The Benefits of Superfoods

Northwestern Medicine
Health and Wellness June 19, 2012

Assorted Fuits and VegetablesThe saying “you are what you eat” rings truer than most people recognize as what we choose to eat has a huge impact on our overall health. Most people recognize which types of foods are harmful, but there’s also a select group of foods that are believed to have healing qualities and promote overall health. Known as superfoods, items including green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, poultry, and even dark chocolate, are rich in some of the main nutrients that are crucial to the maintenance and function of the body.

“Superfoods help promote a number of different functions in physical well-being,” said Holly Herrington, a registered dietitian with the Center for Lifestyle Medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “From heart health, to the prevention of cancer, research shows that these foods have the potential to help us live longer, healthier lives.”

Superfoods represent every food group on the healthy plate, so it’s easy to incorporate these items into your daily meals. Herrington also notes that superfoods not only have nutritional benefits, but many are low in calories. “Almost all of the foods that are consider superfoods are easy to find at your local grocery store and most are very affordable making them accessible to almost anyone,” said Herrington.

Below are Herrington’s top five superfood picks, along with tips for incorporating them into your daily diet:

For years, honey has been used for the treatment of illness from remedies to cure the common cold to an antiseptic in healing injuries. Rich in antioxidants that help to promote the body’s immune system, honey also helps clear the colon and prevent toxic build up within the body.

Teas have been proven to help fight skin cancer, as well as prevent osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. Tea also has powerful components that work against the development of cavities and gum decay.

This food is high in omega-3 fatty acids that can help restore balance to your diet. These “essential fatty acids” cannot be made within the body, and most people do not get enough in their normal diet. Essential fatty acids help lower the risk of heart disease, arthritis, cancer and aide in the function of a number of the body’s regulatory processes.

Whole grains
Wheat and Oats have long been associated with the prevention of heart disease. Within this superfood category, ground flaxseed helps to lower cholesterol, blood pressure, is anti-inflammatory, and also has laxative properties. These grains are essential to maintaining a healthy balanced diet.

Green leafy vegetables 
Popeye got it right when he ate spinach for strength! Green leafy vegetables are full of nutrients that have been linked to the fight against cancer, as well as the promotion of eye and heart health. Along with these benefits, leafy greens also have an portion of vitamins and minerals while packing far fewer calories per serving.

“Because superfoods are so common place, it will not be hard to add these healthy options to your on-the-go routine,” explained Herrington. “When thinking of ways to incorporate Superfoods into your busy lifestyle, opt for foods that are easy to prepare and you’ll have no problem adding them to your diet.”

Tips for meal planning:

In the morning, flax seed cereal with a sprinkle of blueberries will give you the fuel you need to start your day off right. Making an acai berry smoothie, will give your metabolism an early morning boost, and make the most out of the most important meal of the day.

When grabbing a sandwich for lunch, ask for whole wheat bread instead of white and top off your lean turkey sandwich with dark green veggies like spinach, instead of the traditional lettuce garnish.

Try wild salmon with an orange glaze over a wheat pasta, or in less time, make a salmon burger adorned with some of your favorite superfood toppings.

Even dessert foods can have superfood qualities. Dark chocolate benefits your heart and blood flow within the body because it is rich in flavonoids, which are plant compounds that promote heart health. However, moderation is key; even with its superfood qualities dark chocolate is still a high fat food.

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