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Superfoods or Superhype? Do some foods really have super powers?

By Monique Richards, MS RDN LDN

Superfoods or SuperhypeHippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Whole, natural food has incredibly powerful properties and contributions that scientists have yet to discover. Vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and types of fiber are just the tip of the iceberg of benefits in whole foods that aid in our development, growth, performance, and quality of life. But recently, the so-called “superfoods” label has landed on certain products or food.

Let’s take a look at some foods that have been deemed “magic bullets” and get to the quick and dirty on each, how they can help, why, and what the evidence says.

Probiotics: The “good bacteria” found in yogurt and certain fermented products may not only help with digestion and our GI tract, it may also decrease cell damage after exercise. Think of probiotics as a possible two for one and include it in your diet.

Tart-cherry juice: Recent research has touted the power of as little as an ounce of tart cherry juice before a run or workout to ease muscle soreness, reduce muscle tissue damage, and ease joint pain. The research is fairly new but seems consistent and promising. The power of supplement consumption versus actual juice is up for question, but stay tuned for more information. Read up on how much for how long and try it for yourself if it applies to your body’s needs.

Omega-3 fatty acid: (okay, so not a food, but found in marine sources from algae and cold water fish, walnuts, flaxseed.) Reduction of inflammation and decrease in soreness of joints and muscles has been associated with Omega-3 fatty acids for many years now. The latest research has linked Omega-3 fatty acids to increased mental clarity, reduced cholesterol and cardiovascular disease risks, and many more benefits. Not a big fish eater? Take a supplement and for vegetarians there are sources not from fish. Do your homework and get the omega-3’s in your daily diet. It is pretty super.

Nuts: Research on walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pistachios, cashews, and pecans has blown up in the last five to ten years, and the findings are consistent and encouraging. A handful of any variety of these nuts on a regular basis has been linked to lower cholesterol, promoting heart health, better blood glucose control in people with diabetes, and many other feats equivalent to that of a regular sized superhero. The good fat, (mostly unsaturated fat, namely mono- and polyunsaturated fat) protein, and vitamins and minerals make these tiny powerhouses in a nutshell (pun intended).

Berries: Yes, noni, acai, and goji berries are traditional, indigenous powerful sources of nutrients in certain regions throughout the world. But do they reign over blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries and the other numerous varieties of berries we are familiar with? The jury is still out. The antioxidants, like vitamin C and phytochemicals, in blueberries themselves are hailed as superior. Just a ½ cup a day can reap rewards, but don’t forget a variety of fruit is key. Try some and pick your favorites; if you don’t eat them, they can’t help you.

Chili Peppers: An antioxidant called capasaicin increases the amount of calories we burn, as well as increasing the amount of fat used for fuel after a meal. Research has also found it may reduce appetite. So add some jalapenos to your salad, spice up your salsa, or put some real chili peppers in your chili and enjoy the burn.

Spices:  A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition touts spices’ ability to slow the digestion of fat. In turn, reduction of circulating triglycerides (type of fat that can lead to cardiovascular disease) in the body was noted. Spices like black pepper, garlic powder, oregano, cinnamon, and rosemary can add flavor to recipes and dishes without adding calories, the need for salt, and may help the body produce less triglycerides from a fatty dish. Use some rosemary, lemon, and black pepper to your salmon or trout; experiment with soups, sauces or marinades and taste, smell, and feel the benefits.

Dark Chocolate: You’ve probably heard of the flavonoids connected with cocoa, and the higher the percentage of cocoa in the chocolate the more flavonoids it will have—good for anti-aging, blood flow, and an immune booster. Chocolate also contains phenylethylamine, a compound linked to the release of endorphins, the feel good chemicals released when we work out or eat comfort foods, usually high in fat. Again, only a small amount is needed. Steer clear of the regular milk chocolate variety (loaded with sugar and saturated fat), and go for ½ ounce dark chocolate for a feel-good-all-over fix.

The best sources of energy and power can be from food but not by isolating a certain kind and eating just that. You can harvest it from eating a well-balanced diet including a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. Here’s to good, fresh food, and a super you!
Sources:
http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=tart+cherry+juice&rls=com.microsoft:
en-us:IE-SearchBox&oe=UTF-8&rlz=1I7SKPT_en&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&sa=N&tab=ws
Accessed January 7, 2012
http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FBJN%2FBJN96_
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Accessed January 7, 2012
http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/superfoods-everyone-needs
Accessed January 7, 2012
http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20040601/dark-chocolate-day-keeps-doctor-away
Accessed January 7, 2012
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/nutrient
Accessed January 7, 2012
Slim Calm Sexy Diet: 365 Proven Food Strategies for Mind/Body Bliss,
Keri Glassman, RD. (Rodale, January 2012).

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