Whether you’re trying to prevent disease or searching for ways to boost your immune system, what you eat can make a big difference in your health. Many health professionals say superfoods can help. But what exactly is a superfood? It’s a term for food with exceptional nutrient density that is claimed to confer health benefits.
Superfoods are, in a sense, precisely what they sound like: super-healthy foods. But not every healthy food is a superfood. That term is reserved for those that offer exceptional health benefits beyond what would be expected based just on their nutritional profile.
[This article, “Top 10 Superfoods of 2022: Eat These To Live Better and Longer” was originally published in HealthXWire]
Eat the rainbow: phytochemicals lower risk of disease
Phytochemicals, found naturally in plants, are responsible for providing color, flavor, and aroma to fruits and vegetables. They protect plants against invasion, disease, and infection. Eating a variety of colorful vegetables and fruits can aid the function of the immune system, help regulate hormones, and slow the growth rate of some cancer cells.
Beets offer vital nutrients, including folate, potassium, vitamin C and iron. They get their jewel-like hue from betalains, which are natural plant pigments that contain antioxidants. These compounds protect cells from damage, lowering the risk of heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. Beets also have anti-inflammatory properties, helping to fight diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, and obesity.
Berries reduce markers associated with tumor growth in cancer. They also contain an antioxidant called ellagic acid, which helps decrease wrinkling and other signs of skin aging related to sun exposure. Since so much of their mass is water, berries are juicy and naturally low in calories. A strawberry has between three and six calories, and a cup of blueberries has only about 80 calories.
On our list of superfoods, originally grown in the Mediterranean, purple cabbage has been eaten since ancient times. The vegetable is rich in antioxidants such as anthocyanins and indoles, which protect joints and lower the risk of osteoarthritis. It also contains lutein, which protects the eyes from harmful UV rays. In addition, purple cabbage reduces gastrointestinal problems, as well as the risk of breast, stomach, lung, and prostate cancer. It is effective for managing weight as well.
Powerful nutrient-rich foods
Nutrient-rich (or nutrient-dense) foods are low in sugar, sodium, starches, and unhealthy fats. They also contain high amounts of vitamins and minerals, reducing the risk of chronic diseases.
Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, and peanuts are all superfoods full of heart-healthy fats; eating a few servings of nuts per week reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies have also found that regular consumption of nuts reduces the likelihood of weight gain. Nuts are one of the primary sources of ALA omega-3 fatty acids, offering a range of health benefits from improving eye health to protecting against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
A single serving of lentils supplies 32% of the recommended daily amount of fiber, helping to lower cholesterol and protect against diabetes and colon cancer. They are also high in protein, have no cholesterol, and are full of vitamins and minerals, including iron, vitamin A, beta carotene, and folate.
Quinoa – superfoods
Technically a seed, quinoa is officially classified as a grain – one that is gluten-free and a good source of protein. Cultivated in South America since ancient times, quinoa was considered a sacred food by the Inca; it has gained popularity as a health food in the United States and other Western countries relatively recently.
Quinoa is rich in vitamin B6, thiamin, iron, and zinc. It also contains healthy fatty acids and fiber, supporting digestive health by promoting beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. In addition, quinoa helps reduce cholesterol and blood sugar levels, lowering the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Carotenoids found in quinoa have also been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Winning the fight against free radicals
Antioxidants are compounds produced in the body and found in foods. They help defend cells from damage caused by potentially harmful molecules known as free radicals.
When free radicals accumulate, they may cause a state known as oxidative stress. That may damage DNA and other vital structures in cells. Chronic oxidative stress can increase the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
The following foods are high in antioxidants and can help fight free radicals:
Some of the powerful health benefits of spinach include: helping stabilize blood glucose levels, helping to prevent cancer, and promoting bone health. It supports skin and hair health, and contains so many antioxidants that medical experts call one serving of spinach the equivalent of two to three servings of other vegetables. Spinach also contains calcium, vitamins A and K, and omega-3 fatty acids helping spinach make the cut of 2022’s top superfoods.
Capers are rich in antioxidants, and even small amounts may help limit the creation of toxic byproducts linked to heart disease and cancer that are produced during the digestion of red meat or poultry. Capers also contain quercetin, an anti-inflammatory pigment that may kill cancer cells, control blood sugar, and help prevent heart disease. Quercetin is also a flavanol, a kind of phytonutrient that reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
One orange contains about 80% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant. In addition to supporting immune function, this essential nutrient also helps to reduce inflammation, produce collagen, and boost the body’s ability to use fat as a fuel source. In addition, oranges help to increase iron absorption, enhancing oxygen availability and reducing fatigue. This is especially helpful to those who follow a plant-based diet and to premenopausal women who lose iron through menstruation. Vitamin C promotes healthy sleep as well.
Potassium in oranges supports heart function and helps to maintain muscle mass. A natural diuretic, this mineral also reduces blood pressure and counters fluid retention. In addition, folate in oranges supports the brain and nervous system, helping to protect against memory problems and depression.
Good cholesterol vs. bad cholesterol
The body already produces cholesterol on its own; this vital fat is essential to the protection of nerves and the production of hormones.
However, eating foods containing saturated or trans fats causes the body to produce high levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), also known as “bad” cholesterol. Excess LDLs are harmful because they can build up inside the walls of blood vessels, narrowing them and blocking the flow of blood to and from the heart and other organs.
High-density lipoproteins (HDLs) are called “good” cholesterol because they absorb LDLs and carry them back to the liver, which then flushes them from the body. High levels of HDLs can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Avocados contain monounsaturated fatty acids, which lower LDLs and raise HDLs; they also hold a nutrient called beta-sitosterol, which helps to lower bad cholesterol. In addition, avocados have oleic acid, a heart-healthy fat that helps lower cardiovascular inflammation. High in fiber and low in calories, this vegetable has high levels of the blood-pressure-reducing mineral potassium. It is also rich in vitamin E, which may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease and slow the decline of memory and cognition.
Top 10 Superfoods of 2022: Eat These To Live Better and Longer is an original Healthxwire publication).
This article does not contain health or medical advice, and the information contained herein is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat or cure any disease, condition or health problem. Before beginning any program of diet, nutrition or supplementation, seek the advice of a competent healthcare professional in order to determine the possible effects on your health, given your individual sensitivities, needs and objectives.