Real food does not come in a pill
If you have heard it once, you have heard it a hundred times before: You are what you eat. This is what makes superfoods so enticing. Who wouldn’t want to get the most nutritional bang for your buck?
Superfoods like kale are growing in popularity among health food lovers who refuse to put un-natural, processed foods in their bodies — and this is a wonderful step in the right direction. But with each new health movement comes the copycats. With every superfood you see hailed on a healthy living blog, you’ll often see superfood supplements advertised right alongside it.
These superfood supplements catch your eye for one reason and one reason only — they’re a shortcut.
And who wouldn’t want to take the quickest route from point A to point B? But as you clear your diet of processed, inflammatory foods and make room for Really Healthy Foods, it’s important to understand that there is no substitute for the real thing. Taking essential vitamin and mineral supplements each day helps balance the nutrient depletion in our food supply. Even then, the best supplements can’t replace the “super” stars on your plate.
REAL FOODS, REAL RESULTS
You would think it would be obvious by now that what you eat affects your health, but researchers continue to make astonishing discoveries about how the human body responds to food. In a 2014 study conducted by University College London and published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, researchers confirmed one of the most important Really Healthy Foods principles of all: more is better. Compared to eating less than one portion of fruits and vegetables a day, eating seven or more portions can reduce the risk of death by 42 per cent.
Increasing fruit and vegetable intake can lengthen life, while eating un-natural foods can shorten it. Another study conducted by the European Society of Cardiology showed that people who consumed more fruits and vegetables had a lower risk of dying of ischemic heart disease, one of the leading causes of death in Europe.2 Consuming junk food not only tips the balance in the opposite direction by making you lose your appetite for healthy foods, but it can shorten your life by accelerating the aging process.3,4 In a study published in the journal Obesity, researchers discovered that eating processed food for just five days was enough to change the body’s healthy response to food by altering metabolism.5
As the foundation of good health, it’s vital to replace processed foods, milk products, and starchy carbohydrates (like cookies, pastries, breads, breakfast cereals, parsnips, potatoes, and wheat pasta) with their real food substitutes. In their place, you can enjoy a cornucopia of delicious and nutritious whole foods like green vegetables, dark-skinned fruits, nuts, beans, seeds, healthy oils, oily fish, some pasture-fed meats, and healthy carbohydrate alternatives.
Remember, while supplementing missing nutrients is important in a healthy diet, there is no super pill that can make up for the real thing. The benefits of eating superfoods are twofold: Nutrient-dense foods can improve your daily health by sustaining energy levels, while reducing your risk of disease in the future.
THE TOP 10 REALLY HEALTHY SUPERFOODS
Once you begin to appreciate the superstar potential of your favourite healthy foods, “superfood” takes on a whole new meaning:
If there was an award for the ultimate superfood, avocado would take the title. Avocado is a number one superfood with almost a complete spectrum of nutrients. Though often confused for a vegetable, avocado is actually a dark-skinned fruit, or berry, rich in antioxidants. And if you’re looking to add more potassium to your diet, reach for an avocado first – a single avocado has more than twice the potassium as a banana, without the excess carbohydrates known to spike blood sugar. Avocado contains targeted cancer- fighting nutrients and plenty of healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats to protect against coronary artery disease, stroke, and diabetes by reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome.6,7
Try: If avocados are readily available in your area, make it your goal to eat at least two a day to receive the full health benefits of this nourishing fruit. Avocados can be enjoyed at breakfast, lunch, and dinner and make a satisfying substitute for cream pasta sauce and margarine when baking
Because of the powerful cancer-fighting compounds found in this cruciferous vegetable, broccoli ranks at the top of the s
uperfood list. Broccoli is rich in vitamins and minerals, like vitamins A and K needed to support healthy vitamin D metabolism and counteract a growing deficiency caused by a lack of sun exposure. High in fibre, broccoli encourages healthy digestion and can aid in detoxification. Broccoli’s rich antioxidant profile can help protect against the devastating effects of free radical damage, while further supporting the body’s natural ability to self-cleanse. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables contain a substance called cyanohydroxybutene that helps to naturally replenish the body’s supply of glutathione, the most powerful antioxidant that regulates all other antioxidants in the body. Danish researchers confirmed both the detoxifying and longevity benefits of glutathione when they discovered the highest levels of glutathione in the healthiest seniors, thought to contribute to a longer life.8
Try: To glean the maximum anti-aging and detox benefits, enjoy broccoli among your 9-14 servings of fresh or frozen vegetables per day – in soups, steamed, stir-fried, and juiced. Eat at least 50 per cent raw, juiced vegetables (preferably organic) to support easier digestion. Raw vegetable pulp can be used to make soups.
