The word “superfood” gets tossed around so much it’s all but lost its meaning. What exactly do we mean when we call something a superfood? This trendy, loosely defined term refers to a particular whole food that packs more nutritional benefit per serving than many other foods. With superfoods, you get more bang for the buck, nutritionally speaking. Try working more of these foods into your diet.
Note the qualifier, “whole”. Superfoods do not come from a laboratory or factory. They’re typically minimally processed. Their nutritional bounty may have benefitted from some selective breeding over time, but they’re far from engineered. In some cases, like wild salmon, they’re super just the way nature made them, no improvements needed.
In fact, wild salmon is a case in point. Wild salmon is a superfood for a number of good reasons. It’s a source of naturally lean, complete protein. It supplies the crucial essential nutrients (often lacking in many Americans’ diets) known as omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also a source of the natural antioxidant pigment compound, astaxanthin. Astaxanthin puts the red in sockeye, and the pink in pink flamingoes.
When salmon is farmed, its flesh is typically a washed-out pink color, rather than the aggressive red of wild salmon. That’s because astaxanthin—made by microalgae—is no longer an important component of the growing fish’s diet. That’s unfortunate, because astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant credited with numerous potential health benefits.
Few people living in America in the early 21st century will have failed to notice the popularity of kale. Once relegated to obscure Italian soups, kale is a darling of the age, celebrated for its versatility, and especially, for its superior nutritional profile. A member of the cruciferous vegetable family (which includes other superstars, like broccoli and cauliflower), kale is rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, health-boosting nutrients like beta-carotene, lutein and quercetin, and compounds that have been linked to cancer prevention. Kale is also one of the best sources of vitamin K available. Vitamin K plays an important role in blood clotting.
Most people who love snacking on chocolate view their habit as a guilty pleasure. To the extent that you overindulge in inexpensive, processed milk chocolate to satisfy your cravings, a little guilt may be in order. What’s labeled as chocolate in the U.S is often a far cry from the unprocessed cocoa that’s made from a plant whose name literally means “food of the gods”. American confections typically feature loads of sugar and other adulterants, and relatively little actual cocoa.
Cocoa is the dried powder made from cacao beans. It’s loaded with flavonoids; unique compounds credited with improving blood flow, among other significant health benefits. Snack on high-cocoa-content chocolate with pride, rather than guilt. Chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa content is one of nature’s superb superfoods. Research suggests that high-quality chocolate consumption may yield benefits ranging from lower cholesterol levels, to reducing the risk of atherosclerosis, the underlying cause of most heart disease. When cooking with cocoa, choose unprocessed powder. Avoid “Dutch process” cocoa.
Berries are colorful, and that’s a hint they’re also packed with potent natural antioxidant pigment compounds that can do a body good. Blueberries are often cited as top superfoods, but remember than virtually all berries are loaded with potential health benefits.
Once upon a time nuts were frowned upon due to their relatively high content of fats. But the heart-healthy fats in tree nuts are actually good for cardiovascular function. And research suggests that snacking on nuts may be a smart way to avoid overeating. Something in nuts evidently helps regulate appetite better than other, carb-laden foods. As such, they can actually be a dieter’s friend. They’re also loaded with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Brazil nuts, for example, are among the most potent sources of the essential trace nutrient, selenium. Selenium happens to be crucial for excellent immune system function.
This dark green leafy vegetable is an excellent source of dietary nitrates. Nitrates are important nutritional building blocks that are converted to nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide, in turn, plays a key role in helping to regulate blood pressure and maintain cardiovascular health.