Also referred to as Functional Foods, these foods may be natural or processed. With new research findings everyday, the list of Super foods is growing exponentially, including many commonly eaten foods like garlic, chocolate, Broccoli and pomegranate, as well as unusual ones like Yerba Mate, Green Tea and Soy.
Nutritionists believe that in the age of Processed Food, far too many people are over-fed but under-nourished. This is because many of our foods (rice and wheat are prime examples) are robbed of precious nutrients when they are processed. Changing lifestyles and diets have also been identified as the leading cause of cancer, diabetes and other Lifestyle Diseases. Concerns such as these have sparked off an interest in Super foods.
Unfortunately, health and ageing affects everyone so directly, that the quest for the perfect Super food sparks off a new food fad practically every day. Hundreds of so-called Super foods are available today in easy to eat pills, drinks and supplements. As with all products whose health benefits have not yet been scientifically proven, one should not consume Super foods unless they are in their natural form, without consulting a doctor.
 List of Superfoods
It is not possible to create a single definitive list of all Superfoods, for the list is changing everyday. Here is, however an alphabetical list of some super foods whose effects have been well-researched.
- Almonds -- Almonds are a good source of protein and fibre, and several minerals including calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium and zinc. They are also high in vitamin E, and contain smaller amounts of folic acid and vitamin B2. Almonds also contain monounsaturated fats, which can help to keep our arteries supple, and help prevent heart disease.
- Beans -- these are a low-fat, low-calorie source of protein and help control weight and blood sugar. For maximum benefits, have them lightly steamed or stir-fried.
- Blueberries – these are touted as the one food on the planet which keeps our brains young and healthy as we mature. Blueberries contain anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, flavonols and tannins, which are known to slow cancer cell growth significantly. Researchers have also proven that blueberry consumption may alleviate symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease and other conditions of ageing.
- Broccoli – a member of the family Brassicaceae (that includes other power-packed vegetables like cabbage and cauliflower) this green vegetable is considered to be a most effective cancer-prevention measure. It contains diindolylmethane and selenium – phyto nutrients with proven anti-cancer properties. In addition, it also contains high levels of Vitamin C and soluble fibre.
- Dark chocolate – this contains compounds called flavenoids, which slow the processing of bad LDL cholesterol into material that clogs the arteries, and at the same time make blood platelets less likely to clump and cause clots. Dark chocolate also contains Tryptophan, which hastens the feel-good mood-modulating neurotransmitter serotonin. This typically diminishes anxiety and reduces sensitivity to pain.
- Green Tea – packed with powerful antioxidants, green tea is known for its powerful anti-cancer properties. It may be used to alleviate vomiting and diarrhea, as well as for reducing tooth decay, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and the incidence of heart attacks. Herbalists claim green tea is also useful in treating some bacterial infections.
- Kiwi fruit – this bright green fruit is bursting with antioxidants and fiber. A study from Rutgers University compared the 27 most popular fruits and determined that kiwifruit was the most nutritionally dense. It is one of the few fruits that has significant amounts of vitamin E, and contains more vision-saving lutein than any other fruit or vegetable, except for corn. Kiwis protect against free radical damage and lower blood-clot risk. In a 2004 study from the University of Oslo in Norway, participants who ate two or three kiwis for 28 days significantly reduced their potential to form clots. As a bonus, their triglycerides also dropped by fifteen per cent.
- Oats – these are the best source of soluble fibre on the planet. Had as breakfast cereal or in bread, one serving of oats (half a cup, cooked) has nearly 4 grams of viscous soluble fibre (known as beta glucan). This fibre helps lower blood LDL cholesterol, the so-called “Bad” cholesterol. Regular consumption of oats cures constipation and regulates gastro-intestinal functions. The same fibre also enables oats to absorb extra fat and flush it out of the system. Oats are also good for people with non-insulin dependent diabetes since they help stabilize blood glucose levels. Their high protein and fibre content is a godsend for women on the brink of menopause -- it enables them to cope better with the accompanying mood swings and depression. Oats have some unique fatty acids & antioxidants which together with vitamin E, slow cell damage and reduce cancer risk. They have also been found to rejuvenate the endocrine systems and enrich sexual pleasure.
- Oranges – these are a readily available source of vitamin C, which in turn lowers the rate of most causes of death in this country, for example, heart disease and cancer.