As you are eliminating starchy carbs from your diet, add protein-rich buckwheat to the top of your carbohydrate replacement list. Not only is buckwheat gluten-free, but it is a complete protein, rich in catechins, tannins, soluble and insoluble fibre, alpha- linoleic acid, and essential vitamins and minerals. Don’t let this superfood’s name mislead you – buckwheat is a seed, not a wheat or grain. Buckwheat stands out as a “super” seed since it contains all eight essential amino acids in ample amounts, which can’t be produced by the body. Buckwheat provides special benefits for the lifestyle condition of diabetes by blocking the digestion of table sugar, also called sucrose. Buckwheat can stabilize and reduce dangerous blood sugar levels by up to 19 per cent.9
Try: Make it your goal to enjoy 5 servings of nuts, beans, and seeds per day. Use sprouted buckwheat flour or buckwheat pasta to replace inflammatory grains or try buckwheat as a soaked, mashed seed.
Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, are a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean favourite. Like other legumes, chickpeas have an exceptionally high protein and fibre content, coupled with a rich support network of essential vitamins and minerals. Because they are high in fibre, chickpeas are often recommended by dietitians to relieve symptoms of digestive distress, including painful digestion associated with a chronic digestive disorder like irritable bowel syndrome. Chickpeas provide proven benefits for a number of chronic health conditions, offering relief for diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even cancer. The critical mineral selenium in chickpeas is known to reduce inflammation and shrink tumour growth.10
Try: Include this nutritious legume among your 5 servings of nuts, beans, and seeds each day. Chickpeas are another healthy carbohydrate alternative that can be enjoyed as a legume pasta.
5. Coconut Milk and Oil
Coconut milk and coconut oil are both highly nutritious and rich in essential vitamins and minerals, making an ideal substitute for dairy and unhealthy fats, respectively. Coconut milk contains protective vitamins and minerals like vitamins B1, B3, B5, B6, C, and E and calcium, selenium, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. Coconut milk is rich in free- radical fighting antioxidants and nourishing lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid found in breast milk with antifungal and antiviral properties.
Coconut oil is growing in popularity for its internal and external health benefits. Coconut oil can be used at home in natural beauty remedies – for skin and hair care and teeth whitening. When drizzled on food or used for cooking, coconut oil provides a rich source of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) that are easily metabolized by the body as a quick energy source. Because fatty acids are metabolized differently, they have a direct impact on brain health. University of Oxford researchers confirmed that Alzheimer’s and dementia patients saw astonishing short-term improvements in memory after consuming coconut oil.11 Try: Coconut milk can be used as a convenient substitute for almost all dairy products – coconut cream can be extracted from the milk for sauces and baking. Coconut oil can be used for cooking or drizzled on food with other healthy oils, like olive, hemp, krill, and omega-3 oils, at each meal.
6. Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds are considered a therapeutic superfood because of their healing properties. Small hemp seeds boast big nutritional benefits, with a hard-to-find 3:1 balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids known to reduce inflammation and support heart health. Hemp seeds rank among the most nutritious seeds in the world. The seeds offer a complete source of protein, with an almost unprecedented balance of essential fats, vitamins, and enzymes without excess sugar or starch. For vegetarians, vegans, or those who are cutting back on meat, hemp seeds are highly recommended as they are more easily digestible than meat, whole eggs, and especially cow’s milk (which should be avoided). Because of their ability to prevent blood clotting, hemp seeds can also protect against stroke.12
Try: Hardy hemp seeds are a recommended source of protein when enjoyed soaked and mashed at up to 5 servings per day.
As one of the most popular superfoods today, kale has big shoes to fill. Fortunately, this leafy green “powerhouse” lives up to its reputation. Eating nutrient- rich kale can help to support bone, hair, and skin health. Kale provides long-term benefits to stabilize blood sugar levels in diabetics, balance blood pressure, support respiratory health, and even protect against cancer. Kale is considered one of the most nutritious foods on the planet because of its robust vitamin and mineral content, including vitamins A, B6, C, and K and calcium, copper, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. Low in calories and dense nutrients, kale has a powerful effect on the body. The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology researchers discovered that eating leafy greens like kale can help to slow cognitive decline, while the high organosulfur content in kale has been proven to reduce cancer risk.13,14
Try: Increase your kale intake by aiming for 9-14 servings of fresh or frozen vegetables per day. Kale can be enjoyed as a raw leafy green in salad or cooked as part of a nutritious meal.
