The Best Superfoods for Better Moods and Svelt Waistlines!

Hippocrates who lived around 400 BC was known as the “Father of Western Medicine.” He said: “Let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be food”. Superfoods have been around since the dawn of time as humans started to make connections between foods that harm and foods that heal.

We just have to look around us at the overweight, sickly population in North America to realize that Hippocrates quote is not being adhered to, even by many doctors themselves in many countries. We have the highest rates of heart disease, cancers and diabetes worldwide – the reason being that we are overfed, yet undernourished. The denigration of the food supply in the past 75 years has not been seen before in human history – the proliferation of fast foods, processed foods, too much sugar, desserts, soft drinks and chemicals. These statistics have been documented for decades by the World Health Organization, many Journals and Health Boards in both U.S. and Canada trying to fight back and educate people, especially for their children about the value of more natural diets (so that children can outlive their parents!)

Obesity of children is in the news – 30% of children are overweight or obese in Western countries. It’s time for us all to get back to more natural, whole foods.

While the advance of sanitation in society and modern drugs may help people live longer lives, they are not necessarily better lives as witnessed by the deterioration of many of the elderly in our nursing homes.

The federal government has no defined standards or definite list for ‘superfoods’. In the past short decade or so, the notion of ‘superfoods’ became popular and every magazine and newspaper soon listed superfoods to lead us back to healthier lifestyles and more specifically, healthier foods –  the top ten, the top 20, or more.

The truth is there are many superfoods. If we are looking for cures from food for our many ailments, nature provides many foods that contain high anti-oxidant content, or high ORAC content (that fight and prevent disease), The antioxidant values of foods expressed in ORAC units, (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity), is a unit of measurement for antioxidants developed by the National Institute on Aging in the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Anti-oxidants help protect your cells against oxidation (caused by free radicals). Free radicals are unstable oxygen atoms that attack your cells, inducing DNA damage that leads to cancer. Thankfully, antioxidants found in foods and supplements help stabilize free radicals, which keeps these atoms from harming your cells.

It would be wise to increase our intake of ‘superfoods’ and even use additional quality nutritional supplementation specific to each person’s health needs to nourish the body, help repair and grow DNA, repel diseases and fight effects of stress. Remember that amounts matter, so as not to overeat even so-called ‘good’ foods such as nuts or avocados loaded with fat! Rotate foods as well to provide your body with many different nutrients and also to not create allergies to foods by eating the same ones all the time.

The body needs antioxidant-rich nutrients other vital nutrients. Where can we get them?

Superfoods: high quality proteins, complex carbohydrates, high quality fats, coffee, green tea and chocolate! (Thank goodness for that!)

Proteins contain amino acids, the building blocks of protein. The highest amounts of protein are found in animal foods, seafood and beans and legumes as well as nuts and seeds. Protein contains Vitamin B12 that feed the body and neurotransmitters in the brain (and gut.)

For example, vitamin B12 is a vital nutrient, and plays a role in several functions in the body, such as: DNA production and repair and manufacturing of hemoglobin that assists in neural production and communication. Symptoms of B12 deficiency may include extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, tingling, pins and needles sensation in the extremities, pale skin and white spots on the skin, digestive problems and neurological problems such as confusion or depression. B12 is available in animal foods, seafood and supplementation. A drug cannot supply its benefits.

Vitamins C (whose lack can cause scurvy) is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning that your body doesn’t store it. We have to get what we need from food, including citrus fruits, broccoli, and tomatoes. You need vitamin C for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of your body. It helps the body make collagen, an important protein used to make skin, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels. Vitamin C is needed for healing wounds, and for repairing and maintaining bones and teeth.

No drug can substitute these or other vitamin/nutrient deficiencies – only foods, or supplements containing those nutrients will suffice. With our depleted soils, toxic fertilizers, and genetically engineered foods, lack of awareness by the public about basic nutrition, we likely are not getting enough plant foods or the highest quality of plant foods as we did in past generations.

Another problem in our society includes oxidative stress which lowers immunity as it reduces important nutrients in the body such the B Vitamins and Vitamin C. Pollution, toxic chemicals are adding to the stress of overworked individuals who are often sedentary, undernourished and overworked. Many of our population are suffering the ill effects of stress – excess cortisol and adrenaline coursing through bodies as a result of the over active stress response. Excess cortisol is toxic to the brain.

Top superfood proteins include chicken, beef (in moderation), liver, eggs, duck, lamb, fish, seafood, and soybeans and other beans such as kidney beans. Nuts and seeds contain some protein (and fat) but not as much protein as animal or fish protein. Look for organic versions of animal and vegetarian protein if possible to reduce toxicity. 2 – 4 oz. 3 times a day (depending upon weight) are necessary to feed mind and body. Some people may need one or two snacks with small amounts of protein as well.

Carbohydrates – Most plant foods are carbohydrates which contain micronutrients often found in a whole-food, plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grains. They provide the body with anti-oxidants to prevent and repel disease.

Top superfood vegetables include cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and brussel sprouts. Stanford University scientists determined that sulforaphane found in these vegetables boosts your levels of cancer-fighting enzymes higher than any other plant chemical. They also have anti-inflammatory qualities.

Broccoli is rich in fiber, foliate, potassium, calcium and phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are compounds which reduce the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Broccoli also contains beta-carotene, an antioxidant, as well as vitamin C.