- Pomegranates -- these have higher antioxidant activity than red wine and green tea. Studies show this wonder fruit with jewel-red segments may help prevent skin cancer and kill breast and prostate cancer cells. It also helps fight Alzheimer's disease. Researchers at Loma Linda University found that mice who drank pomegranate juice experienced 50% less brain degeneration than animals that consumed only sugar water. The pomegranate drinkers also did better in mazes and tests as they aged. In an Israeli study, a group of diabetics were given 2 ounces of pomegranate juice a day for 3 months. It was found that this kept their bodies from absorbing bad cholesterol into their immune system cells (a major contributing factor to hardened arteries).
- Pumpkins -- loaded with phytonutrients like beta carotene, they helps keep the skin young and prevent sun damage.
- Soya beans – considered to be the best source in the planet of vegetarian protein, this is consumed in many forms like tofu and milk. Soy also contains significant amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids and Isoflavones, both useful in preventing the onset of cancers. However, phytohormones such as Isoflavones, other nutritionists believe, may actually mimics the effects of some human reproductive hormones and disrupt the endocrine system.
- Spinach – this leafy green is considered to be the best food to prevent cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
- Tomatoes: One of the easiest ways for men to avoid prostate cancer is the consumption of tomatoes and tomato-based products. Tomatoes are packed with Lycopene, the antioxidant that helps protect cells and other body structures from oxygen damage. This antioxidant also helps prevent the incidence of heart disease. While the effects of many other phytonutrients have only been studied in animals, Lycopene has been repeatedly studied in humans and found to be protective against a growing list of cancers other than prostate, including colorectal, breast, endometrial, lung, and pancreatic cancers.
- Wild salmon: A guaranteed way to lower your risk for cardiac-related death, this fish contains lots of protein and Omega-3 fatty acids but has very low levels of fat.
- Walnuts: Consuming walnuts is an easy, tasty way to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Yerba Mate– this herbal drink from South America functions as a mood-elevator, diuretic, vasodilator, and myocardial stimulant. It wards off drowsiness and restores alertness.
- Yoghurt: this tasty dairy product is rich in calcium, phosphorous, riboflavin-vitamin B2, iodine, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid-vitamin B5, zinc, potassium, protein and molybdenum. But that is not why nutritionists love it. Yogurt contains live bacteria that may help you to live longer, and fortify your immune system. One research study found that amongst a group of 162 elderly subjects, those who ate yogurt and milk more than three times per week had a 38% lower incidence of death, compared to those who did not consume much yogurt. (Consuming citrus fruit twice a week and a lowered consumption of meat were also associated with decreased incidence of death). Yogurt consumption also helps prevent vaginal yeast infections. In one study, women who had frequent yeast infections ate 8 ounces of yogurt daily for 6 months. Researchers reported that a threefold decrease in infections was seen in these women.
For a more detailed list of the world’s healthiest foods, go to The World's Healthiest Foods.
 What Makes them Super?
Our body needs many nutrients, most of which it cannot produce on its own. Our diets, thus, need to be planned to ensure an adequate intake of these essential nutrients. Super Foods are called super because they are very rich in one or more such essential nutrients.
Here is a list of some essential nutrients and how they benefit us --
- Beta-carotene is a phytonutrient that protects cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. It is also a source of vitamin A and enhances the functioning of the immune and reproductive systems. Spinach, broccoli and sweet potatoes are good sources of this nutrient.
- Beta-cryptoxanthin also protects cells from free radical damage and is a good source of vitamin A. Additionally, it substantially lowers the risk of lung cancer and inflammatory polyarthritis. Bell peppers, papaya and oranges are good sources of this nutrient.
- Calcium helps maintain healthy, strong bones, supports the proper functioning of nerves and muscles and aids blood clotting. Excellent sources of calcium include spinach, turnip greens, mustard greens, and collard greens.
- Choline ensures the proper functioning of cell membranes, helps nerves to muscle communication and prevents the build-up of the harmful compound associated with cardiovascular disease – homocysteine, in blood. Soy and soybean products, egg yolk, butter, peanuts and peanut butter, potatoes, cauliflower, tomatoes, milk, oranges, lentils, oats, barley, corn, sesame seeds, flax seeds, and whole wheat bread are good sources.
- Chromium helps maintain normal blood sugar and insulin levels and supports normal cholesterol levels. Onions and tomatoes are very good sources, as are brewer's yeast, oysters, liver, whole grains, bran cereals, and potatoes. Beer and wine can accumulate chromium during fermentation and are therefore considered to be dietary sources of the mineral.
