Although the term, “superfood,” has become something of a marketing buzzword in recent years, it is perhaps the best descriptor for a class of super nutritious whole foods that offer a wide range of essential nutrients, and can easily be integrated into a balanced diet. I try to incorporate each of these foods into my life on a daily or weekly basis. All of the foods in this list should be organic or wild.
1. Wild Alaskan Salmon
Not only is salmon an excellent source of protein, with 18 grams per 3 ounces, it is also a great source of potassium, selenium, B12 and niacin. Most importantly, wild salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids promote heart and brain health, reduce inflammation, increase circulation and memory, and help to control blood sugar.
Wild Alaskan salmon is superior to farm raised salmon for several reasons. Farm raised salmon do not produce as many omega-3s as their wild counterparts because their diet consists of grains. Grain fed salmon produce omega-6 fatty acids which can cause inflammation. Farm raised salmon has often tested high for polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs, and might be the most PCB-contaminated protein on the U.S. market. For these reasons, farm raised salmon should be avoided, with the healthful wild salmon always being the best choice. Although mercury contamination is possible with wild salmon, salmon is one of the least mercury-contaminated species, and even with a small amount of mercury, the nutritional benefits of salmon are worth it
Quinoa was known as “mother of grains” by the Incas for a reason; it contains a larger quantity of high quality protein than most other grains. Quinoa is a great source of protein for vegetarians because it is high in the amino acid lysine, which is hard to find outside of the animal kingdom. The amino acids in quinoa are considered well balanced and similar to casein. Besides being a great source of protein, quinoa is a good source of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, copper, manganese and zinc. Per half cup, quinoa contains 8 mg of iron and 5 grams of fiber.
Blueberries are an amazing source of antioxidants. Blueberries have the highest ORAC score of all time. ORAC, oxygen radical absorbance capacity, measures not only the amount of phytochemicals and antioxidants in a food, but also how well these components work together to provide protection and value. One of the reasons blueberries received such a high score is their high concentration of compounds called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, which help protect against diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. They also help with memory, motor coordination, and night vision, and reduce eyestrain.
Arugula is very nutrient dense. For a very small amount of calories (5 per one cup), arugula contains folate, vitamins A and K, calcium, lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids which promote eye health. Vitamin K helps with blood clotting, as well as developing strong bones. Arugula also contains glucosinates, which when combined with enzymes in the body turn into isothiocyanates, anticancer compounds. Isothiocynates neutralize carcinogens and reduce their effects on the body. These compounds have been found to help prevent lung and esophageal cancer.
Rich in monounsaturated fats, almonds are associated with lower levels of heart disease and cancers, and in return, longer life spans. Almonds decrease risks of heart disease by decreasing cholesterol, especially the bad LDL cholesterol. They are a great source of protein, fiber and calcium, as well as, phosphorus, magnesium and vitamin E. I think they are a great choice for a snack food because of their nutritional content, and they are a good choice for diabetics as they contain no carbohydrates.
Another food high in monounsaturated fats, the avocado is a truly remarkable fruit. The monounsaturated fats in avocado are mainly comprised of oleic acid, an omega-9 fatty acid that helps lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and raises HDL cholesterol. Avocados are also high in another cholesterol lowering compound, beta-sitosterol, which also helps protect the prostate. Lutein, a carotenoid found in avocados, is an antioxidant that promotes eye and skin health. Avocados are high in fiber, containing 11 to 17 grams per fruit, and also a good source of potassium, folate, vitamin A, beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin.
7. Brussels Sprouts
A member of the cruciferous family, Brussels sprouts contain a large quantity of cancer fighting nutrients. These key nutrients include sinigrin, isothiocyanates and sulforaphane. Sinigrin represses the growth of precancerous cells by getting them to commit suicide. Isothiocyanates and sulforaphane are compounds that stop the proliferation of cells, deactivate carcinogens, and help disarm environmental toxins. Sulforphane in particular increases the production of phase-2 enzymes which can neutralize free radicals and fight carcinogens. Brussels sprouts also supply good amounts of folic acid, potassium and vitamin K.
8. Greek Yogurt
Rich in probiotics and enzymes, I especially like Greek yogurt because it is an excellent source of protein. The live bacterial cultures in yogurt help create a healthy gut by promoting digestion and immunity and balancing bad bacteria and inflammation. The bacterial strain, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, is very beneficial to immunity because it increases natural killer cells which increase antibodies when infections are present, improve digestion, have anti-cancer properties, and help lower bad cholesterol while increasing good cholesterol.
Besides probiotics, yogurt is also a good source of calcium and potassium. To gain all of the healthy benefits from yogurt, live cultures must be present. Look for the LAC, “Live and Active Cultures” seal on the label, which guarantees the yogurt contains at least 100 million cultures per gram of yogurt after pasteurization and at the time of manufacturing. Choosing plain yogurt is best in order to avoid excess sugars.
9. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (First Cold Pressed)
Extra virgin olive oil is one of the key ingredients to the heart healthy Mediterranean diet. It contains a very high amount of the antioxidants, phenols, which help neutralize free radicals. It is also rich in heart healthy monounsaturated fats, especially oleic acid, which helps to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. The antioxidants and monounsaturated fats reduce risks of diseases associated with inflammation, including stroke, heart disease, and cancer. First cold pressed extra virgin olive oil is the best and most beneficial form of olive oil to buy because it is not refined and retains the key vitamins, essential fatty acids, antioxidants and nutrients which make it so healthy.
Beans are the perfect food to help add fiber to the diet, containing between 11 and 17 grams of fiber per cup. As an excellent source of fiber, beans help lower risks of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Beans help lower cholesterol and regulate blood sugar; high fiber foods help improve hyperglycemia. Besides fiber, beans also contain important phytochemicals, including diogenin, which inhibits cancer cells from multiplying, and saponins, protease inhibitors, and phytic acid, which all protect cells from genetic damage that can lead to cancer. Beans also have one of the highest capacities of antioxidants per serving compared to other foods. A great source of protein, 15 grams per cup, beans also are a good source of folic acid, magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium and the enzyme-enhancing mineral, molybdenum.
Bowden, J., (2007). The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth: The Surprising, Unbiased, Truth
About What You Should Eat and Why. Beverly, MA: Fair Winds Press.
Rebecca Jennings is currently working towards fulfilling various science prerequisites in order to gain admittance to a Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine program. Previously, her passion for nutrition and natural health had led her to pursue a Master’s degree in Holistic Nutrition; however, after a year of study, a desire for a more comprehensive study of science and natural medicine led her to change course and begin studies to become a Naturopathic Doctor.
Rebecca enjoys researching and staying on top of the latest news and trends in natural health and nutrition. She maintains an active lifestyle by practicing yoga, pilates, cycling, hiking and traveling. Her love of food and cooking, coupled with her enthusiasm for healthy living, explains her penchant for creating meals that are both delicious and nutritious! Follow Rebecca on Twitter.