Eating healthy today can be really challenging especially for busy people, so here’s a list of 25 “superfoods” we all need to keep in mind when preparing meals and snacks.
Creamy, succulent avocados not only contain the best kind of fat (monounsaturated oleic acid) but also help your body block the absorption of bad fats (cholesterol). They're high in lutein, which aids eyesight, and in potassium and folate, which may reduce the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. And they're low in pesticides.
The pigment betacyanin, which gives beets their distinctive hue, is just one of several disease-fighting phytonutrients found in this root vegetable. Beets are also a good source of folate, which guards against birth defects, colon cancer, and osteoporosis, and are high in fiber and beta-carotene.
Glucosinolate-rich horseradish fights cancer and kills bacteria. It's also a good source of calcium, potassium, and vitamin C, which, among other things, helps maintain collagen.
Whether orange or white, sweet potatoes contain phytonutrients that promote heart and eye health and boost immunity. They're flush with beta-carotene (thought to lower breast cancer risk) and vitamin A (which may reduce the effects of smoking).
Cruciferous vegetables—cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli rabe—contain a powerful range of disease fighters. One particular hero, sulforaphane, may increase enzymes that lower the incidence of colon and lung cancers.
Fresh or frozen, blueberries have sky-high levels of antioxidants, which combat the damage done by inflammation. Anthocyanins, the natural plant compounds that give blueberries their deep color, may have antidiabetic effects as well. And new research suggests blueberries might protect the heart muscle from damage.
Dark, Leafy Greens
Dark, leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and swiss chard are an excellent source of iron (especially important for women), vitamin A, and lutein for eye health. Best of all, you know those omega-3s everyone's talking about? They reside in dark greens (including seaweed, which is why they're concentrated in fish).
Alliums, the botanical family that includes leeks, onions, and garlic, share many remarkable traits. They can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Research suggests they inhibit the growth of prostate, stomach, and colon cancer cells. They also have antibiotic properties—so they can ward off germs as well as vampires.
Don't eat whole grains (such as buckwheat and quinoa) just because they are high in magnesium, B vitamins, fiber, and manganese. Do it because they taste great—nutty, buttery, earthy. And that, in turn, may actually help you to not overeat—one study found that people feel fuller after eating buckwheat than after eating other grains.
Like whole wheat, ancient spelt is sweeter, nuttier, and higher in protein than its processed relatives. Both are also good sources of manganese and copper.
Turmeric, used in holistic medicine as a digestive aid and wound healer, can also serve as an anti-inflammatory, so reach for the curry (turmeric is a primary ingredient) when nursing a toothache or a sprain.
Superstar levels of antioxidants mean that a half teaspoon of dried oregano has the benefits of a spinach salad. Oregano has the ability to act as an expectorant, clearing congestion, and can also improve digestion.
Cinnamon is the gold medalist of the spice rack, with one of the highest antioxidant levels of all herbs and spices. It also has a positive effect on blood glucose levels, so adding it to foods can keep you feeling steady and satiated.
Ginger, Cayenne, Black Pepper
That heat on your tongue when you eat spices such as ginger, cayenne, and black pepper is evidence of gingerols, capsaicin, and piperine, compounds that boost metabolism. They also have an aphrodisiac effect—but avoid consuming them if you're bothered by hot flashes.
Deeply flavorful miso, a fermented soybean paste, is a great source of low-calorie protein (two grams in a 25-calorie serving). It also contains B12 and is a good source of zinc, which helps the immune system function properly.
Like the milk it's made from, yogurt is a very good source of calcium, phosphorus, and protein. Unlike milk, real yogurt also contains probiotics, the good bacteria your digestive system needs to process and benefit from all the other things you eat. One, Lactobacillus casei, boosts immune response.
Wild-caught sardines are low in mercury (unlike some types of tuna) and high in vitamin D; a three-ounce serving has as much calcium as a cup of milk. Even better, they're one of the Monterey Bay Aquarium's top picks for sustainability.
King, sockeye, and coho salmon have more DHA plus EPA omega-3 fatty acids than almost any other seafood, as well as some of the lowest mercury levels. Nutritionally, wild-caught Alaskan canned salmon is as good as fresh, and it costs a fraction as much. The Monterey Bay Aquarium also champions this fish's sustainability.
Tiny, tasty sesame seeds contain unique lignans (or plant compounds), including sesamin and sesamolin, which can help lower cholesterol. The seeds are a good source of calcium, phosphorous, and zinc—as well as copper, which research suggests may help maintain strong bones.
Of all nuts, walnuts contain the most alpha-linolenic omega-3 fatty acids, which lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and may reduce inflammation in arteries. Walnuts are also a great source of antioxidants, vitamin E, selenium, and magnesium.
While all tea (black, white, and green) has protective antioxidants, green tea contains the most bang for your sip. It's full of a metabolism-boosting compound called EGCG, which prevents damage to the heart muscles. Green tea may also improve bone density, but avoid adding milk to your cuppa—it may reduce the body's absorption of the catechins.
It's just like chocolate to crash the party, but it's no mistake that the dark variety confers health benefits. Dr. Aviva Romm, President of the American Herbalists Guild, says that the high antioxidant levels make it a perfect indulgence. Chocolate is high in flavonoids, substances that have been shown to improve blood flow, suppress coughs, improve memory, and give you hydrated, smooth skin. A 1 oz. dose of chocolate a day is now officially the doctor's order.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a hot nutrition buzzword, and for good reason—they speed up cell metabolism and reduce inflammation in the body, reducing triglyceride levels and lowering blood pressure. One of the easiest ways to get them is from ground flaxseed. For a fast hit, sprinkle some on oatmeal or baked dishes.
Used for millennia is ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures, figs are an excellent source of dietary fiber (almost 2 grams each!). They're also a good source of calcium and potassium.
Seaweed (Hijiki, Wakame, Kelp, Nori)
Think of eating seaweed as going directly to the source—this is where fish procure their Omega-3's, meaning you can skip the fish and go straight to the seaweed. Seaweeds are also a two-for-one deal, nutrition-wise: They contain nutrients commonly found in green, leafy vegetables, along with most minerals found in the ocean. They're also full of magnesium, which may prevent migraines and asthma attacks. Grate nori on popcorn and eggs, add wakame to soups, and marinate hijiki with sesame oil for a quick salad.