10 everyday superfoods—are they on your menu?
By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., August 17, 2010 - 11:38am
I have a love/hate relationship with “superfoods.” What I love about them is that they’re multi-taskers—brimming with various disease-fighting nutrients, usually without providing too many calories, and delivered in a delicious form (think: blueberries).
What I dislike is that some foods deemed “super” are exotic (ahem, the goji berry?!) or something—like, say, sardines—that you’d only have once in a while. Healthy? Yes. Would you eat them every day? Probably not.
With all the other healthy-eating recommendations we need to remember (eat fish twice a week; replace half your grains with whole grains), I don’t want to have to remember a list of eat-this-once-a-week or once-a-month foods.
So, I’m keeping it simple: here are 10 easy-to-eat, easy-to-find, everyday “super” foods.
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1. Berries: All berries are great sources of fiber—a nutrient that most Americans don’t get enough of and one that is important for a healthy digestive system. Fiber may help to promote weight loss. Raspberries boast the most at 8 grams per cup—and also contain ellagic acid, a compound with anti-cancer properties. The same amount of blueberries has half the fiber (4 grams), but is packed with anthocyanins, antioxidants that may help keep memory sharp as you age. A cup of strawberries contains 3 grams of fiber, but more than a full day’s recommended dose of skin-firming vitamin C.
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2. Eggs: A source of high-quality protein, eggs might give your meal more staying power too. A recent study found that when people ate a scrambled-egg-and-toast breakfast, they felt more satisfied—and ate less at lunch—than when they ate a bagel (that supplied the same number of calories) another day. Even if you’re watching your cholesterol, a daily egg can likely fit into your eating plans. Egg yolks contain lutein and zeaxanthin—two antioxidants that help keep eyes healthy. In fact, mounting research links lutein and zeaxanthin with reduced risk for age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people over 50. And lutein also may help to shield your skin from UV damage.
Related Link: Eat These Foods for Younger-Looking Skin
3. Beans: Beans are a good plant-based source of iron (up to 13 mg per 3/4 cup), a mineral that transports oxygen from your lungs to the cells in your body. Because your body can’t absorb the form of iron in plant-based foods as well as it can the form found in beef and poultry, pair beans with a vitamin C-rich food, such as sweet potatoes or lemon juice, to boost your iron absorption. Beans also boast fiber: 1/2 cup of cooked navy beans packs a whopping 7 grams of fiber, while the same amount of lentils and kidney beans provide 8 and 6 grams, respectively. Much of this fiber is the soluble kind that benefits blood cholesterol levels.
Related Link: Our Top 15 Heart-Healthy Foods
4. Nuts: Nuts are rich sources of heart-healthy unsaturated fats. Studies of Seventh-Day Adventists (a religious denomination that emphasizes healthy living and a vegetarian diet) show that those who eat nuts add, on average, an extra two and a half years to their lives. Walnuts may be the spotlight-stealers, though, with their high level of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid that’s been linked to heart health and improved mood. Walnuts’ high mono- and polyunsaturated-fat content also helps reduce total and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels while maintaining healthy levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.
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5. Oranges: An excellent source of vitamin C, just one large orange (or a cup of OJ) contains a full day’s dose. Vitamin C is critical for producing white blood cells and antibodies that fight off infections; it’s also a powerful antioxidant that helps protect cells from free-radical damage and plays a key role in producing skin-firming collagen. Oranges are also high in fiber and folate.
6. Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes are so brilliantly orange thanks to their alpha and beta carotene. The body converts these compounds into the active form of vitamin A, which helps keep your eyes, bones and immune system healthy. These phytochemicals also operate as antioxidants, sweeping up disease-promoting free radicals. One medium sweet potato—or about 1/2 cup—provides nearly four times the recommended daily value of vitamin A, plus some vitamin C and B6, potassium, manganese and lutein and zeaxanthin, prompting the Center for Science in the Public Interest to call it one of the most nutritious vegetables in the land.
7. Broccoli: This green powerhouse packs vitamins C, A and K (which helps with bone health) and A, as well as folate. There is another reason broccoli frequently earns a top spot on “superfoods” lists: it delivers a healthy dose of sulforaphane, a type of isothiocyanate that is thought to thwart cancer by helping to stimulate the body’s detoxifying enzymes.
8. Tea: Studies show if you drink tea regularly, you may reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s, diabetes and some cancers, plus have healthier teeth and gums and stronger bones. How? Tea is rich in a class of antioxidants called flavonoids. Regardless of the variety of tea you choose, maximize the power of its flavonoids by drinking it freshly brewed. If you want to keep a batch of cold tea in your refrigerator, add a little lemon juice—the citric acid and vitamin C in that squeeze of lemon, lime or orange help preserve the flavonoids.
Related Link: Homemade Iced Tea Recipes
9. Spinach: Spinach is teeming with important nutrients: vitamins A, C and K—as well as some fiber, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamin E. Spinach is an easy, delicious and good source of folate, a water-soluble B vitamin that helps produce DNA and form healthy new cells, making it especially important for mothers-to-be. A cup boasts 15 percent of the recommended daily intake.
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10. Yogurt: In the 1970s, Soviet Georgia was rumored to have more centenarians per capita than any other country. Reports at the time claimed that the secret of their long lives was yogurt, a food ubiquitous in their diets. While the age-defying powers of yogurt never have been proven directly, yogurt contains “good bacteria” that help maintain gut health and diminish the incidence of age-related intestinal illness. It’s also rich in calcium, which helps stave off osteoporosis. Just 1 cup of yogurt provides nearly half the recommended daily value of calcium and is rich in phosphorus, potassium, zinc, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and protein.
Related Link: Calcium-rich Recipes with Yogurt
Which of these superfoods do you include in your diet every day? Tell us what you think below.