What Are Super Foods and What Do They Do?
It is a term we may frequently encounter when we begin our journey toward healthier living and diet. Superfoods. But what are superfoods and why are they called that. What is considered a superfood? What do they do that makes them so unique?
The majority of foods that make up the superfood group are plant-based, but some fish and dairy are also thought to be nutritionally dense and good for one’s health. However, there is no official criteria or label for superfoods, according to the AHA (American Heart Association.)(1)
Superfood get their name because they contain a wide variety of nutrients, like antioxidants; that may help lower the risk of cancer.
Superfoods have phytochemicals and also are packed with healthy fats and rich in fiber, which may help prevent digestive problems. Phytochemicals in plants are the component responsible for their deep colors and signature scents, which can have numerous health benefits on the body when digested.
Superfoods are often very high in flavonoids, which studies have shown may be linked to lowering the risk of coronary heart disease, cancer, and may improve immunity as well as decreasing inflammation.(2)
As a part of a healthy and balanced diet, superfoods are an excellent source of essential vitamins and nutrients our bodies need.
What Foods Are Considered Superfoods?
Wheat and Barley Grasses
Young cereal grasses are a group of foods that include barley grass, wheatgrass, and blue-green algae known as BGA. Nutritionally, they are close to dark green leafy vegetables but offer much greater levels of nutrient density.
Chlorophyll, the phytochemical that gives leaves, plants, and algae green hues, is also found in rich supply within these cereal grasses.
Berries often have higher levels of flavonoids, and a few commonly identified superfood berries are:
- Acai berries
- Tart cherries
- Goji berries
Soybeans are a highly concentrated source of isoflavones, another type of phytochemical that occurs naturally in plants. It is critical that all soy that is consumed be organic due to the heavy contamination of commercial soy with herbicides.
Collard greens, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and beet greens are considered superfoods as well. They are immensely rich in vitamins, carotenoids and are high in crucial fiber and water content.
What These Superfoods Do
Rich in phytochemicals, cereal grasses have excellent antioxidant potential. Epidemiological and animal trials suggest that the regular consumption of colorful, raw foods such as cereal grasses, leafy greens, and fruits may be linked to fighting cancer and heart disease. Much of the growing evidence of phytochemicals and what they may do for our bodies has come from scientists more closely observing people who eat mainly plant-based diets.
The people in these studies have been shown to have a significantly lower rate of certain cancers and heart disease(3). Additionally, eating a diet that is mostly plant-based is recommended by the American Institute for Cancer Research. There is yet no conclusive evidence of what specific phytochemicals may reduce cancer risk or help eliminate cancer if you have it. However, promising evidence is indicating phytochemicals may have the potential of:
- Aid in immune system functions
- Protect cells and DNA from damage that may lead to cancer
- Reduce inflammation
- Slow the growth rate of some cancer cells
- Help regulate hormones
High levels of flavonoids are within most berries. Flavonoids in foods can assist in regulating cellular activity and fight off free radicals that cause oxidative stress on your body. In simpler terms, flavonoids help your entire body function more efficiently while at the same time protecting it from the toxins and stressors we encounter daily. Additionally, flavonoids are robust antioxidants. Antioxidants help bodies fight off potentially harmful molecules that can be introduced to the body. Some studies suggest flavonoids may even help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes(4), and certain flavonoids may help stop cancer cells from multiplying(5).
Soy is yet another superfood that is surprisingly bursting with isoflavones, a phytochemical. Research links isoflavones to the probable reduction of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol (6), in addition, isoflavones may help prevent age-related memory loss, reduce bone loss, and even increase bone mineral density during menopause while decreasing menopausal symptoms.
Leafy greens are packed with carotenoids, hidden behind the abundant chlorophyll. These pigments produce bright yellows, reds, and orange colors in plants, vegetables, and fruits. Carotenoids also behave as a type of antioxidant in the human body. Some of them can be turned into vitamin A when released within the body, which results in many health benefits.
- Eye health. Eating carotenoid-rich foods can protect the healthy cells in the eye and prevent the growth of cancerous cells. Studies suggest that incorporating at least six milligrams of the carotenoid lutein in your diet a day can decrease your risks of macular degeneration by up to 43% and may also prevent further damage if you already have it as a current condition(7).
- Leafy greens are rich in vitamins A, C, E, K, and many B vitamins.
- Leafy greens also contain iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
- Leafy greens like kale, for example, are high in fiber and water content, both of which can help prevent constipation and promote regularity and a healthy digestive tract.
And this is not an exhaustive list of all superfoods and what they can do. Things like green tea, legumes, nuts and seeds, kefir and yogurt, garlic, olive oil, ginger, turmeric, avocado, sweet potato, mushrooms, seaweed, beets, pomegranates, citrus, ancient grains, and many more foods all can be considered superfoods with just as many benefits as the examples above.
Research continues to discover poor diet is linked to severe diseases(8). It’s time to consider eating more of these superfoods in your diet! If you’re interested in how you can take advantage of the power of superfoods more quickly and conveniently, take a look at our customer favorite Advanced Superfood, Greens and Vegetables all-in-one food product to help you maximize your nutrition!
- Get Smart about Super Foods, American Heart Association: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/get-smart-about-superfoods-infographic
- Flavonoids in Food and Their Health Benefits: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15678717/
- Flavonoids Intake and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5959406/
- Flavonoids: A Versatile Source of Anticancer Drugs: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3210013/
- Health Benefits of Isoflavones in Functional Foods? Proteomic and Metabonomic Advances: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18815737/
- Lutein for Preventing Macular Degeneration: https://www.macular.org/lutein
- “How to Eat: All Your Food and Diet Questions Answered.” Bittman, M and Katz, D. (2020).https://www.truehealthinitiative.org/books/how-to-eat-all-your-food-and-diet-questions-answered/