- Cysteine helps the body detoxify chemicals and heavy metals, protects cells from free radical damage and helps break down extra mucous in the lungs. Food sources of cysteine include poultry, yogurt, egg yolks, red peppers, garlic, onions, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, oats, and wheat germ.
- Dietary Fiber helps improve bowel regularity, maintain normal cholesterol and blood sugar levels and keeps the extra pounds off. Excellent food sources of dietary fiber include: turnip greens, mustard greens, cauliflower, collard greens, broccoli, beans and oats.
- Flavonoids help protect blood vessels from rupture or leakage, enhance the power of vitamin C, protect cells from oxygen damage and prevent excessive inflammation in the body. Good food sources include virtually all fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. Other good sources are dry beans and grains (where the color provided by flavonoids is usually in the yellow family). Flavenoids are also found in wine, chocolate and green tea.
- Folates help red blood cell production, prevent anemia and support skin cell production. They help prevent osteoporosis-related bone fractures and dementias including Alzheimer's Disease. Excellent sources of folate include romaine lettuce, spinach, asparagus, turnip greens, mustard greens, calf's liver, parsley, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, and lentils.
- Iodine enables the thyroid gland to function properly. Sea vegetables are an excellent source of iodine, while yoghurt, cow's milk, eggs, and strawberries are also very good .
- Lutein and Zeaxanthin protect cells from free radical damage and protect the eyes from developing age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Food sources of Lutein and Zeaxanthin include eggs, kale, spinach, turnip greens, collard greens, romaine lettuce, broccoli, zucchini, corn, garden peas and Brussels sprouts.
- Lycopene protects cells from free radical damage and helps prevent the oxidation of cholesterol, thereby slowing the development of atherosclerosis. Food sources of lycopene include tomatoes, guava, apricots, watermelon, papaya, and pink grapefruit.
- Niacin-B3 helps lower cholesterol levels, stabilizes blood sugar and helps body process fats. It is found in beef liver, halibut, asparagus, sea vegetables, venison, chicken, and salmon.
- Omega-3 fatty acids have many therapeutic benefits. They reduce inflammation, keep the blood from clotting excessively, lower lipid levels, inhibit thickening of the arteries and help them to relax and dilate; improve the body's ability to respond to insulin and prevent cancer cell growth. Salmon, flax seeds and walnuts are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Riboflavin-B2 helps protect cells from oxygen damage, supports cellular energy production and maintains the supply of other B vitamins. Very good sources include romaine lettuce, asparagus, chard, mustard greens, broccoli, collard greens venison, turnip greens, chicken eggs, yoghurt and cow's milk.
- Selenium protects cells from free-radical damage, enables the thyroid to produce thyroid hormone and helps lower the risk of joint inflammation. Button mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, cod, shrimp, snapper, tuna, halibut, calf's liver, oats and salmon are excellent sources of selenium.
- Tryptophan regulates appetite, elevates mood and enables better sleep. This is found naturally in nearly all protein foods, but in small amounts compared to the other essential amino acids. The following foods contain tryptophan: red meat, dairy products, nuts, seeds, bananas, soybeans and soy products, tuna, shellfish, and turkey.
 Did You Know?
- Include Chinese stir-fries containing broccoli, cabbage and spinach in your family menus. These cruciferous vegetables have valuable cancer-preventing and fighting properties which are maintained when they are lightly stir-fried.
- One simple way of identifying foods with the maximum goodness and nutrients is to look at their colour. A simple rule of the thumb is, the more vibrant the colour, the more nutritious phytochemical pigments the food will have. So look for fruit and vegetables that are bright red, green, orange, yellow or purple. Another related rule of the thumb – by ensuring your plate has foods of at least six colours, you get a plentiful supply of natural antioxidants and phytonutrients etc! For simple recipes with Superfoods, go to The Power of Superfoods.
- Substitute oatmeal porridge for ordinary porridge or cereal for a delicious, exceptionally high fibre breakfast.
- Eat at least four helpings of fresh, clean fruit and vegetable everyday.
- Eat fruit and vegetables that are in season. To reap the full benefits from Super Foods, make sure you are eating them when they are in season. Japanese researchers found three-fold differences in the vitamin C content of spinach harvested in summer versus winter.
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