A Selection of Superfoods

December 23, 2013 1

( A long post, but a good post. I promise.) Sure, I’d heard of Superfoods before. Until I started working at The Squeeze, I could maybe name a few, but I wasn’t an expert. More at this level: Blueberries = Super, Potato Chips ≠ Super I got curious. Turns out “Superfoods” are foods — mostly plant-based — thought to be packed with more than their fair share of vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting nutrients. However, the term is mostly a marketing term apparently has no set scientific meaning. The other problem with this term is that certain so-called Superfoods fall in and out of favor with dieticians, such as turkey and yogurt. Be warned, any list of “top” Superfoods is purely subjective. Given that, I like reading these lists because it makes me feel extra good about those that I already incorporate into my routine, like pomegranates and flaxseed, and inspires me to add some new ones to my repertoire, like spirulina or acai. For sure, you can pack a nutritional punch by adding these foods to your diet and I like knowing what is so super about each one, but remember that other whole foods can be just as healthy. Variety is always a good idea. Just for fun, I’ve included a list of my top 10 favorite Superfoods, and five more that may be new to you. 1. Nuts contain high levels of minerals, protein, fiber and healthy fats, which help with everything from maintaining cognitive function, to improving cholesterol and blood pressure. Nuts are common on Superfood lists, but we all know by now that they are high in calories. How do I stop from eating the whole bag? Whether you prefer almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts or pecans, stick to a handful, or about 1 oz. Considering my handful and a big man’s handful look a lot different, 1oz. of nuts is about 22 almonds. 2. Acai berries: This little berry boasts antioxidants, amino acids and omega fatty acids that all help slow the aging process by improving immune and metabolic function and removing destructive free radicals from our bodies. Also, it might surprise you that the acai berry has protein too. When combined with its omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids, acai has been shown to improve the look and texture of your hair, skin and nails. Watch what type of acai products you’re buying though. Many acai-based juices have added sugar and very little pure acai, so as always, read the label. Health food stores and even Fresh Direct (food delivery service in the NYC area) carry the frozen pure acai pulp packets, which makes it easy to add to smoothies. 3. Kale: I know we’re all sick of hearing about it but it lives up to the hype. So do most dark, leafy greens: Swiss chard, collards, mustard greens (including radish greens) and cabbages. These dark vegetables are loaded with vitamins A, C and K, as well as fiber, calcium, minerals and carotenoids. Carotenoids, the colorful plant pigments some of which the body can turn into vitamin A, are powerful antioxidants that can help prevent some forms of cancer and heart disease, and act to enhance your immune response to infections. Everything you’ve heard is true: leafy greens are awesome. Try a different one each week for juicing so you don’t get bored. 4. Avocados: I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who didn’t like these. Don’t be afraid of their healthy fat. It keeps you satisfied and helps you absorb other nutrients. Avocados are also packed with fiber and protein. Come on, Guacamole?! Greatest thing ever. But maybe stick to ¼ or ½ of the fruit for a serving. 5. Flaxseed: Not only does flaxseed lower blood cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart attack, but it’s also a rich source of lignan, an antioxidant that may be a powerful ally against disease and certain cancers, especially breast cancer. Two tablespoons contain about 20% of the recommended daily fiber intake and more than 100% of the recommended intake for omega-3 fatty acids. Put a Tablespoon of whole flax seeds in your smoothie to grind them up freshly. They’re easier to digest when ground, and it’s like coffee beans: it best to grind fresh. If you must buy pre-ground, store them in your refrigerator and sprinkle them on salads, cold cereal or oatmeal and stuff. 