Have you heard the term Superfood? You probably have, since the Harvard School of Public Health claims the earliest recorded use of the term Superfood “may have taken place in the early 20th century around World War I, used as part of a food marketing strategy.” The world’s first such superfood was the banana, notable for its portability, protective outer skin, variety as a food source, and nutritional value. Regardless of their origin, superfoods are so named because they are “foods that have a very high nutritional density. This means that they provide a substantial amount of nutrients and very few calories.” Superfoods also contain a high volume of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. Essentially superfoods gain such popularity because in many parts of the world we understand that we are what we eat. A recent Nielson survey was conducted and revealed that “roughly 75 percent of global respondents believe they “are what they eat” and nearly 80 percent are actively using foods to forestall health issues and medical conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension.” This opens the door to questions about using nutritious foods as medicine. Healthline says, “dietary habits influence disease risk. While certain foods may trigger chronic health conditions, others offer strong medicinal and protective qualities. Thus, many people argue that food is medicine. Yet, diet alone cannot and should not replace medicine in all circumstances.” Scripps agrees, saying, “Food is fuel for your body, and eating a healthy diet can keep you energized throughout the day. Some foods, however, do even more for your health by helping to reduce inflammation or lower blood sugar levels.” So realistically these superfoods alone are not the magic cure-all, but they definitely contain nutrients and vitamins that can help keep your body healthy. Of all the amazing array of foods deemed super, let’s look at just three you may want to add to your diet today:
1. Dark Leafy Green Vegetables (DLGVs)
At the top of most superfood lists are dark leafy green vegetables. Maybe you can recall a parent or relative reminding you to “eat your greens” at dinner. Well, they were right! Dark leafy green vegetables “are an excellent source of nutrients including folate, zinc, calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin C and fiber.” The USDA claims, “People have been eating leafy greens since prehistoric times. But it wasn’t until the first Africans arrived in North America in the early 1600s that America got its first real tastes of dark green leafy vegetables, which they grew for themselves and their families.” The USDA goes on to say, “dark greens supply a significant amount of folate, a B vitamin that promotes heart health and helps prevent certain birth defects. Folate is also necessary for DNA duplication and repair which protects against the development of cancer. Several large studies have shown that high intakes of folate may lower the risk of colon polyps by 30 to 40 percent compared to low intakes of this vitamin. Other research suggests that diets low in folate may increase the risk of cancers of the breast, cervix and lung.” These incredible benefits don’t require a massive change in your diet, either. Studies show that eating just 2-3 servings of dark green leafy vegetables a week “may lower the risk of stomach, breast and skin cancer. These same antioxidants have also been proven to decrease the risk of heart disease.” Common dark green leafy greens are kale, spinach, collard greens, and swiss chard and they can be added to a variety of dishes or smoothies.
Unlike some other healthy foods, berries are a sweet treat that even the pickiest eaters can enjoy. They’re also loaded with flavonoids and “the American Heart Association says berries can help lower the risk of heart attacks in women.” The flavonoids found naturally in berries are “a group of natural substances with variable phenolic structures, are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, bark, roots, stems, flowers, tea and wine” and contain “anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic and anti-carcinogenic properties coupled with their capacity to modulate key cellular enzyme function.” Scientists are still studying all the health benefits of flavonoids in the human body, but what we do know is that because of these special flavonoids, “Berries are a nutritional powerhouse of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. The strong antioxidant capacity of berries is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer and other inflammatory conditions. Berries may also be effective in treating various digestive and immune-related disorders when used alongside traditional medical therapies.” There are dozens of sweet ways to enjoy berries in your diet, mostly because they also contain natural sugars. Blueberries rank at the top of the list for healthiest berries as they may improve heart health, lower cholesterol, enhance artery function, lower the risk of diabetes, and even slow cognitive decline!
There are over 100,000 different types of mushrooms on the planet. Some of those varieties are poisonous and some are even hallucinogenic, but largely they are edible and incredibly special. Mushrooms have been eaten for their health benefits for centuries and the Harvard School of Public Health asserts that “Edible mushrooms like maitake and shiitake have also been used as medicine throughout history. Other mushrooms that are too tough to eat have been used solely for medicinal purposes such as reishi. Plant chemicals and components in mushrooms may exert antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer effects, but the exact mechanism is still unclear and an area of active research. Animal and cell studies show that mushrooms can stimulate the activity of immune cells, macrophages, and free radicals that can stop the growth and spread of tumor cells and cause existing tumor cells to die.” Studies show that mushrooms also benefit cognition in the elderly, act as prebiotics for gut health, and mushrooms exposed to UV light are a good source of Vitamin D. These incredible fungi have truly amazing capabilities and benefits to our health.
That’s just three amazing super foods! There are many more out there. Marketing or science, these foods have earned the right to be called super. Consider adding even just one to your diet today.