Superfoods are nutrient-rich foods that can be incorporated into an individual’s diet to achieve optimal health. We look at which foods contain the most nutrients, and how to create meals with the best variety of foods to improve overall health and support strong body composition.
Superfoods have a high-levels of antioxidants, along with many vast amounts of essential vitamins and minerals. These are fresh, colorful foods that are packed with nutrients. The more vibrant the color, the more antioxidant power. What to look for in different foods to optimize health and improve your body composition is the objective.
Superfoods can be defined as food that is rich in compounds that are highly beneficial for health. Foods like phytochemicals, fiber, and Omega-3 fatty acids. National nutritional guidelines consider these foods as powerhouse fruits and vegetables. Research shows that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is associated with a reduced risk of chronic disease.
Antioxidants like polyphenols have anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation can be caused by infection, injury, and disease. A diet rich in antioxidants helps lead to faster recovery time from injury, illness, as well as, exercise-induced stress.
- Antioxidants reduce free radicals, prevent and repair damage caused by oxidative stress. Oxidative stress happens when free radicals start to accumulate in the body. It can play a significant role in chronic and degenerative illnesses like cancer, arthritis, and cardiovascular disease.
- Anthocyanins are a type of polyphenol that acts as antioxidants that can help reduce the chance of chronic disease. Pigments are found in plants, which give certain fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors. These include:
- Black beans
- Purple sweet potatoes
Evidence suggests that a diet rich in anthocyanins helps:
- Reduce oxidative stress and inflammation
- Prevent cardiovascular disease
- Control diabetes
- Prevent diabetes
Superfoods can help individuals with:
- Weight loss
- Improved muscular function
- Body composition improvement
- Boosting the immune system
Antioxidant properties are found in many superfoods along with nutrients to be aware of. The nutrients listed can be beneficial in optimizing health. Remember to consult a doctor before making or supplementing dietary changes.
- Vitamin B
- Vitamin C
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids promote many health benefits, which include reduced risk of obesity, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses. Omega-3s contain anti-inflammatory properties and help enhance recovery after exercise. A standard diet usually contains a higher ratio of Omega-6 fatty acids compared to Omega-3’s. This unbalance increases inflammation and reduces immune system response. Omega-6 acids include vegetable oils that do offer health benefits. However, it is important to keep a healthy balance between the two. Top sources of Omega-3’s include:
- Fatty fish
- Fish oils – salmon, mackerel, and cod liver
- Chia seeds
Magnesium supports the health of the immune system. It supports and maintains healthy bone structure, muscle function, and insulin levels. It assists the body with energy, metabolism, and acts as a calcium blocker. This reduces cramping and aids in muscle relaxation after working out. Magnesium is essential for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. A deficiency can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Research shows that magnesium deficiency can lead to a higher risk of insulin resistance. Magnesium-rich foods like dark leafy greens, nuts, legumes, and whole grains are also high in fiber. Individuals that have a diet rich in magnesium have a higher intake of dietary fiber, as well. Fiber helps with digestion, control weight, reduce cholesterol, and stabilize blood sugar. The best sources of Magnesium include:
- Green vegetables such as spinach, swiss chard, and turnip greens
- Nuts such as almonds and cashews
Zinc is an essential nutrient for overall immune function support. It is an antioxidant that helps with anti-inflammatory and oxidative stress responses. Chemical reactions within the body require zinc. Zinc is a necessary element for muscle protein synthesis and hormone regulation.
Zinc deficiency is common in seniors and can be connected with degenerative diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, and age-related macular degeneration. Deficiency can also cause weight loss, delayed growth, and muscle atrophy. Zinc supplements are not recommended for healthy individuals as they can interfere with other essential vitamins and micronutrient interactions. Top sources of Zinc include:
- Red meat
Vitamin C is one of the immune systems supporting vitamins. It is an antioxidant that helps reduce free radicals and protects macromolecules from oxidative damage that could contribute to chronic diseases. Vitamin C deficiency has shown an increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, which include coronary heart disease, ischemic stroke, and hypertension.
