Demystifying Superfoods

cartons of raspberries

Categories: Well Nourished

By: Sarah Iske and Jackie Farrall
Keene State Dietetic Interns 2014-2015

The term “superfoods” has become a popular buzz word in the food and health industry. In fact, it is a marketing ploy and things labeled as “superfoods” tend to sell well in stores. However, there are some whole foods that are so good for us, they should be considered “superfoods”. Michigan State University defines the term; ‘Superfoods’ are a special group of foods that are nutrient-rich and especially beneficial for health and wellbeing”. These foods include sweet potatoes, berries, whole grains, and a variety of other foods. They are considered multi-taskers – they contain multiple disease fighting nutrients that promote wellness, weight control and most importantly, they taste good.  

“Superfoods” consist of key elements such as: vitamins, minerals, lean protein, antioxidants, and healthy fats. Antioxidants are natural substances that may prevent or delay cell damage and they are found in many foods, including fruits and vegetables. The body cannot possibly get every nutrient it needs from a single food and many of these nutrients need to be provided from our diet. As a result, a person needs to consume a variety of nutrient-rich foods throughout the day, as opposed to “empty calorie” foods.

Upon first glance of various websites, one might find some interesting superfood listings. For example, chia and wheatgrass, but don’t buy into the hype! There are various whole foods that offer the “superfood” key elements, from berries to salmon to sweet potatoes.  Here is a list of some powerful whole foods.

  1.  Sweet potatoes: They are considered a starchy vegetable, but they are full of vitamin A and fiber. Vitamin A helps keep our skin and eyes healthy and fiber helps keep us regular. Bake them or add to casseroles and soups!
  2.  Salmon: It is high in omega-3 fats that help lower the risk of high blood pressure and plaque buildup in arteries. The American Heart Association recommends eating two 3.5 oz servings a week.
  3. Cruciferous Vegetables and Dark Leafy Greens: Aim to eat cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower) and dark leafy greens (spinach, kale) several times per week to reap the good-for-you benefits. They contain fiber, antioxidants, and important Vitamins.
  4.  Berries: Aside from vitamins and fiber, berries provide antioxidants that defend against damage and prevent age-related memory and motor function issues. Berries can be added to your smoothies, salads and topped on your yogurt!
  5.  Whole Grains: Whole grains (brown rice, oats, barley) offer nutrients such as magnesium, fiber and chromium. Magnesium is important for the structural development of bones and helps regulate blood pressure. Chromium can help regulate cholesterol levels.

After reading this list, you may already be eating a “superfood”! But remember, how you cook your food matters! Avoid the extra salt, butter, and frying your naturally tasty whole foods. Instead, cook with olive oil, spices and herbs which enhance the flavor without the unhealthy consequences. The advantage of eating these whole foods is that they are high in essential nutrients and antioxidants, which are helpful compounds that help keep our bodies healthy. Another important thing for everyone to know is that whole foods are easy to find in every local supermarket. They’re worth looking for!