Not all foods are created equal. At least, not when it comes to nutrition. The average American diet remains lacking in nutrient-dense foods, and most people continue to consume more than enough processed food products, stripped of nutritional benefits and full of empty calories.
Dietitians and physicians preach the gospel of fruits and vegetables as the basis of a healthy diet. Whole grains and lean protein should fill the rest of America’s plates, as noted in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ‘MyPlate’ initiative, which has replaced the food pyramid familiar to many adults.
Yet even if you’re following that advice, those who seek maximum health benefits from their diet are now touting the consumption of ‘superfoods.’ Lists of superfoods vary somewhat, depending on the source, but they all focus on eating fresh, whole foods.
“A lot of people don’t have time to make nutritious meals, and there’s so much advertising out there, many people still don’t know what good nutrition really is,” says Dr. Rosa Kincaid, a board-certified family physician with Kincaid Medical Associates. A long-time vegetarian who focuses on eating raw, organic produce, Kincaid champions home gardening as the optimal way to acquire vegetables packed with nutrients.
Among Kincaid’s favorite, easy-to-grow superfoods, kale is a nutritional powerhouse. Like other cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, etc.), kale contains antioxidants and other compounds that have been found to help reduce cancer risk. Kincaid likes to add kale to soups, stews and salads.
Another of Kincaid’s favorite superfoods is garlic, ‘the king of herbs.’ She suggests eating it raw when possible, such as crushed and mixed into salad dressing, to preserve nutrients that are lost in cooking. “It’s like medicine in a plant,” she says.
Kincaid’s third pick is a bit more exotic—seaweed. Although most Americans know seaweed primarily as what holds their sushi rolls together, there are many varieties, and they are commonly available in dehydrated form at specialty or large grocery stores. “They have micro-nutrients, and they also help take heavy metals out of the bloodstream. You can add them to soups or use dried seaweed as a wrap.”
Liz Fox, a registered dietitian with The Fitness Edge, adds her vote for blueberries as a delicious and powerful antioxidant. “I usually eat blueberries every morning, either in a smoothie or on cereal,” she says. “Spinach is another food that’s just great all around,” she says. “It gives you fiber and calcium and phytochemicals (disease-fighting compounds). I can’t say enough good things about it.”
In addition to the antioxidant-laden, dark-colored fruits and vegetables, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids are part of a super diet, says Katie Eliot, a registered dietitian and instructor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University. Research has linked omega-3s to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Good sources include wild salmon, flaxseeds and walnuts.
“Again, a diet that emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean meats is the best way to promote health through diet,” Eliot says. “Simply adding a fruit or vegetable to what you are already eating is a good way to promote health. Consumers should focus on what they are eating as a whole rather than looking to a few specific foods to gain health benefits.”
A balanced, moderate diet with a variety of whole foods will help you achieve a super-healthy life!