Good nutrition is essential for good health. People with healthy eating patterns live longer and are at lower risk for serious health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity. For people with chronic diseases, healthy eating can help manage these conditions and prevent complications. Adding so-called “superfoods” to your diet can help ensure you are getting the optimum nutrition you need.
The term superfood is a non-medical term that refers to foods that contain unusually high levels of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber or omega-3 fatty acids, all of which are known for their health benefits. The term is used to sell products and influence trends in diet and health. Even though there is no scientifically-based or regulated definition for superfoods, nutrition experts tend to agree that these foods are important to include in a healthy diet.
Superfoods are considered healthy especially because of their high level of antioxidants. Antioxidants may prevent or delay some types of cell damage. Studies have shown that higher intakes of antioxidant-rich fruits, vegetables and legumes are associated with a lower risk of chronic oxidative stress-related diseases like cardiovascular diseases, cancer and deaths from all causes.
Which Foods Are Superfoods?
Designating foods as superfoods is a loose science. A surefire definitive list doesn’t exist, but typically superfoods include dark, leafy greens; berries, such as blueberries, blackberries and acai berries; olive oil; fish; whole grains; legumes; tomatoes; cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower; nuts and yogurt. A popular superfood, consumed as a beverage, is green tea. According to the National Institutes of Health, green tea delivers many health benefits, such as preventing cancer and cardiovascular ailments, regulating cholesterol, supporting weight loss, regulating aging, reducing the inflammatory response and controlling neurodegenerative diseases.
Incorporate superfoods into your regular meals by simply adding them to what you already eat.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines foods most strongly associated with reduced chronic disease risk as Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables and categorizes them as nutrient dense foods. Here are the top 15 which received CDC’s highest nutrient density score as rated from 0 to 100:
- Watercress, 100.00
- Chinese cabbage, 91.99
- Chard, 89.27
- Beet greens, 87.08
- Spinach, 86.43
- Chicory, 73.36
- Leaf lettuce, 70.73
- Parsley, 65.59
- Romaine lettuce, 63.48
- Collard greens, 62.49
- Turnip greens, 62.12
- Mustard greens, 61.39
- Endive, 60.44
- Chives, 54.80
- Kale, 49.07
Enjoy More Superfoods Every Day
Much like a parent trying to sneak vegetables into their children’s diet, try to incorporate superfoods into your regular meals by simply adding them to what you already eat. Smoothies are an excellent way to get more dark leafy greens in your diet and, when blended with fruit and other ingredients, the taste of the greens is hard to detect. Here are some additional suggestions for including superfoods in your daily diet:
- Add berries to yogurt, cereal and smoothies
- Include chopped greens in soups and stews
- Enjoy a small handful of unsalted nuts for a snack
- Use olive oil in place of butter or margarine
- Try different whole grains as side dishes, like quinoa and brown rice
- Stick to plain, unsweetened yogurt with live cultures and add your own fruit
- Switch from sugary boxed cereal to whole grain oatmeal
- Use apple cider vinegar in your salad dressing
- Thicken soups with pureed cauliflower
While certain superfoods may provide an additional benefit to healthy eating, a variety of whole, unprocessed foods is the best way to get the most nutrition into your body each day. Variety is important not only in the foods we eat, but also in the essential vitamins and minerals your body requires for optimal health and longevity. Learn more about how food choices can make a difference in managing your health by visiting VA’s nutrition and food services information.