Vitamin C has a significant role in collagen synthesis and provides support in vascular function, which helps reduce inflammation and inflammatory diseases like atherosclerosis. Vitamin C has been found to play a role in possibly lowering blood pressure. Evidence suggests that vitamin C can help prevent obesity and obesity-related illnesses. Top sources of Vitamin C include:
- Citrus fruit
Eight vitamins that make up the B vitamin complex all have various responsibilities for energy production and DNA synthesis. An increased intake of vitamin B is associated with improved metabolic pathways like glucose metabolism and reduces obesity risk. Consuming enough of the vitamins is essential. Having a deficiency in just one vitamin can lead to decreased energy, poor cognition, and muscle weakness.
The eight vitamins in the B complex are:
- B1 – Thiamine
- B2 – Riboflavin
- B3 – Niacin
- B5 – Pantothenic acid
- B6 – Pyridoxine
- B7 – Biotin
- B9 – Folic acid
The best sources for B vitamins include:
- Beef /liver
- Leafy greens that are rich in vitamin A, C, and K, iron, and more
- Salmon is a great source of Omega-3s
- Cherries are rich in vitamin C and polyphenols
- Berries are rich in Vitamin C and high in antioxidants
- Nuts are packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats
- Garlic is a great source of Vitamin C and B-Complex
- Turmeric contains potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidants
- Cacao is packed with nutrients, and contain magnesium, zinc, iron, potassium, and more
- Manuka Honey is packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties
- Tea/s are filled with antioxidant properties and polyphenolic compounds
These superfoods have been shown to:
- Improve body composition
- Reduce the risk of chronic illnesses
- Provide immune support
- Antioxidant properties
- Reduce inflammation, oxidative stress, and free radicals
Leafy greens like spinach, kale, turnip greens, and collard greens have been shown to reduce the risk for type II diabetes and cancer, which includes breast cancer, and they help protect against depression symptoms. Leafy greens contain many nutrients, which makes them a superfood staple. Leafy greens contain vitamins A, C, and K, iron, folate, zinc, and magnesium. They are a great source of fiber, carotenoids, and antioxidants that help to protect the cells.
Salmon is a perfect source of Omega-3s. These help in improving the immune system’s response, neuromuscular functioning, and enhanced cognition. Eating plenty of salmon, and other fatty fish helps reduce blood pressure and symptoms associated with coronary heart disease. Consuming whole-food proteins like salmon help with workout/exercise muscle protein synthesis better than a protein supplement. Omega-3’s can improve body composition because the fatty acids counteract muscle atrophy and promote recovery from muscles not being used brought on by surgery and inactivity.
Cherries contain a high source of vitamin C and polyphenols. Both contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce oxidative stress. Oxidative stress contributes to inflammation and atherosclerosis, which can contribute to cardiovascular disease. Cherries promote health, provide cardioprotective support, help to reduce blood pressure and LDL cholesterol.
Berries are known for containing antioxidant properties. Berries like:
All contain flavonoids and anthocyanins. Both of these help in reducing oxidative stress. Eating berries has been shown to improve cardiovascular health. Moderate consumption of berries helps improve blood platelet function and HDL cholesterol, as well as helps reduce blood pressure. Anthocyanins, flavonoids, and phytochemicals are believed to reduce the risk of cancer, primarily of the GI tract and breast. Berries can also provide neuroprotective support, that can help prevent a decrease in cognitive functions and dementia.
Nuts are considered a nutritious superfood. They contain essential vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. However, nuts are recommended in limited amounts because of their high-fat content. Also, nuts that are salted or flavored, lower health benefits. Individuals that eat a handful of nuts as part of a healthy diet have shown to be able to maintain and improve body composition.
Healthy lifestyle diets like the DASH Diet and the Mediterranean Diet recommend moderate consumption of nuts. They help lower blood pressure, improve heart function, and reduce contributing factors to coronary heart disease and diabetes. Nuts include a variety of nutrients like vitamins:
All help in the reduced risk of metabolic syndrome and related illnesses. Nuts also provide antioxidants which include phytochemicals:
These compounds contain anti-inflammatory properties. And nuts have the potential to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and types of cancer.
