The term superfood is more of a marketing phrase for foods that may benefit your health, rather than a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulated term with specific labeling criteria. Similar to “natural,” its ripe for abuse so shop with healthy skepticism when you see it appear on food packaging. In theory superfoods are nutrient-dense foods and beverages with health benefits that have been scientifically studied to reduce your risk for developing cancer, lower blood pressure, and lower cholesterol. It is important to know that while many of these foods can help reduce your risk for several diseases, they cannot cure any ailment on their own. We should all consume a variety of nutritious foods in the right quantities throughout the day.
According to the American Heart Association, 33 percent of adults have high blood pressure. Having high blood pressure can lead to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, chronic heart failure, and kidney disease. According to the National Cancer Institute, just shy of 40 percent of us (39.6 percent) will unfortunately have cancer at some time in our life. Making changes in what we eat can have a significant influence on helping us to create more flexible blood vessels, minimizing plaque build up and enhancing healthy cell turnover and normal growth.
Superfood #1: Blueberries
The blue hue in blueberries is due to their anthocyanin content. This is a powerful antioxidant that can help fight free radicals in the body that cause damage to our bodies’ cells. This makes them a great addition to any diet to help lower the risk of heart disease and cancer. At only 84 calories per cup, blueberries are a great low calorie snack that pack 3 ½ grams of fiber to keep you feeling fuller longer. Fiber is also important for gastrointestinal health as it keeps food moving through our digestive tract. Eating a diet high in fiber may help prevent colorectal cancer and other digestive system cancers. Blueberries are great by themselves, in yogurt, blended in smoothies, baked in muffins, reduced into sauces and incorporated in savory dishes. Remember, blueberries are naturally sweet, so there is no reason to add a lot of sugar when you cook with them. Here is a recipe that is sure to make you a fan of savory blueberry dishes.
Blueberry Ricotta Pizza, Yield 1 pizza, 8 slices
- 1 frozen pizza dough
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 shallots, sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
- 2 lemons, zested
- 8 ounces mozzarella cheese, freshly grated
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
- 1 cup blueberries
- Thaw pizza dough per package instructions
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Heat olive oil over low heat and add sliced shallots, sprinkle with salt and cook until brown. Once browned, add brown sugar and garlic, cook for 5 more minutes then remove from heat.
- Add ricotta cheese to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Stir in lemon zest.
- Roll out pizza dough
- Top with ricotta mixture, half mozzarella cheese, shallot mixture, fresh thyme, and fresh blueberries, top with remaining mozzarella.
- Bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees.
Nutrition: Per 1 slice: 253kcals, 9g fat (5g sat, 2g poly, 2g mono), 29g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 13.6g protein, 337mg sodium.
Superfood #2: Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
These foods have been highly studied when it comes to their cancer fighting, blood clotting properties, and bone health. A great dark leafy green such as spinach has just 30 calories per 1 cup. This superfood is packed with vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and iron. Spinach has approximately 181% of your daily value for vitamin K which plays a crucial role in bone health. It increases bone mineral density to decrease your risk for fractures by helping bone “hold on” to calcium. Vitamin K also processes clotting factors that help to clot blood, which is important for wound healing. Spinach is great either raw or cooked making it versatile to use in lots of meals. Spinach dip is always a good option to bring to parties and to serve as an appetizer. It will also keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, making it an easy after school or work snack. This spinach dip is lighter on the calories and fat than the original making it an excellent choice to get your 5 a day! Just make sure the fixings you dip in your spinach are as healthy as this recipe. Suggestions include colorful peppers, celery sticks, baby carrots or a few crunchy homemade pita chips.
Spinach Dip, Yield 2.5 cups
- 1 small shallot, peeled
- 1 5-ounce can water chestnuts, rinsed
- 1/2 cup reduced-fat cream cheese, (Neufchâtel)
- 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese
- 1/4 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 6 ounces baby spinach
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
- Pulse shallot and water chestnuts in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Add cream cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, lemon juice, salt and pepper and pulse until just combined. Add spinach and chives and pulse until incorporated.
Per 1/4-cup serving: 54 calories, 3 g fat (2 g sat, 1 g mono), 4 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 5 g protein, 222 mg sodium.
Superfood #3: Nuts
Nuts are a superfood that is often overlooked. They’re a great snack food that contains high amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, the kind that are great for heart health. People who eat nuts as a part of a healthy diet can lower their LDL cholesterol; high LDL is a main factor in developing heart disease because it encourages plaque build up. Nuts are high in fiber and protein, which help keep blood sugar stable and help you feel fuller longer.
Nuts are also high in omega 3 fatty acids. Our body does not make omega 3 fatty acids on its’ own, therefore incorporating them into your diet is very important for overall health. Omega 3 fats have been shown to keep heartbeats normal which prevents it from going into arrhythmias (irregular heart beat), and potential cardiovascular complications. While there is nothing wrong with snacking on a small handful of walnuts, almonds, or pistachios, there are plenty of ways to incorporate them into dishes. For example, crusting proteins such as salmon or chicken in nuts is a great way to skip the breadcrumbs while getting your omega 3 fatty acids. Another great way to incorporate nuts is into a pesto. Pesto is a versatile spread to use on sandwiches, on top of lean meats, fish and poultry and even as a dip. Try this flavorful walnut arugula pesto recipe that is rich in omega 3 fatty acids.
Walnut Arugula Pesto, Yield 4 servings
- 3/4 cup California walnuts, toasted
- 1 bunch arugula, washed, stems removed (2 ounces of clean, stemmed leaves)
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon (about 3 cloves) garlic, chopped
- 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Preparation: In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine all of the ingredients and process for 1 to 2 minutes, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until the pesto is smooth.
Nutrition: Per serving; 410 calories, 43g Fat (6g Sat, 22g mono, 15g poly), 5g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 5g protein, 320mg sodium.
Superfood #4: Dark Chocolate
This last superfood is a favorite of many people, dark chocolate. Dark chocolate has been found to help lower blood pressure in multiple research studies including those listed in The Journal of the American Medical Association. This is made possible by cocoa phenols. The high antioxidant content in dark chocolate makes it another great choice for fighting free radicals in the body. Dark chocolate is also rich in magnesium which helps to regulate muscle and nerve function. The hormone serotonin is dependent on magnesium. Serotonin helps to relax the nervous system and elevates mood which is one of the reasons we feel good when we eat chocolate. Make sure to look for dark chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa and has been minimally processed (no corn syrup or artificial flavors/colors). If the cocoa is processed too much it will begin to lose its valuable antioxidant properties. Since dark chocolate can be up to 200 calories per one ounce serving, it’s important that you treat it as your treat for the day.
Bottomline: These are just a sampling of foods that are super. Superfoods is not a regulated term. There are a lot of healthful foods out there. Keep your diet healthy by focusing on one that is plant based and includes a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole-grain, low fat dairy and lean proteins.
Special thanks to Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Jennifer Fillenworth the primary contributor to this post and who made her WZZM, My West Michigan media debut. Best wishes for many segments to come Jenn!
Food & Nutrition Magazine. “Power on the plate” by Karen Collins. March/April 2016 Issue. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.