Blueberries or raspberries? Broccoli or kale? We know these are good for us, but which give us the most bang for our nutritious buck?
For several years now, nutritionists have been touting certain foods, often referred to as “superfoods.” While all fruits and vegetables have nutritional value, superfoods pack in even greater value, as they combine a big dose of multiple vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
“These whole and natural foods all provide women with significant health benefits,” says J. J. Virgin, one of the nation’s foremost fitness and nutrition experts. The author of Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy and cohost of the TLC television reality series Freaky Eaters says there are certain superfoods that she regularly incorporates into her diet. “Superfoods can help you to fight disease, lose weight, and feel and look your best.”
“Adding these foods to your meals can help prevent chronic diseases and improve your overall health,” says Adiana Castro, a Spanish bilingual nutrition consultant, registered New York nutritionist, and founder of Compass Nutrition, a private nutrition counseling practice in Manhattan.
Most women are concerned about what to take out of their daily diet in order to lose weight and obtain optimal health. Virgin says it’s just as important to look at the superfoods you can add to your diet.
“The effect your diet can have on how you feel today as well as your health is amazing,” Virgin says. “These superfoods are easy to find at grocery stores and farmers’ markets and provide women with numerous disease-fighting nutrients.”
Many ongoing medical studies are looking at the benefits of superfoods. Still, doctors caution that they are not a substitute for medicine. Health experts agree, however, that superfoods are a worthwhile addition to any well-balanced diet.
We asked Virgin and Castro to give us the scoop on the top superfoods you need to know about and how you can easily incorporate them into your daily routine.
“These are a rich source of lycopene,” says Virgin, who recommends getting three to five servings a week. Some studies have suggested that lycopene may protect against breast cancer and also fight heart disease. A study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine found that tomatoes and tomato products also decreased the risk of certain conditions like osteoporosis and cognitive dysfunction.
“These are high in antioxidants and flavonoids that can help lower your risk of heart disease and cancer,” Virgin says. “It’s easy to add blueberries to yogurt or even use them on top of oatmeal for breakfast. If you can’t find fresh berries, frozen berries work well, too.”
“I call this a vegetable rock star,” Castro says. “Broccoli contains vitamin A, which can keep your skin healthy, and also promotes good vision. In addition, broccoli contains folate, which can help to ward off depression and keep your brain young.”
“The primary compound in green tea, EGCG, boosts metabolism, reduces high blood pressure, and promotes fat loss,” Virgin says. “And the L-theanine in green tea promotes a calming effect that can provide relief on a busy, stressful day.” Harvard Women’s Health Watch says that it’s safe for women to drink three cups of green tea a day, and that the best way to get the catechins and other flavonoids in green tea is to drink it freshly brewed.
“Oats and oatmeal have been shown to lower cholesterol, reduce belly fat, and prevent diabetes,” Castro says. “I recommend buying plain instant oatmeal and supplementing it with your own berries, nuts, and spices, which will cut the sugar content. Most flavored instant oatmeals are high in sugar, which can cause your insulin levels to spike.”
“Wild salmon makes for a wonderful meal full of antioxidants and omega-3 that can help the heart and reduce abdominal fat,” Virgin says. “Salmon is also high in vitamin D and calcium and has been shown to help with eye, skin, hair, and brain health and to lower the risk of developing several types of cancer.”
“I love pumpkin and eat it year-round,” Castro says. “I’ll get a can of organic pumpkin and mix in cinnamon and nutmeg, which makes for a great snack. One cup of pumpkin has 49 calories as opposed to one cup of mashed potatoes, which has 200 calories.” Castro adds that pumpkin is packed with disease-fighting nutrients such as fiber, vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, which may reverse skin damage, and carotenoids, which boost immunity and reduce the risk of heart disease.
“Unsweetened coconut milk makes for a healthier, leaner choice than cow’s milk and can often be a good substitute for people who are lactose intolerant,” Virgin says.
“Coconut oil boosts the immune system, burns fat, and is a great source of minerals and vitamins. It’s also so easy to use in smoothies, ice cream, and other treats.”
“I’m a big fan of Greek yogurt,” Castro says. “It contains a lot of protein and calcium.” Yogurt also has probiotics that can reduce digestive problems and help with weight loss. Castro recommends buying plain yogurt and adding your own fruit since the flavored yogurts sold in stores have a high sugar content.
“I encourage my clients to have three-fourth’s of a cup of their favorite beans on a daily basis,” Castro says. “They are high in fiber and antioxidants and can help reduce belly fat. Because they are a good source of protein, they also help you feel fuller longer, and can lower cholesterol and promote good digestion.”
“Nuts in general are such a great snack,” Castro says. “They contain fiber, protein, and vitamins. I encourage my clients to snack on whatever type of nut they prefer, since pistachios and almonds also offer health benefits.” Nuts also contain natural chemicals that help prevent hardening of the arteries, making them a super snack for promoting heart health.
“This amazing superfood can benefit a woman’s hair, skin, and nails,” Virgin says.
“Avocados are high in monounsaturated fats that can raise healthy HDL cholesterol levels, and they contain in excess of 25 nutrients that can regulate blood sugar levels, help control blood pressure, and even slow the aging process.”
“High in fiber, this superfruit can also satisfy your sweet tooth,” Castro says. “But since they only contain 80 calories each, they’re a better choice than processed snacks and sweets. Oranges contain calcium, which promotes bone health, and can also lower cholesterol and fight belly fat.” Research shows that, because they are rich in fiber, oranges can help curb your appetite, making them a great between-meal snack.
“This fruit is often overlooked but can help lower cholesterol and prevent cancer,” says Virgin, who likes to add a quarter or half cup of pomegranate juice to sparkling water.
The juice is loaded with antioxidants, and one recent study showed that pomegranate juice could help decrease the inflammation associated with arthritis.
“Cherries are considered one of the hottest superfruits,” Virgin says. “They contain antioxidants and a natural melatonin that can help you to sleep better.” Some studies have also shown that cherries can have a positive effect on joint inflammation. The Arthritis Foundation recommends drinking tart cherry juice mixed with water three times a day to help with arthritis and inflammation.