeds), turkey (skinless) and yogurt
Some believe that the most healthful foods for the body are uncooked. Raw food, sometimes called live or living food, has not been cooked or exposed to temperatures over 118°F. Raw foodists consider enzymes the life force of a food, helping us to digest food and absorb its nutrients. Cooking some foods can diminish their nutritional value. The cancer-fighting compounds in broccoli, sulforaphanes, are greatly reduced when broccoli is cooked, and certain vitamins, such as vitamin C and folate, are destroyed by heat.
Select Super Foods Carefully
Super foods can be misleading - sometimes cereals contain more sugar than a doughnut! Don't let sugar, salt, carbs and calories render your super foods less than super - check the label.
What may be a super food for you could be a danger for someone else. Super food veggies with seeds, like tomatoes, can be harmful to those with diverticulitis. Potatoes, peppers and eggplant can aggravate arthritis sufferers.
A super food could be potentially harmful when combined with certain drugs. Grapefruit can interfere if you're on antihistamines, anti-arrhythmias and antidepressants. Eating broccoli can increase your risk of a stroke while on blood thinners. Read warning labels and discuss food and drug interactions with your doctor.
"The good news is that super foods are readily available and convenient. They can be used in easy-to-cook recipes or eaten raw. Surround yourself with healthy foods and make them part of your regular meal planning," advises Gloris. "Although fresh is best, frozen fruits and vegetables are equally nutritious. They are convenient, easily available and last longer. They may lose some nutritional value in cooking, so pay attention to how you prepare them."
Top Super Foods for Women
Women have unique nutritional needs during various life stages, such as pregnancy and menopause. Incorporate some of these super foods into your diet to maintain your optimum health:
Check out other ways to take action for your health
- Bison (buffalo meat) - Less fatty cut of beef, is iron-rich, important for overall health and energy levels
- Papaya - Potassium-packed food can offset the effects of sodium on blood pressure
- Collard Greens - Vitamins A, C and K as well as folic acid, which lowers the risk of birth defects
- Tofu - Calcium-rich and high in soy protein, which may help manage cholesterol levels
- Flaxseed - Estrogen-like compounds known as lignans, which may be a weapon against breast cancer