Kale. Blueberries. Salmon. It seems like a new “superfood” is declared every week. But what exactly is a superfood and which ones are worth adding to your diet?
Jennifer Anderson, registered dietitian with the Novant Health Heart & Vascular Institute in Charlotte, North Carolina, helped explain what superfoods are and how they benefit your diet.
To start, it’s important to know what defines a superfood. A superfood is a food that is nutrient-rich and is considered beneficial for overall health and wellness.
“Many foods can be considered superfoods,” Anderson said. “Vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts, beans, Greek yogurt, whole grain oats and more meet the criteria. There is no specific medical or scientific definition.”
Other examples include bell peppers, spinach, pumpkin and raspberries, she said.
Instead of focusing on a specific food, Anderson said it’s important to consume a variety of superfoods to best support one’s health.
How many superfoods should you consume?
Anderson noted the quantity depends not only on the superfood, but also on the person consuming it. For fruits and vegetables, five servings daily is a good benchmark.
“A serving could be a cup of raw vegetables or berries, half a cup of cooked fruit or vegetables or a small piece of fruit,” Anderson said.
With protein, it depends on the person’s weight, height and calorie needs.
“Six ounces of protein per day is sufficient when following a 1,800-calorie diet,” Anderson said. “Consuming fish three times a week would be a great option to fit into your protein requirements.”
Eat the rainbow
“Fruits and vegetables are filled with phytonutrients, which are compounds like antioxidants, polyphenols (micronutrients), vitamins and minerals,” Anderson said. “Phytonutrients provide a variety of health benefits.”
Different colored fruits and vegetables contain different phytonutrients, she added, and different color families produce different benefits.
For example, blue or purple foods, such as blueberries, plums, eggplant and purple cabbage, help maintain memory function, promote healthy aging, improve urinary tract health and lower the risk of certain cancers.
Yellow or orange foods, such as carrots, yellow apples, oranges, squash, yellow peppers and sweet potatoes, can help support a person’s vision, immune system, heart health and lower the risk of some cancer.
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, walnuts, flaxseed and canola oil, help maintain body functions, like building brain cell membranes, controlling blood clotting and reducing inflammation.
Many plant-based superfoods contain a lot of fiber that can reduce cholesterol levels, aid in healthy digestion, protect against colon cancer and can help keep people feeling full longer.
A superfood-inspired diet
Anderson recommends the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes the following:
- Plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grain, legumes and nuts.
- Lean protein such as fish, chicken and turkey and reduced red meat intake.
- Low-fat and fat-free dairy and healthy fats such as olive and canola oil in place of butter and fried foods.
- Cooking with herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods.
While superfoods are trendy, Anderson noted there aren’t any negative consequences for not eating a particular superfood.
“Even though there isn’t specific research to show negative consequences, there is a lot of research that shows a diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and lower in fats, sodium and sugar is beneficial for overall health,” she said.
Find additional health and wellness tips at NovantHealth.org/RemarkableYou .