Ten Superfoods that May Help to Enhance Your Health
March is National Nutrition Month, making this the perfect time to take a look at some of the foods that have been shown to improve health, reduce risk for many diseases and increase longevity. Many studies have shown that Mediterranean-style diets – which consist of consuming lots of fruits and vegetables, fish, whole grains, and healthy fats like olive oil, avocado and walnuts – have been shown to do all of those things. Here are some of our favorite foods that do a body good.
Wild Alaskan Salmon
Salmon is a food very high in omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fats have a wealth of benefits, including slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration and potentially reducing the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. According to a study published in Neurology, eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids may lower levels of beta-amyloid protein, which is linked with Alzheimer’s disease. In an earlier study published in Neurology, low omega-3 levels were linked with smaller brain size and a poorer performance on memory tests. Omega-3s are also powerful anti-inflammatory agents that have been shown to ease joint pain and stiffness and depression, two ailments that affect seniors in disproportionately high numbers.
Blueberries are powerful antioxidants, which protect the body from the damage caused by free radicals, which can cause damage to the cells in your body. Too many free radicals in the body have been linked to a wide variety of maladies including cancer, heart disease, and some degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Most berries are good for you, so be sure and include strawberries, acai berries and goji berries in your diet as well.
Almost all leafy greens are good for you, but kale is king. Like many of the foods listed here, kale is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory food. It is rich in iron, vitamins A, C and K, and calcium, making it a great alternative to dairy foods for bone health.
Avocados are packed with nutrients and although they are high in fat, the fat found in “alligator pears” is actually good for you. In an article published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers discovered that people who included avocados in their diet had lower overall cholesterol levels, lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels, and lower triglyceride levels. Avocados have also been shown to increase HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels.
Tomatoes are rich with lycopene, which has been shown to help prevent atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and numerous cancers. Like blueberries, tomatoes are also rich in antioxidants. And unlike many other fruits and vegetables, cooking tomatoes doesn’t lessen their health benefits. In fact, cooking tomatoes actually increases the level of phytochemicals they contain.
This may come as a surprise to many, since eggs have gotten such a bad rap. Eggs are high in dietary cholesterol. That much is true. But there is no evidence that shows that eating eggs raises your serum cholesterol (the number you get from your doctor after a blood test). The Framingham Heart Study examined the serum cholesterol in high versus low egg consumption and found no significant difference in either men or women. In fact, eggs are extremely nutrient-rich and are a source of high-quality protein. According to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, regular consumption of eggs may help prevent blood clots, stroke, and heart attacks.
Almonds are very high in calcium, something particularly important for older Americans. This makes almonds an excellent choice for those who are lactose intolerant or who simply choose not to eat dairy products. Almonds are also high in vitamin E and are a good source of protein. Another good “health nut” are walnuts. Walnuts are high in omega-3s and antioxidants and have been shown to improve brain health and lower your risk for heart disease.
This yellow spice, typically associated with Indian cuisine, has been shown to have powerful health benefits. It has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and has been shown in numerous studies to lower the risk of cancer.
Those little seeds that adorn the famous Chia Pets are very nutrient dense. They are loaded with fiber, and are high in protein, antioxidants and omega-3s. They are also a great source of calcium, manganese, magnesium and phosphorous.
For those who prefer to drink their nutrients, you can’t do much better than green or white tea. The only difference between the two is that white tea is harvested at a younger age than green tea and may, therefore, possess greater amounts of antioxidants, one of its chief health benefits. Studies have also shown green tea may help lower the risk of cancer and improve brain health.
What to Avoid
In addition to consuming more healthful foods, try to avoid highly processed foods, which usually contain a lot of added sugar, salt and fat. Aim instead for whole foods, which have been processed or refined as little as possible. Avoid trans fats altogether – you’ll see these described as word “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils on food ingredient labels. The Food and Drug Administration has banned partially hydrogenated oils from foods, but it never hurts to check labels, especially when traveling abroad.