If you’re looking for a prime source of calcium, zinc, niacin, potassium, vitamin K, folate, iron, protein, and fibre, look no further than this humble legume. Lentils have been prized for their high nutritional value for centuries, also known for their low cost and convenient preparation. Lentils are one of many plant-based foods that can reduce the risk of chronic lifestyle diseases, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and premature death. The heart health benefits alone are reason enough to add more lentils to your plate – Archives of Internal Medicine researchers discovered that eating more high-fibre foods, like lentils, can protect against heart disease. Study participants who ate the most fibre per day had a 12 per cent reduced risk of coronary heart disease and an 11 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those who ate the least fibre.15
Try: Lentils make a delicious and convenient addition to your 5 servings of nuts, beans, and seeds daily. Lentils are even easier to enjoy in a single-ingredient legume pasta as an alternative to refined grains.
9. Mung Beans
Referred to by many nutritionists as the “mighty mung bean,” the mung bean is the unsung hero of the superfood world. Mung beans are a nutrient-rich staple in India and Asia, with popularity most recently spreading through the Western world. Mung beans are naturally low in calories and unhealthy fats with a high protein, fibre, vitamin, and mineral content. Mung beans contain essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin B6, folate, potassium, and magnesium – with magnesium being a critical mineral that most people are deficient in. Mung beans also provide known health benefits, like their ability to prevent septic hospital deaths by calming inflammation with up to a 70 per cent survival rate.16
Try: Enjoy mung beans among your daily 5 servings of nuts, beans, and seeds. Anti- inflammatory mung bean pasta makes
an excellent alternative to inflammatory grains.
10. Olive Oil
The benefits of this Mediterranean super oil are boundless, but a few stand out above the rest: Olive oil is chock-full of antioxidants and rich in vital nutrients. The antioxidant vitamin E in olive oil can neutralize oxidative stress and may reduce cancer risk; olive oil’s unsaturated fats have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body that helps to lower blood pressure; when consumed as a primary dietary fat, as seen in the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. It’s no wonder that extra virgin olive oil is considered by many to be the healthiest fat on earth – extensive research supports olive oil’s ability to protect against chronic disease, even reducing stroke risk among older people.17
Try: As a protective healthy fat, olive oil can be enjoyed liberally with other healthy oils at each meal. Replacing margarine and other unhealthy fats with olive oil can counter the effects of aging and reduce the risk of disease.
If your energy is low and your health is suffering, your body is trying to tell you something. When you make the simple switch from processed foods to Really Healthy Superfoods, you can begin to see health improvements in as little as 30 days.
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2. Francesca L. Crowe et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and mortality from ischaemic heart disease: results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Heart study. European Heart Journal, January 18, 2011 DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehq465.
3. Frontiers. “Junk food makes rats lose appetite for balanced diet.” ScienceDaily.
4. M. Ohnishi, M. S. Razzaque. Dietary and genetic evidence for phosphate toxicity accelerating mammalian aging. The FASEB Journal, 2010; DOI: 10.1096/fj.09-152488.
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6. Ohio State University. “Avocados May Help Prevent Oral Cancer, Study Shows.” ScienceDaily.
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10. Yoon SO, Kim MM, Chung AS. Inhibitory effect of selenite on invasion of ht1080 tumor cells. J Biol Chem. 2001;276:20085-20092.
11. “Can Coconut Oil Prevent Alzheimer’s?” Alzheimers.net.
12. Richard, M. N., R. Ganguly, S. N. Steigerwald, A. Al-Khalifa, and G. N. Pierce. “Dietary Hempseed
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13. “Eating Green Leafy Vegetables Keeps Mental Abilities Sharp.” Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB).
14. Heber D. Vegetables, fruits and phytoestrogens in the prevention of diseases. J Postgrad Med. Apr-Jun 2004;50(2):145-9.
15. Bazzano, Lydia A., Jiang He, Lorraine G. Ogden, Catherine M. Loria, and Paul K. Whelton. “Dietary Fiber Intake and Reduced Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in US Men and Women.” Arch Intern Med Archives of Internal Medicine (2003): 1897. Print.
16. “Feinstein Institute Researchers Discover That Bean Used in Chinese Food Could Protect Against Sepsis.” The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research.
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