The other day a client asked me what I thought the “five best foods” were. My initial reaction was that there are no “five best foods.” So many whole foods offer the vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients that are essential for optimal health that we should aim to eat a variety and rainbow of colors every day. But after a short discussion I realized that today’s time-crunched individuals are sometimes looking to get the most bang for their buck. How can they maximize nutrients when they’re on the run? The truth is there are quite a few “superfoods” out there that will deliver high quality nutrition in proportions far greater than their caloric value might suggest. In contrast to high calorie, nutritionally depleted processed foods, superfoods will satisfy your hunger and keep you feeling vibrant and energized all day long.
Here are five of my favorites that I’d encourage you to incorporate into your diet.
When you’re on the go, snacking on a handful of nuts is an easy and ideal way to sustain your energy levels all day long. Research continues to highlight their many health benefits. A recent study presented to the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society concluded that walnuts contain not only more antioxidants but also higher quality levels of antioxidants compared to other nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts and pecans. To reap the greatest benefit, walnuts should be eaten raw, as roasting can diminish these antioxidant properties. The omega-3 fats, protein content and fibre in walnuts will help regulate blood glucose levels and keep you feeling fuller longer. Enjoy up to 1/4 cup per day. Combine them with goji berries and raw cacao nibs (2 more superfoods I wish I could write about!) for a delicious and super-nutritious homemade trail mix or sprinkle over your salad or breakfast oatmeal.
2. Chia Seeds
While I remain a big fan of flaxseeds for their health-enhancing properties, I’ve recently added chia seeds to my list of favorite nutritional powerhouses. Chia seeds are the plant world’s highest source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega 3 fatty acid known widely for its anti-inflammatory effects. Two tablespoons of chia seeds provide as much calcium as a glass of milk and a whopping 10 grams of fiber. Inadequate fiber consumption has been linked to chronic diseases such as type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and breast and colorectal cancers. It is advised that for optimal health, adults consume a minimum of 25-50 grams of fiber per day yet the average North American consumes a mere 10-15 grams. It’s no wonder that the World Health Organization projects that death from chronic diseases account for 89 percent of deaths in Canada and that those numbers will continue to rise over the next 10 years. Boosting your fiber intake goes a long way towards improving digestion and, therefore, general wellness and health. Chia seeds don’t need to be ground to access their oils and nutrients. Toss them into your smoothies, yogurt or granola and enjoy their goodness!
We should all be eating at least one serving of leafy greens every single day. That’s right, I said every day. That includes swiss chard, kale, beet greens, rapini, mesclun greens, arugula, romaine lettuce and bok choy but my very favorite is spinach. You can almost always find a container of washed baby spinach in my fridge so it’s close at hand and ready to be made into a quick salad, tossed into my smoothie or sauteed with some garlic for a quick and easy side dish. Spinach is rich in phytonutrients, with over a dozen flavonoid compounds offering anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic effects. Research has also shown a link between antioxidants and longevity: by limiting free radical damage, aging of cells can be delayed. Spinach offers significant antioxidant protection with its high levels of Vitamins A, C and E. It is also a rich source of iron, zinc, potassium calcium and magnesium. It’s alkalinizing to the blood and a great source of fiber. How can we call it anything but a superfood? I love my spinach!
Summer is synonymous with berry season and raspberries are simply loaded with vitamins, fiber and phytonutrients. They’re perhaps best known for their antioxidant powers in the form of ellagic acid, which has been touted for its cancer protective quality. Anyone who engages in any form of prolonged exercise will induce oxidative stress on the body. Such free radical activity has been linked to muscle damage, fatigue and reduced immunity. If an athlete’s goal is to recover and perform well again quickly, then it is advisable to maximize your daily consumption of antioxidants. You can’t do much better than the tart and juicy raspberry.
5. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has come a long way from the 1980’s when it was demonized as an artery-clogging, cholesterol-inducing saturated fat that has no place in a healthy diet. For thousands of years it has been a staple in the island cultures of Asia and the South Pacific which are renowned for their low rates of chronic illness and long, healthy lives. Newer research has revealed that the fats in coconut oil are made up of medium chain triglycerides (or MCT’s) which the body metabolizes differently. Essentially MCT’s are more likely to be used as energy rather than stored as fat. Coconut oil can actually boost your metabolism so, in fact, it can aid in weight loss. Studies have also shown it can boost your HDL (the “good” cholesterol) which can help minimize the risk of heart disease and stroke. It has been found to improve blood sugar regulation, boost immunity and offer anti-viral and anti-bacterial action against H. pylori, yeast infections and herpes. Coconut oil is stable at high temperatures so it is ideal for baking and cooking. Try it next time you make pancakes or stirfry some veggies. For a delicious change, blend some coconut oil with pineapple juice, frozen mango and banana and enjoy a refreshing tropical smoothie.
Photo Credit: mollyeh11