You’ve probably seen the word “superfood” a lot. But what exactly is a superfood, and what are the necessary qualifications to become one?
It’s a rather subjective term, but most people agree that a superfood should be a nutrient powerhouse. That is, it must be rich in antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals.
Superfoods are also renowned for helping to reduce the risk of disease. They’ve often been heavily studied through clinical trials and research papers.
I have my own list of superfoods. It comes from my knowledge and experience as an internal medicine and physician nutrition specialist. These are the foods that I can’t get enough of, and I want you to embrace them too. I’ve seen first-hand the remarkable effects that they can have on a diet.
Here are 12 foods that are “caped crusaders,” in my mind:
Leafy greens are my top choice. I emphasize them a lot, as they’re loaded with antioxidants and nutrients, but super low in calories. They’re also a good source of fiber, folate, carotenoids, vitamin K, calcium, iron, and magnesium.
Research shows that substantial health benefits are possible from eating one serving of leafy greens daily. And 2-3 servings per week may be even more beneficial. For best results, combine with a little healthy fat (nuts, olive oil, avocado). This will help boost nutrient absorption.
Salmon is loaded with nutrients, as well as high quality protein. This fish contains the anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. It’s also rich in vitamins B6 and B12, and bone-building vitamin D.
Omega 3s can help improve cholesterol levels and support the brain. They may also prove beneficial for certain other health issues.
Try to get in at least two servings of fatty fish, like salmon, each week.
Avocados contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and antioxidants. These help improve the absorption of key nutrients, like beta carotene and vitamins D, K, and E. They also help offset the negative effect of unhealthy nutrients.
Grilled burgers produce potentially toxic products called lipid peroxides. One study found when avocado was added to grilled burgers, it helped offset this negative health effect.
Green tea is a top beverage choice, with good reason. It’s calorie free, and it’s loaded with disease-fighting polyphenols called catechins. Catechins help support heart health, brain health, and healthy blood sugar levels.
Green tea also contains an amino acid called theanine. It may help calm you during stress-filled days. It may also help boost weight loss by increasing metabolism and fat burning, especially pre-workout. Research shows mixed results, but the science is promising.
Grains are not the enemy. I do recommend cutting back on whole grains, especially if you tend to carry your weight around the middle. But that doesn’t mean you should cut them out completely.
Whole grains are a very good source of fiber, B vitamins, and key minerals. Research supports the idea of substituting whole grains for refined grains. Among other things, whole grains can help improve weight loss. Also, the fiber in grains can help lower total and “bad” cholesterol.
This tasty spice has many great properties. Studies show it can help improve blood sugar levels and may even help improve cholesterol as well. Cinnamon is also loaded with antioxidants. And best of all, it adds flavor without adding calories. I love the taste of cinnamon, especially Ceylon cinnamon.
Walnuts are a great source of the plant-based omega 3 fatty acid ALA and disease-fighting polyphenols. These may help to support healthy cholesterol levels and brain health.
One of my favorite foods, broccoli is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family. Broccoli contains powerful nutrients that may help decrease your risk of certain illnesses. It also supports healthy cholesterol levels.
Broccoli is a better source of vitamin C than an orange. This vitamin supports healthy immune function. It can also keep your skin looking good. Broccoli is also full of fiber. And it’s a great source of the powerful antioxidant beta carotene.
It’s best to steam broccoli (even better than eating it raw) to gain the most optimal nutritional benefits.
These little seeds contain three different types of disease-fighting polyphenols. Together, they act as powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.
Pomegranate may play a role in heart health and healthy blood sugar levels. The antioxidant potential of pomegranate juice is higher than both green tea and red wine. But it’s also higher in sugar, so consume in moderation.
Dark chocolate is a very good source of flavonoids. These polyphenols provide many health benefits. They help protect your heart in several different ways. They may also improve your mood by boosting certain chemicals in your brain.
This powerful, bright-yellow spice is most often found in curry. It’s also one of the most potent disease-fighters in your kitchen. Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin. Curcumin is both a powerful anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant. It also has an effect on close to 50 genes and proteins in the body. Curcumin may help protect your brain, your heart, and your joints.
This fermented dairy drink contains beneficial probiotics, as well as protein and calcium. Probiotics can help keep your gut healthy. Research suggests that a healthy gut may play an important role in immune health. It may also play a role in obesity and mood disorders.
Kefir contains far more probiotics than yogurt. It also has a greater probiotic diversity. This helps to ensure that you reap all the potential health benefits.
A Healthy, Balanced Diet
Incorporate these foods as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Keep in mind that you can get too much of a good thing. These are superfoods, but you can still gain weight if you eat too much of them.
The ideal diet should be largely plant-based and include a wide variety of foods. Eat lean meats in moderation. Include plenty of healthy fats, and load up on dietary fiber (often best found in fruits and vegetables).
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Dr. Melina Jampolis
Dr. Melina Jampolis is one of a few board-certified physician nutrition specialists practicing in the United States. She has specialized exclusively in nutrition for weight loss, disease prevention, and treatment for the past 15 years. She practices in Los Angeles, is the author of several health books including “The Busy Person’s Guide to Permanent Weight Loss” and is an expert nutrition on shows like Live with Kelly and Ryan, Dr. Oz and The Doctors.