Garlic is an antioxidant and has been shown to improve immune function along with the cardiovascular system. It is a good source of vitamin C and B-complex vitamins. Both enhance the effectiveness of immune system protection. Eating garlic has been shown to help lower cholesterol, blood pressure, delays the progression of atherosclerosis, and improves circulation. Studies have shown that garlic is highly effective in preventing yeast infections, as well as, treating ear infections. There is a compound known as allicin and helps shield the stomach from the spread of Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium related to gastrointestinal cancer.
Turmeric is another antioxidant. It helps manage inflammatory conditions like metabolic syndrome and arthritis. The polyphenol antioxidant is curcumin. It has been shown to help reduce inflammation, pain, and benefits the kidneys. Curcumin has been shown to reduce symptoms resulting from metabolic syndrome. Curcumin has been shown to:
- Improve insulin sensitivity
- Reduce the accumulation of fat storage that can lead to obesity
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower oxidative stress
Cacao is chocolate in the purest form. It is packed with nutrients and contains:
Cocoa is the processed form that generally contains sugars and dairy products. The beans contain antioxidants and phytochemicals like polyphenols and flavonoids that protect cells against free radicals along with oxidative stress. There is a flavanol called epicatechin and is linked to improved cognition and a better mood. Dark chocolate helps reduce metabolic syndrome risk factors, including:
- Reduced blood pressure
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Stabilized glucose levels
Heart function is improved by reducing platelet reactivity and inhibiting oxidant production.
Honey has antioxidant properties and provides anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits. It is made up of:
- Phenolic acids
- Amino acids
- Other compounds have anti-tumor and anti-leukemic properties
Manuka honey also has antibacterial properties and is very beneficial in healing wounds. Store-bought honey should not be used to treat cuts and wounds. Manuka honey is darker, and thicker that comes specifically from the manuka plant. It has more microbial properties than other types of honey.
All honey has antioxidants, but Manuka has high levels of organic compounds that correlate with increased antibacterial activity. It is among the most powerful antioxidants that benefit athletes. Honey can easily be incorporated into a daily diet as a sweetener for tea, or as a topping for yogurt or oatmeal. However, it is not recommended for infants under one year of age. This is because babies have a higher risk of contracting botulism.
Tea contains antioxidant properties and polyphenolic compounds. Studies show the polyphenols, specifically in green tea have anti-inflammatory properties. This is a common treatment for preventing osteoarthritis. The catechins are a type of phenol that helps reduce free radicals and the presence of oxidative stress.
It has also been shown to effectively improve body composition. Drinking 3-4 cups of tea a day can significantly reduce weight gain and risks associated with metabolic syndrome. However, drinking 3-4 cups a day might not be the answer for everybody, it can be something to consider.
The objective is achieving optimal health, along with improved body composition. Choosing a diet that is nutrient-packed and includes a variety of fresh, whole foods is the primary focus. There is no miracle food or effective cure for cancer, but when nutrient and antioxidant-rich superfoods are part of an individual’s diet overall health will improve. These are known as lifestyle diets and are meant to change habits and are not just for losing weight. These lifestyle diets include:
The DASH diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This diet is non-restrictive and promotes the consumption of fresh, whole foods while focusing on serving and portion sizes. The National Institute of Health developed this as a means to reduce blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health.
This diet is based on the eating habits of those living in countries that surround the Mediterranean. Studies determined individuals living in this region were among the healthiest with the lowest chances of cardiovascular-related conditions/diseases, obesity, and improved mental wellbeing. It emphasizes physical activity and consistent consumption of fresh, whole foods, including heart-healthy foods like fish and various seafood.
The flexitarian is a semi-vegetarian diet that is primarily vegetarian with occasional meat or fish. It focuses on sustainability and recognizes the vitally important protein, vitamins, and other nutrients that meat contains. However, meat is not eaten every day.
Individuals that switch from mostly meat diets to flexitarian have shown to improve body composition reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome along with diabetes, and cancer. Making adjustments do not have to be huge changes. Small changes will go a long way. Adding these essential superfood nutrients can promote significant benefits for overall health and well-being.
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