What makes a food a “superfood”? To get a better idea, compare a doughnut to a handful of blueberries. A doughnut is as far from healthy as you can get. Loaded with saturated and trans fat and calories, that delectable delight ranks a zero for your good health. Blueberries are quite the opposite. Packed with cancer-fighting and heart-healthy nutrients, blueberries are what you would consider a superfood.“Superfoods help fight chronic disease, such as cancer and heart disease, and make you healthier. I consider a superfood to be anything with very little packaging and usually without a Nutrition Facts label,” says Lindsey Stromberg, a registered dietitian at Cooper University Hospital. “Eating these foods on a regular basis helps increase your lifespan, keeps your immune system healthy and improves your energy.”
Many superfoods contain antioxidants, which are important disease fighters. These compounds may help prevent and repair damage that comes from oxidation, which is a natural process of cells as they work in your body. Free radicals are created as a result, and antioxidants from foods help clean these up. Some research shows antioxidants may slow or prevent cancer from developing. They may also protect your heart and cardiovascular system.
Superfoods are good sources of fiber, minerals and vitamins, as well as being low in calories. In other words, you get more food for fewer calories while filling you up.
“Eating just one superfood in isolation does not ensure your good health,” Stromberg says. “You need a team of superfoods that function together, and you need to eat a variety of foods every day.”
You can find superfoods on the outside perimeters of the store – the dairy case, meats, breads, fruits and vegetables. A local farmer’s market will offer all the superfoods you need.
Here’s a list of superfoods. Along with eating right, you’ll want to be sure to exercise at least 30 minutes most days of the week to maintain your current body weight. For weight loss, work out at least an hour most days of the week.
- Whole grains – These are high in fiber and help lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, fill you up for longer periods of time and improve bowel movements. Look on the ingredients list for the 100 percent whole grain as the first one listed.
- Berries – High in vitamin C and antioxidants, berries help fight cancer. “Blueberries are hailed as the supreme superfood; however, any berry is great for your health,” Stromberg says.
- Garlic and onions – Both of these foods help the heart. Use in salads and lasagnas. Onions are a great addition on sandwiches.
- Vegetables – Vegetables provide you with a great source of iron and fiber, while also being low in fat. Broccoli in particular offers potassium, folate and fiber as well as vitamins A and C. Spinach is also a good choice because it is high in iron, vitamins A and C and folate. Buy some low-fat salad dressing for carrots, celery or broccoli. Use low-fat cheese or yogurt on veggies. Rather than salt and butter, add herbs and spices to enhance the flavor. Use spinach in salads or lasagna.
- Flaxseed – High in omega 3 fatty acids, flaxseed helps lower your risk for heart disease and reduces cholesterol. Flaxseed may also be good for people with irritable bowl syndrome. Sprinkle flaxseed on salad or in pasta. Flaxseed is available as supplements and as food. If you choose to consume flaxseed as a supplement, be sure to first check with your doctor.
- Tomatoes (cooked) – Lycopene is an antioxidant that helps fight prostate cancer and other cancers. Stewed tomatoes and tomato sauce are a rich source.
- Olives and olive oil – These oils are high in monounsaturated fat, which helps ward off heart disease and other chronic diseases. Use olives on pizza or in salad, and replace butter with olive oil when sautéing or cooking.
- Low-fat yogurt with live cultures – These help boost your immune system. Try mixing in some granola or almonds into your yogurt.
- Fresh fruit – All fruit contains antioxidants and phytochemicals that help reduce the chances of certain cancers and tumor formation. Fruit is also a rich source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Add to salads, replace fatty side dishes at dinner with fruit, make a yogurt parfait, or top off low-fat ice cream or frozen yogurt with some peaches.
- Nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts) – Roasted, raw or toasted, nuts may help reduce your risk for heart disease while providing a good source of fiber and protein.
“With each meal or snack, you make a decision to take another step toward a healthier life,” Stromberg says. “As we get older, we have already developed how we eat. It does take time and practice.”
To schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian or a Cooper University Hospital physician, please call (800) 8-COOPER.