6. Quinoa: For some reason, I’m lazy about cooking Quinoa, but I’m always glad when I do. It’s not even hard! I just feel lazy about the idea. But the best thing about Quinoa is that it contains all the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. The Incas deemed this ancient seed “the mother of all grains.” So it’s like the Kale of grains, people. It’s packed with iron and copper and magnesium which all do wonderful things, plus it has fiber which we know is a good idea. 7. Berries: I always had a thing for Blackberries so I was pleased to find out they have more antioxidants than blueberries, strawberries or cranberries. Blueberries are my second favorite, taste wise, and are great because they improve memory by protecting your brain from inflammation and boosting communication between brain cells. They also have 3.6 grams of fiber per cup. And then there are Raspberries! Just one half cup of these lovelies boasts 4 grams of fiber and more than 25% of the daily recommended intake for both vitamin C and manganese. They also contain kick-butt antioxidants, including members of the anthocyanin family, which give them their pretty red color and antimicrobial properties. Love them all. 8. Goji Berries: To be honest, I wasn’t a fan when I first tried them. But I’m going to the “We Are Nuts About Nuts” store on Church Street in Tribeca (NYC) tomorrow to give them another go. BTW, that store is awesome for bulk nuts (raw and roasted) and dried fruit. Goji berries are chewy and tart and curb your hunger. They also have 18 amino acids, which make them a surprising source of protein. Sounds pretty good. I’m going to try them again. Keep posted. (Update: Since first writing this post, I tried them. They have a flavor of cranberries combined with raisin. I’m getting into them.) 9. Coconut oil smells and tastes great. Turns out it can help bolster your body against viruses and bacteria, AND boost thyroid function AND blood-sugar control AND aid with digestion. AND reduce cholesterol AND, my god, keep weight balanced. The oil works nicely in baked goods, oatmeal and with vegetables. It pairs especially well with bitter greens like our favorite kale. I’m also currently testing a homemade version of The Juice Press’s Black Label, which uses coconut oil. It’s amazing. (Recipe coming soon!) 10. Beans. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ve heard. But really, they are loaded with insoluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol, as well as soluble fiber, which fills you up and helps rid your body of waste. They’re also a good, low-fat source of protein, carbohydrates, magnesium, and potassium. You’ve heard it all before. But did you know that Edamame (whole soybeans) are particularly great because one cup has a whopping 22 grams of plant protein, as well as lots of fiber, folate, cholesterol-lowering phytosterols, and omega-3 fatty acids?! A cup of black beans packs 15 grams of protein and doesn’t contain any of the saturated fat found in other protein sources, like red meat. Nice. 11. Chia Seeds: I’ve only had them at Juice Bars, have yet to bring them home to experiment. But I plan to, once I get past my Goji Berry and Quinoa issues. One thing at a time. Anyway, they say they are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber. I’m especially excited because this super seed also contains 500% more calcium than milk. A girl should always figure out how to get her calcium. (Have you heard about how dairy actually - maybe - depletes your body of calcium? I’ll do more research and report back.) Anyway, Chia Seeds have the same amount of omega-3s as wild salmon, and an appetite-suppressing quality. Stir two tablespoons of “whole” or “raw” chia seeds into a glass of water and wait a few minutes. Then drink them down before the seeds absorb the water and stiffen too much. I plan to try them after lunch to curb mid-day cravings. 12. Cocoa: Again, who doesn’t love chocolate. Well I don’t like chocolate ice cream, but that’s different. Cocoa contains hundreds of compounds that boost endorphins and serotonin, which actually makes us happy. It’s also loaded with flavonoids, chemicals found naturally in plants that may help fight diabetes, strokes and heart disease – and flavonols, which can relax your blood vessels and thin your blood, lowering your blood-pressure naturally. Here’s the deal though, to get the maximum benefits of flavonoids, you have to get raw cocoa nibs or dark chocolate that’s at least 70% cocoa.. My favorite reasonably priced chocolate is Green & Black’s Organic 85% Dark Chocolate. A few squares with a little almond butter makes a very pleasant dessert. And cocoa nibs are a yummy addition to smoothies. 13. Pomegranates: The genius way to get the juice pods out of the fruit is to cut it in half and break apart the halves with your hands submerged in a large bowl of cold water. The red seed parts settle at the bottom and all of the rest of the junk rises to the top, making it easy to pour off. Brilliant. In addition to being loaded with folate and disease-fighting antioxidants, they’re low in calories and high in fiber. They will also satisfy your craving for sweets. Watch out for pomegranate juices because they often have extra sugar. Try eating the raw seeds on their own (many grocery stores sell them pre-shucked), or sprinkle them in a salad. 