5 Superfoods You’re Probably Not Eating, But Should Be
By some estimates, the state of American health looks pretty grim. And much of it is directly tied to poor diets.
Based on current trends, one in three
American adults—about 146 million people—will be suffering from type 2
diabetes by 2050, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention. That year, say researchers at Harvard
University, 42 percent of Americans will be obese, up from the current figure of 35 percent.
U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that in 2000, partially because
of a surge in meat consumption, the average American ate almost 20 percent more calories than he did in 1983.
The problem isn’t only that we’re eating too much, but that we’re eating a lot of bad stuff: According to the CDC, more than 11 percent
of the American diet comes from fast food. Could the gloomy 2050
predictions be averted? A hopeful sign is the growing interest in
healthy diets, and in particular, superfoods. New research by Mintel, a
market research firm, has found that between 2011 and 2015, the number
of new food and drink products to hit the marketplace containing the
terms “superfood,” “superfruit” or “supergrain” increased more than 200 percent
worldwide. Just a cursory glance at your local Whole Foods will give
you a sense of how ubiquitous the word has become to sell various foods
And while the term superfood has been used
aggressively as a marketing tactic, it's a real concept. The Oxford
Dictionary defines a superfood as "a nutrient-rich food considered to be
especially beneficial for health and well-being." But that doesn't mean
superfoods should be treated as panaceas. While Cancer Research UK
points out that superfoods are often marketed as having the power to
prevent or even cure various diseases and ailments, it warns that
consumers "shouldn’t rely on so-called 'superfoods' to reduce the risk
of cancer. They cannot substitute for a generally healthy and balanced diet." But that doesn't mean they can't be a part of a healthy and balanced diet.
in making the most of what you eat? Try including these five
"superfoods" in your diet. (And as with any change in diet, check with
your doctor before trying anything new.)
(image: Suradech Kongkiatpaiboon/Shutterstock)
has more protein than yogurt, more calcium than milk, more B vitamins
than peanuts, more potassium than bananas, and more vitamin A than
People in Africa and Asia have long
known the health properties of moringa, a tree whose seed pods taste
like a sweeter version of green beans and whose leaves have a peppery
flavor. "In India, we call moringa the drumstick tree, for
its long, drumstick-like seed pods," writes Maanvi Singh on NPR.org.
"It's easy to come by in Mumbai, where I grew up. My mother would use
the young, tender pods to make this amazing lentil stew called sambhar."
with protein and phytochemicals (compounds that may reduce the risk of
chronic disease), moringa also has all eight essential amino acids. And
while there’s also compelling evidence that moringa can help diabetes
and function as an anti-carcinogen, Singh points out that the current
research is preliminary.
Still, the plant punches way above its weight in nutrients. "Milligram for milligram, it outperforms
many of the classic sources of vitamins and minerals by multiples, such
as 25 times the amount of iron as spinach or seven times the amount of
vitamin C as oranges,” writes Jonathon Engles, a food writer and
eco-gardener who first discovered it in Guatemala, where it is being
used to fight malnutrition.
If you can’t find moringa
locally, buy it online, but be sure to look for the responsibly sourced,
fair-trade variety. But the best option is simply to grow your own. If
you live in USDA Hardiness Zones
9, 10 or 11, you can easily grow moringa trees. And next time you go
camping, you might want to bring some dried moringa seeds with you: Just
a few crushed up seeds can purify a bottle of contaminated water.
searches for turmeric have surged by 300 percent over the last five
years, according to the company’s 2016 Food Trends Report. In fact,
turmeric latte (aka “Golden milk), a drink made of juiced turmeric root
and nut milk that is fast becoming a cultish, healthy alternative to
coffee, may be 2016’s drink of choice,
notes Saba Imtiaz of the Guardian. She adds, "Turmeric lattes are now
being sold at cafes from Sydney to San Francisco, and the drink is gaining fans in the UK.”
member of the ginger family whose root is widely used as an ingredient
in medicines, turmeric is a superfood that has many health properties.
Since ancient times, turmeric has been used to fight inflammation, a
power given to it by the compound curcumin, which has been found to inhibit several molecules that play a role in inflammation in human clinical trials.
has also been used to treat a wide number of ailments, including
arthritis, heartburn, ulcerative colitis, diarrhea, high cholesterol,
headaches, bronchitis, fibromyalgia and depression. Curcumin may also
help fight cancer, as its antioxidants may help prevent free radicals
from damaging cellular DNA.
The fact that its
wide-ranging health properties may be used as a potential treatment for a
number of afflictions common to older people means that turmeric isn’t
just a hipster fad. “Turmeric has potential as an ingredient in
supplements and functional food and drink products, particularly within
products aimed at the growing senior population,” says Stephanie
Mattucci, a global food science analyst at Mintel.
