You have no doubt heard about “superfoods.” Or, more likely, you’ve probably been bombarded with the articles and posts touting the benefits of superfoods, which ones to eat to lose weight, cure your ailments, or just generally be happier and healthier.
But all this begs the question, ARE SUPERFOODS EVEN REAL?! The answer is complicated, but to sum it up in just one word:
Let’s break it down so you can decide for yourself.
Where does the term “superfood” come from?
There is no such thing, nutritionally speaking, as a superfood. The term was coined by the food industry to promote foods that supposedly bestow positive health benefits. Many foods called superfoods are said to be “nutritionally complete,” or high in free radical fighting antioxidants. So, while there might not truly be any “super” foods, there are foods that are better than others!
What are “free radicals” and why should I care?
Free radicals sound like a made up scare tactic meant to get you to buy expensive health products (and frequently, they’re presented that way in ads), but they are actually a real thing! To understand free radicals, let’s do a quick chemistry refresher course.
Atoms are made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons. When atoms combine or split, they can be left with an unbalanced number of electrons in their outer shell. These electrons are what we refer to as “free radicals.” Electrons “like” to be in pairs, so free radicals search out atoms that they can “steal” an electron from.
This scavenging action of free radicals is linked to diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, atherosclerosis, and more. Free radicals are a normal byproduct of the body’s natural processes, so they aren’t inherently bad, but too many free radicals building up in your system IS harmful to you.
Many foods are high in free radicals, especially fried foods and processed meats. So, how can you combat the accumulation of free radicals in your body? That’s where antioxidants and “superfoods” come in!
What are “antioxidants?”
In short, antioxidants are components that fight free radicals in your body. Your body naturally makes antioxidants, but they can be obtained through food, too. Many foods that are high in antioxidants are on the list of” superfoods,” such as fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based whole foods. Vitamins C and E are both antioxidants, as are flavonoids. Some meats and fish also have antioxidants, but in lower levels than fruits and veggies.
But, having high antioxidant levels isn’t enough to call a food a superfood. It also needs to have a bunch of other good nutrients, too!
What nutritional values should I be looking for?
Look for whole foods (as in, unprocessed, from the earth) high in vitamins and minerals!
Here are five foods that are actually worth the hype:
Dark Green Leafy Vegetables (DGLVs) like kale, swiss chard, collard greens, turnip greens, and spinach are PACKED with nutrients! To name just a few…folate, zinc, calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin C and fiber. They are known to reduce your risk of chronic illness like diabetes and heart disease, and have high levels of anti-inflammatory carotenoids.
Berries are super high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. These delicious fruits fight against heart disease, cancer, and many digestive issues.
Eggs! Eggs have been a controversial food over the years due to their high cholesterol levels, but they remain one of the healthiest foods you can eat. There is no measurable increase in cholesterol when eating up to 12 eggs a week. Whole eggs are rich in many nutrients including B vitamins, choline, selenium, vitamin A, iron and phosphorus. They’re also loaded with high-quality protein. Eggs contain two potent antioxidants, zeaxanthin and lutein, which are known to protect vision and eye health.
Nuts and seeds are packed with vegetarian protein, fiber, healthy fats, and anti-inflammatory properties. And even as nuts and seeds have high calorie and fat contents, they have been shown to help you lose weight when eaten as part of a nutritionally balanced diet. Try almonds, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flaxseed.
Ginger root contains antioxidants, such as gingerol, that may be responsible for many of the reported health benefits associated with this food. Ginger may be effective for managing nausea and reducing pain from acute and chronic inflammatory conditions. It may also reduce your risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, dementia and certain cancers. You can add it to your savory dishes and soups, or throw it in your blender with berries, or steep it in your cup of tea. Ginger is delicious and versatile!
What do you think about superfoods?
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