You’ve heard all of the hype surrounding superfoods, including expensive ones that you’ve never heard of and probably can’t pronounce, much less find in your local market. These are the top ten foods that I believe are truly super for optimal health, as well as affordable, easy to find and delicious!
Turmeric root, a rhizome, is a potent source of antioxidants, as well as antibiotic, antiviral and antifungal properties. It is also anti-inflammatory, and an herbal remedy for aches, muscle soreness, digestive disorders and combating infections. Turmeric is a liver cleanser and blood tonic, naturally high in iron content with blood building properties especially good for anemia.
It may be taken in supplement form or consumed as a spice, purchased in powder form or the root itself. It is a main ingredient in curry powder and golden milk. Make sure you consume it with black pepper to enhance absorption. In a supplement this may be listed as “piperine”.
WHY I RECOMMEND IT: Turmeric is a great anti-inflammatory, relieving many aches and pains and a great boost to the immune system, not to mention a powerful antioxidant.
Ginger is the knotted, beige-colored rhizome.
In addition to its long history of use as a culinary spice, ginger is chiefly known as an anti-inflammatory agent, nausea reliever and digestive aid.
Many people are familiar with the use of ginger ale for easing an upset stomach. Ginger has been used in traditional medicine for reducing inflammation, and studies show that ginger is effective in relieving the pain of menstrual cramps.
It may be found in whole fresh root, crystallized ginger, powder, and supplement form. You can use ginger in tea, Asian dishes and baked goods.
WHY I RECOMMEND IT: Ginger is another great anti-inflammatory like turmeric, and can help with aches and pains. It is also a wonderful tonic for the digestive system, and the gi tract is our second brain and a huge part of our immune system, so its important to keep it healthy.
Quinoa is a pseudograin – it is actually a seed. Therefore, it has a higher protein to lower carbohydrate ratio, and is gluten-free. It is known for its greater balance of essential amino acids compared to other grain types.
You must pre-rinse quinoa to get rid of the saponins, a soap like tasting substance which acts as a natural pesticide.
Quinoa is available in white, red and black, the latter two having a rather different taste, a slightly denser quality and more fiber content than white quinoa.
You can buy quinoa either prepackaged or in bulk bins. Quinoa may be used just as any other grain like rice, and can even be used as an ingredient in things like granola. Quinoa flakes are also available and when cooked have a texture similar to oatmeal.
WHY I RECOMMEND IT: Quinoa is a complete protein, which is rare in plant foods. It is also gluten free and not technically a grain. Including quinoa in your diet can help you cut back on animal protein as well as grains, especially if you are gluten intolerant or Celiac.
Raw cacao beans are the seeds or “nuts” of the cacao tree. This version, which is very different than the chocolate most people are familiar with, is a super rich source of antioxidants, bitter alkaloids and other energy enhancing phytonutrients.
Cacao can be many steps up from the average chocolate bar and a much better option over sweetened milk varieties often made with extremely refined low-grade ingredients .
The active ingredient in raw chocolate that acts like a plant stimulant is theobromine. Theobromine is a bitter alkaloid and is distantly related to caffeine, but they are not the same substance.
Theobromine helps to dilate the blood and open the lungs. it can powerfully activate the cardiovascular system, which can have similar effects to caffeine for some individuals.
Cacao is rich in antioxidants, good for your heart, and can act as a natural antidepressant, containing a powerful combination of constituents that help to uplift the spirit as well as Consuming only small quantities of raw chocolate stimulates the brain to release certain neurotransmitters, like serotonin and tryptophan.
Cacao is one of the highest sources of magnesium. Magnesium is an essential component in the absorption of calcium which helps to provide strong healthy bones and teeth. Magnesium also helps to relax the muscles, nerves, reduces pain in the body and is involved in energy production.
Cacao can be easily found in cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, and cocoa butter. Nibs can be added to snacks such as trail mix, yogurt, etc and add a nice crunch. Cocoa powder can be added to smoothies or desserts and is a great way to get in your chocolate without added sugar.