Other top superfood vegetables include: leafy greens such as kale, swiss chard and collards. Spinach contains vitamins A, B6, C, E and K, as well as selenium, niacin, zinc, phosphorus, copper, folic acid, potassium, calcium, manganese, betaine, and iron. Orange vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes are rich in dietary fiber, beta carotene, complex carbohydrates, vitamin C, vitamin B6, as well as carotene (the red and yellow ones). Studies have shown that a high intake of dark-leafy vegetables, such as spinach or cabbage may significantly lower a person’s risk of developing diabetes type 2.

Top superfood fruits include:

Apples, an excellent source of antioxidants such as polyphenols an antioxidant that might extend lifespans. They combat free radicals, damaging substances generated in the body and that cause undesirable changes involved in the aging process and some diseases. A study found that adult females who regularly ate apples had a 13 – 22% lower risk of developing heart disease. In animal studies, polyphenols helped them to preserve their ability to walk, climb and move around.

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” an old expression is proving to be true.

Blueberries and all berries – raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries are rich in phytonutrients, antioxidants and fiber. Plant polyphenols, which are abundant in blueberries, have been shown to reduce the development of fat cells (adipogenesis), while inducing the breakdown of lipids and fat (lipolysis). According to a study carried out at Harvard Medical School, elderly people who eat plenty of blueberries (and strawberries) are less likely to suffer from cognitive decline, compared to other people of their age who do not. Regular blueberry consumption can reduce the risk of suffering from hypertension (high blood pressure) by 10%, because of the berry’s bioactive compounds, anthocyanins, scientists from East Anglia University, England, and Harvard University, USA reported in the American Journal of Nutrition. Blueberry consumption has also been associated with a lower risk of artery hardening, and/or intestinal diseases.

Goji berries have 30 to 60 times the vitamin C as oranges, and lots of minerals and antioxidants. Goji berries have one of the highest ORAC of any fruit, according to Tufts University researchers. A recent discovery, modern scientists found that in rats the sugars that make goji berries sweet reduce insulin resistance, which is a risk factor for diabetes.

Pomegranate juice has been a popular drink for decades in the Middle East. It is now widely available in North America. Israeli scientists discovered that men who drank 2 ounces of pomegranate juice daily for a year decreased their systolic (top number) blood pressure by 21 percent and at the same time significantly improved blood flow to their hearts. 100% pomegranate juice is available with no added sugars and provides 50 percent of your daily vitamin C needs.

Fats are the third category of superfoods. They nourish nerves, skin, and hair, provide fuel for energy, raise immunity and brain power.

Top superfood fats include: olive oil, olives, coconut oil, avocado, raw nuts such as walnuts, almonds, pecans, brazil nuts and seeds such as pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, chia and hemp.

Olives, and the extra-virgin olive oil (sometimes referred to as “biblical superfoods”) contain many antioxidants. They protect against the oxidation of LDL cholesterol compounds. They also are high in monounsaturated fatty acids, which are called “the healing fats” because they lower the effects of LDL cholesterol (known as the “bad” cholesterol) while raising HDL, (the “good” cholesterol levels.) Each level is important to the body; – the ratio matters.  High in vitamin E, olive oil may also protect against colon cancer, and it is helpful in fighting stomach ailments

Coconut Oil has been found helpful in regulating blood sugar, and it helps to maintain (and lose weight!) Coconut oil improves calcium and magnesium absorption in the body, which in turn is greatly beneficial to dental and bone health and to those afflicted with osteoporosis. The improved calcium absorption created by coconut oil use ceases tooth decay and aids in the development of strong teeth.  Coconut oil consists of 90% saturated fats, which makes people shy away from it. Yet, saturated fats have been used safely for thousands of years in butter and lard. Yet, heart disease was rare before the 1920’s. Some of the reasons may be from the increased use of polyunsaturated vegetable oils like corn, safflower and canola, as well as margarine. Recent studies on the positive effect on cognitive health using coconut oil are encouraging.

Almonds are rich in nutrients, including iron, calcium, vitamin E, fiber, riboflavin, and magnesium along with 91-94% unsaturated fatty acids. A scientific review published in Nutrition Reviews found that almonds as a snacking food, may help maintain healthy cholesterol levels and when incorporated into a healthy balanced diet, the benefits are even greater.

Pumpkin seeds contain magnesium. Those with more magnesium in their blood have been shown to have a 40% lower risk of early death than those with the lowest levels.

Green tea research has suggested that it may lower chances of breast cancer as it helps limit the amount of estrogen in the body. An abundance of estrogen can increase breast cancer likelihood.

Coffee (in moderation) can also have a positive effect on your health. Colon cancer and diabetes rates among those who regularly drink coffee have been found to be lower than those who do not drink coffee.

Chocolate made from cocoa beans contain polyphenols (similar to those found in wine) with anti-oxidant beneficial properties. Chocolate also contains flavonoids which reduce the blood’s ability to clot thus reducing the risk of stroke and heart attacks. While chocolate is approximately 50% fat, cocoa butter and chocolate do not raise blood cholesterol. However, dark chocolate is considered healthier than milk chocolate due to its milk fat content which could adversely affect cholesterol levels. However, milk chocolate is a stimulator, to the brain, to the emotions, thus, increasing stamina; only moderate amounts are recommended because of its high fat content and sugar. Since the cocoa bean contains a very small proportion in simple sugars, a higher amount of cocoa in dark chocolate (71% or higher) is more desirable. Dark chocolate is low in caffeine and contains anti-depressant chemicals such as phenylethylanine. It is rich in minerals such as magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium and manganese and vitamins such as A, B1, B2, B3, C, E and pantothenic acid. Even dark chocolate contains a lot of calories due to fat and sugar. Moderation is the key!