Superfoods are all the rage these days whether it comes to conventional food, supplements, or functional foods. There is a huge variety of exotic fruits and vegetables as well as more local foods that have been labeled as superfoods but ultimately the common denominator between these is the fact that they are nutrient-dense, and they contain nutrients that have specific recognized benefits.
What are Superfoods?
While many foods are labeled as superfoods, more than anything this is a marketing term that denotes some standout properties from a nutritional point of view. The major benefit of incorporating these foods into your diet is to increase overall nutritional value – in other words, these foods pack a punch, giving you more nutritional bang for your buck.
Benefits of Eating Healthy
Overall, from a health perspective, eating a diet high in nutritional value and removing foods with empty calories from your routine ensures your body gets the nutrients it needs to thrive. This goes beyond the required vitamins and minerals and includes unique compounds found almost exclusively in plant foods called phytonutrients. These phytonutrients generally possess health-promoting qualities, with some of the more interesting and beneficial ones falling in a class called polyphenols. Polyphenols are compounds that are responsible for the bright colors associated with fruits and vegetables but are also beneficial in that they feed our microbiome, the collection of bacteria, yeast and other organisms that are permanent residents of our digestive tracts. Moreover, polyphenols and other plant-based phytonutrients confer health benefits in that they possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
By increasing the amount of beneficial plant foods in the diet and adding variety, we ensure the body gets what it needs to keep its systems healthy and functioning optimally while preventing disease. So, it’s important to ensure we get a variety of healthy fruits and vegetables in our diet on a daily basis. That’s what healthy eating is all about – nutrition over quantity.
Healthy Food List
As mentioned earlier, there are many nutrient-dense foods that are considered superfoods. These can be consumed in the diet and even in dietary supplement form. While there are many ways to measure nutritional benefits, including vitamin and mineral content, fiber, protein, carbohydrate and fat content, and others, one important aspect to consider is antioxidant value.
Scientists at the USDA developed a measure of a food’s antioxidant value called the ORAC score. The ORAC, or oxygen radical absorbance capacity, is a score of a food’s ability to neutralize free radicals in a laboratory setting. While this doesn’t necessary completely translate to a food’s effects in the body, research has shown that consuming high-ORAC foods is a healthy practice. Some of the foods highest in ORAC value are listed below. Fruits are listed first followed by vegetables:
- Berries including blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries
- Red grapes
In terms of vegetables scoring high on this scale:
- Brussels sprouts
- Red bell peppers
Exotic Foods, Spices…and Chocolate!
Many more exotic fruits and vegetables are extremely high in ORAC value as well. These include superfoods like elderberry, acai, goji, cranberries, and others. Moreover, spices such as cloves, cinnamon, oregano, and turmeric are remarkably high in ORAC scores so incorporating a small amount goes a long way. In addition, for those chocolate lovers out there the good news is that dark chocolate is actually a health food, with an ORAC level that indicates it is a strong antioxidant!
Incorporating these foods into your diet as good healthy snacks can really improve the overall nutritional value of what you eat and increase the overall number of healthy foods you are exposed to daily. Beyond that, many of these fruits are healthy snacks for kids so replacing sugar and salt laced foods that kids normally eat with some of these fruits and vegetables goes a long way toward sparking healthy habits in children that will last a lifetime.
Developing healthy eating habits is a constant process, but one where the effort to replace empty calories with nutrition-dense alternatives can pay dividends for a lifetime. The benefits of eating healthy include a healthier weight, better blood sugar and blood pressure, improved cholesterol numbers and ultimately less trips to the doctor’s office.
So, whether you incorporate superfoods and healthy foods into your diet or add them through dietary supplements, there are real benefits of consuming antioxidant-rich foods for your microbiome and your body.
- High-ORAC Foods May Slow Aging: https://www.ars.usda.gov/news-events/news/research-news/1999/high-orac-foods-may-slow-aging/