WHY I RECOMMEND IT: Because, chocolate. Plus its high in antioxidants and feel good chemicals, as well as magnesium, which many of us are depleted in.
Fermented foods are foods that have gone through a fermentation process, creating a pickled or strongly flavored condiment, food or drink.
Some of the most commonly known food ferments include wine, cheese and pickles. However, there are many others that involve the use of vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, beans or liquids such as vegan milks, teas or even water.
These “cultured foods”, like sauerkraut and coconut kefir, contain communities of friendly microscopic bacteria that are extremely beneficial to the health of the colon and the entire digestive tract.
There are approximately one hundred trillion microorganisms, between 400-500 different species, present in healthy human intestines. A healthy balance of gut flora, in the digestive tract and specifically the intestines is extremely important for maintaining the health of the entire body, organs and systems.
Achieving a healthy ratio of bacteria and yeasts within the body helps to improve metabolism, enhance hormonal production and increases the synthesis certain B complex vitamins and other nutrients, increasing their uptake. Greater microbial biodiversity in your body keeps a stable “inner ecosystem”, improving overall health and enhancing immune function.
common use of antibiotics kill the friendly bacteria and cause fungal species, like candida, to dominate. Fermented foods, including sauerkraut, kefir and others, contain billions of natural probiotic (pro-life) organisms, and can be very beneficial for counteracting the negative impacts that antibiotic (anti-life) use can have on gut flora.
As the beneficial microflora grow in fermented foods, they produce enzymes that are extremely helpful to digest other foods that are eaten with them.
Most all disease originates in the gastrointestinal tract, specifically the colon. When there is an excess accumulation of waste material and toxins in this region, negative implications can impact the rest of the digestive system and eventually will effect vital organs, like the kidneys and liver. This may produce various symptoms like headaches, inflammation in the joints, chronic muscle pain, skin issues and other more serious health conditions.
Consuming only small amounts of enzyme-rich cultured food can be particularly beneficial as a natural detoxifier, processing undigested waste material and the toxins they create in the gastrointestinal tract. Sometimes, fermented drinks and foods have a mild laxative effect on the bowels and can help to prevent constipation and encourage regular healthy bowel movements.
Fermented foods include kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and yogurt.
WHY I RECOMMEND IT: Keeping your gut healthy and in balance is key to almost everything else. The gut is a huge part of your immune system as well as your “second brain”. You can also purchase probiotics in supplement form.
Cruciferous vegetables are composed of other health enhancing phytonutrients such as phenols, indoles, flavonoids and substances like sulforaphane. These compounds offer cancer chemopreventive effects and also, as we mentioned, help to reduce inflammation, a key factor in in many chronic diseases. a high intake of cruciferous vegetables has been associated with lower risk of lung and colorectal cancer in some epidemiological studies” and are viewed as “good sources of a variety of nutrients and phytochemicals that may work synergistically to help prevent cancer.”
Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbages, radishes, etc can all be cooked in many different ways. If you think you don’t like them, try again. You can also purchase sulforaphane in supplement form.
WHY I RECOMMEND IT: Cruciferous vegetables are a delicious way to prevent cancer, and can be especially helpful for balancing hormones. Many cruciferous vegetables are in season in the winter when other produce isn’t. Cauliflower is also a great low carb substitute for many starchy foods.
Dark green leafy vegetables are the tender edible leaves consumed from a wide variety of plants species. Chlorophyll-rich edible greens have healing and protective assets that help to cleanse the blood, balance body pH and are an energizing superfood for boosting cognitive and immune functions.
Fresh raw greens contain living enzymes and digestible proteins that are especially building for muscle and tissue strength. They are one of the highest sources of dietary fiber which helps to normalize bowel movements and has shown to be beneficial for weight loss.
Dark green leafy vegetables contain high amounts of minerals and are one of the highest plant-based protein sources available. Providing all essential amino acids they help to build strength and muscle mass. Gorillas, who forage mostly on leafy green vegetables, are one of the strongest and physically powerful animals known in the animal kingdom.