A 2012 study
backs up her view. Researchers described three patients with
Alzheimer’s disease whose behavioral symptoms were “improved remarkably”
after consuming 764 milligrams of turmeric for 12 weeks. The
researchers concluded that turmeric is "effective and safe" for the
treatment of the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia in
Alzheimer's disease patients.
"After bubbling under the
surface for many years, with those of us immersed in the world of
curcumin saying 'any minute now,' it finally broke into the mainstream
in a big way two years ago," wrote Shaheen Majeed in Natural Products
Insider in December. "We believe it was propelled by an overwhelming
growth in the body of science on its safety and efficacy."
Generating more than $20 million
in revenue in 2014, curcumin is the top-ranking natural herbal
supplement. (As a dietary supplement, curcumin extracts are generally
preferred, since in its raw state, turmeric has low bioavailability.)
to the Great Lakes region and northeastern U.S., aronia (aka
chokeberry) have been used in many food products, from jam, salsa and
syrup to ice cream, beer and wine. But this dark, sour berry that has
long been prized by Native Americans as a miracle fruit has emerged as a
The primary reason is its high
anthocyanin content. A class of over 600 naturally occurring plant
pigments, anthocyanins, a type of phytochemical, confer a dark red or
purple color to many fruits and vegetables, such as purple berries, red
grapes, eggplant and purple corn. There is a growing body of evidence of
anthocyanins' wide-ranging health benefits.
many cell-line studies, animal models, and human clinical trials, it
has been suggested that anthocyanins possess anti-inflammatory and
anti-carcinogenic activity, cardiovascular disease prevention, obesity
control and diabetes alleviation properties, all of which are more or
less associated with their potent antioxidant property," according to a
2010 Ohio State University study.
While anthocyanins are present in all those purple fruits and vegetables, none contain nearly as much as aronia. According to USDA figures,
aronia has 2,147 milligrams of anthocyanin per 100 grams of berry. That
outperforms the second-place elderberry (1,993 mg), as well as eggplant
(750 mg), blackberries (353 mg), Concord grapes (192 mg) and red
cabbage (113 mg).
If you live in USDA Hardiness Zone 3, you can grow your own and eat them right off the bush. But they’re also perfect in smoothies. Here’s a video on how to make one:
4. Mung Beans
popular food in India, China and Southeast Asia, the mung bean has a
nutty, sweet flavor that complements sweet and savory dishes. While they
are packed with potassium, iron, magnesium and fiber, it's the protein
content that is amazing: 24 percent. It's no surprise that they are
popular, even for breakfast, in India, where 40 percent of the
population is vegetarian.
While most other legumes lose
their vitamin C content after cooking, mung beans retain most of it.
Also, studies have shown that fermented mung bean extracts can help lower bad cholesterol levels and also blood sugar levels, which is good news for diabetics.
And there’s more: A 2012 study showed that mung beans have the ability to suppress the growth of cancer cells in the liver and cervix. A 2005 study revealed that mung beans have antifungal properties as well.
"Sprout mung beans
overnight (using a simple sprouting vessel) and eat over rice,”
suggests Rich Roll, a vegan athlete who Men’s Fitness Magazine dubbed
one of the “25 Fittest Men in the World."
you can make a broth with turmeric or even brew a coffee-like drink in a
French press with nutritional yeast," he writes.
Learn how to grow mung bean sprouts at home with this video:
5. Maple Syrup
was hiding in plain sight all along. An American kitchen staple, maple
syrup is now being hailed as a superfood because it contains anti-cancer
and anti-inflammatory compounds that can also help manage type 2
diabetes. As a recent Daily Mail headline heralded, “Maple syrup joins
the ranks of broccoli and blueberries as new 'one-stop shop' superfood.”
you might eat it with pancakes, new research suggests you should be
eating it a lot more. "We don’t know yet whether the new compounds
contribute to the healthy profile of maple syrup," said Navindra Seeram,
who led the research at the University of Rhode Island. "But we do know
that the sheer quantity and variety of identified compounds with
documented health benefits qualifies maple syrup as a champion food."
The finding puts maple syrup alongside such known superfoods as berries, red wine (in moderation), tea and flaxseed.
found a wide variety of polyphenols in maple syrup,” said Seeram. “We
discovered that the polyphenols in maple syrup inhibit enzymes that are
involved in the conversion of carbohydrate to sugar. In fact, in
preliminary studies, maple syrup had a greater enzyme-inhibiting effect
compared to several other healthy plant foods such as berries.”
Here are 11 new ways to ways to include maple syrup in your diet.
Do you have any superfood recommendations or recipes? Share them in the comments.
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