14. Sprouts: These things are amazing. When you buy them at the store, they are literally still living plants. They are living until the moment you pluck them and put them in your salad. Here’s whats going on when one sprouts seeds: The issue is that a seed has many nutritional advantages, but many of them are locked up tight by anti-nutrients (phytic acid, etc.) When you soak them, it starts the germination process and the dormant seed becomes a live plant. Enzyme inhibitors are neutralized and enzymes, which help you digest your food, are produced. Sprouts have phytochemicals called saponins, which may protect against cancer and help lower cholesterol. These goodies are alkalizing too. This is why raw foodists go on and on about them. Broccoli sprouts have 10 times more of the cancer-preventing compound glucoraphanin than regular broccoli. Also, eating sprouts is an inexpensive way to get serious enzymes and nutrients. You can buy them in the grocery store, but lots of people like to grow their own. There are plenty of resources on the web on how to do it. I’ve done my share of sprouting and it’s pretty easy! 15. Turmeric: Again, my turmeric experience has come from buying things at juice bars. But I’m planning to work it into my routine. Anyway, this antioxidant, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory spice gives curry that special taste. It’s a prominent medicinal tool in Ayurveda, the ancient medical tradition that began in India. They use it a lot there and amazingly, the prevalence of the four most-common US cancers is 10 times lower. Researchers attribute part of this to curcumin, a compound gives turmeric its deep golden color, and studies suggest curcumin may protect against cancer and Alzheimer’s as well as improve circulation and prevent blood clotting. Try cooking with its powdered form or get it in tablet form to increase your consumption. You can also just sprinkle it on top of salads or vegetables. Bonus Superfood #16 (sorry, this is a good one too.) Maca is rich in vitamin B vitamins, C, and E. It provides plenty of calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and amino acids. This herb is best known for improving energy levels, vitality, and hormonal and sexual health. It supplies iron and helps restore red blood cells, which aids anemia and cardiovascular diseases. Maca keeps your bones and teeth healthy and allows you to heal from wounds more quickly. When used with a good workout regime, it can increase muscle mass. There are no known side effects of maca but like any other supplement it should not be taken in large amounts. Start by taking smaller amounts, like ½ teaspoon and build up to 1 tablespoons (of the powder) for an average daily dose. Rotating a few days on and a few days off is also a good idea. Taking too much can lead to adverse effects and throw your hormones out of whack. Powdered maca is good in smoothies, salads, drinks, cooked foods, and juices. Just don’t add it to anything that’s very hot because it will lose all its benefits. Bonus Superfood #17 (Last one, I promise.) Spirulina: This is my new favorite Superfood. Yes, It’s a dark blue - green micro-algae, comes in a dried powder (or capsules or flakes), and grown and harvested from very alkaline water sources. Spirulina consistently boasts an amazing protein level of 60 percent on average—even better than red meat, which is about 27 percent protein. And spirulina’s protein is biologically complete, containing all of the essential amino acids needed for human health. It has other important nutrients, such as B complex vitamins, vitamin E, and also beta-carotene, as well as minerals, chlorophyll, and antioxidants. It has anti-inflammatory properties, boosts immune function, protects the liver, and more. Buy organic (to avoid toxins and heavy metals that might be in the water that it is harvested in), keep it refrigerated or frozen to preserve freshness, and store it in a dark glass bottle. Some organic brands are Cyanotech (spirulina pacifica), Healthforce Nutritionals (spirulina manna powder), Earth Circle Organics (raw spirulina powder), and Live Superfoods (spirulina powder). Toss the powder it into a smoothie and you won’t even know it’s there. Or for a quick protein drink, mix about 1T into coconut water. That’s it for Superfoods today. Be super! Blogger: Lisa The Squeeze's Health and Marketing Pioneer at The Mercedes Club

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