Adding green leafy vegetables to your breakfast, lunch or dinner can help improve your diet and offer a great way to alkalize and balance most meals. It is optimal to keep the body fluids and blood at a slightly alkaline pH of about 7.4. This helps to ensure a healthy balance of intestinal microbiota and prevents the overgrowth of fungal strains, like candida, which thrive in acidic environments.
Dark leafy greens should be consumed daily. Use dark colored lettuces rather than just iceberg in your salad, drink green juices, and put spinach or kale in your smoothies. You can also purchase a “greens powder” for use in smoothies and adding to other foods if you have trouble eating greens on a daily basis.
Healthy Fats – especially coconut and flax
Coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids that are easily digested and utilized as an energy burning fuel source, rather than stored as body fat and a natural antiviral agent helpful for eliminating parasites, viruses, bacteria, yeast and fungi. Consuming moderate amounts of the oil has also been shown to increase HDL “the good cholesterol” and improve thyroid function as well as have a neuroprotective effect on the brain.
Flaxseed oil, or linseed oil, is a valuable source of omega-3 fatty acids. Flax seeds are also a valuable way to get this in.
Other good fats include olives and olive oil, and avocados and avocado oil. Nuts, seeds and cold water fatty fish should also be consumed.
We need fat to lose fat, stay warm and have properly functioning bodies and brains. Cook with these healthy oils, add olives and avocados to salads and sandwiches, and have nuts and seeds as snacks. Nut and seed butter can also be added to smoothies.
WHY I RECOMMEND IT: Fat makes us feel satisfied, which means we will eat less. The fatty acids are also fantastic for our skin and brains, neither of which we want to decline as we get older!
Berries including grapes and cherries (botanically berries)
Noni, Acai, Golden, Mulberries, Maqui, Acerola cherries, Amla, goji – we have all heard of these “superfood berries” but they can be hard to find and expensive.
If you are looking for a delicious way to add fiber and antioxidants to your diet, look no further than common berries. Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and blackberries are sweet, easy to pop into your mouth as a snack and a much healthier choice than a candy bar. All are anti-inflammatory, rich in flavonoids and carotenoids, offer immune-boosting antioxidant activity and:
1. Are an excellent source of phytonutrients, and a good source of vitamin C and fiber.
2. Provide folate, vitamins B2 and B3, magnesium and other essential nutrients.
3. Contain ellagitannins, natural health-protective compounds that appear to have potent anti-cancer activity.
4. Have a lower glycemic load than tropical fruits.
For a quick and simple nutritional boost, top your cereal with a wide range of colors of berries, add some to a smoothie or salad, use them in sauces and baked goods, or enjoy them on their own. As with other berries, because commercial strains may be heavily sprayed with pesticides, I recommend buying only organic varieties. Red grapes and cherries also fit into this group. Frozen may be better than fresh when not in season.
Raw local honey is probably one of the world’s most popular alternative sweeteners created by one of the most incredible creatures of the earth, the honeybee. Bees collect the sugary nectar from flower blossoms and convert it into honey through a regurgitation and water evaporation process.
It is a sweetener that actually offers some nutrition. Containing both bee pollen and propolis, honey provides antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties that have been utilized throughout the ages to reduce inflammation, boost the immune system and aid digestive functions.
Consuming honey that is local to where you live can help with allergies. A spoonful a day can help to desensitize you to your environmental allergen.
WHY I RECOMMEND IT: its great to treat allergies, keep you well, and as an alternative to sugar – when you want something sweet, honey can be a great substitute and actually include some benefits.
WHY I RECOMMEND IT: We are mostly water. You would die in three days without it. If you wait until you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated, Your body processes work better, your brain works better, and you look better. Soda, juice and other sweet beverages are not water. Drink your water.
Stevie Winsborrow is a professional chef, functional and integrative nutritionist and holistic health coach, as well as a published author, TV and radio personality and Editor In Chief of Align Body & Soul magazine.