Top 10 Healthiest Superfoods for Ideal Body Weight and Longevity
by Catherine Ebeling, RN BSN -- co-author of The Fat Burning Kitchen
These are definitely some of the best foods you can eat for your health... Full of antioxidants, chock full of vitamins, minerals and good fats; they help to fix the damage we do every day with diets, environmental stressors, chemical additives and physical stress.
If you can include a few servings of these foods in your weekly diet, you will be adding a lot to your good health, and preventing many diseases that could be coming your way otherwise.
The list includes some superstars you may already know about and newly discovered foods such as:
- Goji Berry
- Acai Berry
- Grass-Fed Meats and Wild-Caught Salmon
- Almonds, Walnuts and Other Nuts
- Garlic, Onions, Leeks and Shallots
- Grass-Fed Raw Dairy Milk, Cheese, and Butter
- Fermented Foods
Superfood #1. Goji Berries - Goji or wolfberries have long played important roles in Chinese medicine where they are believed to enhance immune system function, improve eyesight, protect the liver, boost sperm production and improve circulation, among other things. They can be eaten raw, consumed as juice or wine, brewed into an herbal tea, or prepared as a tincture.
Goji polysaccharides show antioxidant activity in vitro. As a source of dietary fiber, however, polysaccharides would yield products from bacterial fermentation in the colon, such as several short-chain fatty acids, e.g., butyric acid, which may provide health benefits.
Goji berry fruits also contain zeaxanthin, an important dietary carotenoid selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea where it is thought to provide antioxidant and protective light-filtering roles.
Several published studies, mostly from China, have also reported possible medicinal benefits of Lycium barbarum, especially due to its antioxidant properties, including potential benefits against cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases, vision-related diseases (such as age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma, having neuroprotective properties, or as an anticancer and immunomodulatory agent. Without a doubt, goji berries are one of the best antioxidant rich foods you can eat.
Super-food #2. Acai Berry - The fruit is a small, round, black-purple fruit about 1 inch in diameter, similar in appearance and size to a grape, and the newest wonder food.
Acai is particularly rich in fatty acids, feeling oily to the touch. It contains high levels of the monounsaturated fatty acid oleic acid. It is also rich in palmitic acid, and the polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid. β-sitosterol (beta-sitosterol), a phytosterol that competes with dietary cholesterol for absorption and so may reduce blood cholesterol levels, is also unusually rich.
A recent study found 19 amino acids, with especially high contents of aspartic acid and glutamic acid. The dense pigmentation of acai has led to several experimental studies of its anthocyanins, a group of polyphenols that give the deep color to berries and other fruits, and are high in antioxidant value.
Twelve other flavonoid-like compounds were additionally found, including homoorientin, orientin, taxifolin deoxyhexose, isovitexin and scoparin, as well as several unknown flavonoids. Proanthocyanidins, another group of polyphenolic compounds high in antioxidant value are present, with a profile similar to that of blueberries.
A number of studies have measured the antioxidant strength of acai. A recent report using a standardized oxygen radical absorbance capacity or ORAC analysis on a freeze-dried acai powder found that this powder showed a high antioxidant effect against peroxyl radical. This is approximately 10 times more than blueberries or cranberries.
Only 10% of acai's high antioxidant effects could be explained by its anthocyanin content, indicating that other polyphenols contribute most of the antioxidant activity.
Acai was found to have a higher amount of "slow-acting" antioxidant components, suggesting a more sustained antioxidant effect compared to "fast-acting" components.
Acai containing polyphenolics could reduce proliferation of HL-60 leukemia cells in vitro. The acai berry contains similar properties as red wine in controlling fats in the blood and is a fair contributor to go up against the wine diets of the Mediterranean people. In addition, Acai contains anti-inflammatory agents that inhibit COX 1 and 2 enzymes, thereby making it effective against arthritis, allergies, and other inflammatory diseases.
Please note: Beware that recently, unscrupulous marketers are currently trying to deceive you into thinking that acai pills are some sort of "miracle weight loss cure"... They are even making up fake blogs about people supposedly losing ridiculous amounts of weight simply by popping an acai pill daily (and then they try to sell you these supplements)... These are FAKE stories, and you should realize that although acai is a very healthy antioxidant food, it is NOT a miracle weight loss cure! You can read our article on how this flat stomach acai berry fake blog scam works
Superfood #3. Fermented Foods - Lacto-fermented foods have been around for a very long time. Common in Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and North and Central European cuisine, fermentation has been used to enhance the flavor of food, create food, and help food having a longer shelf life. Fermented foods are delicious and nutritious. These traditional foods are key to our health.
Fermentation allows the bacteria, yeasts and molds to "predigest" and therefore break down the carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to create probiotics which offer friendly bacteria into the digestive tract. This helps keep our immune system strong and supports overall digestive health.
Keep your digestive flora healthy and strong by regularly eating fermented foods.
Fermented foods are enzyme rich foods that are alive with micro-organisms. These foods allow beneficial microflora to "colonize" in the intestines (and for moms-to-be, also in the birth canal). This "inner ecosystem" helps support our health and fight infection. A healthy gastrointestinal tract is critical to a strong immune system.
Diets rich in fermented foods, as well as fruits and vegetables, are best for us to in order to maintain a strong healthy body.
Diets rich in fermented foods, as well as fruits and vegetables, are best for us to in order to maintain a strong healthy body.
Fermented foods aid in digestion, promote healthy flora in the digestive tract, produce beneficial enzymes, offer better nutrition and allow the body to absorb vitamins (in particular C, and B12), minerals, nutritional value and omega 3s more effectively from foods. They regulate the level of acidity in the digestive tract and act as anti-oxidants. Fermented foods contain the same isothiocyanates found in cruciferous vegetables and therefore fight and prevent cancer.
Many fermented foods on the market today are not true fermented foods because they are created to maximize profits and shelf life instead of health. They are not as beneficial. It's important that we eat foods that are fermented with "Active" or "Live" Cultures.
Pasteurization kills off the living bacteria so look for unpasteurized and fresh fermented foods (in the grocery refrigerator section). Since fermentation is a way to keep the living enzymes alive, it goes against the theory to use pasteurized (or dead) milk, for example, but you can make yogurt and kefir with pasteurized milk, it just won't be as robust and beneficial.
Fermented Foods include: Acidophilus milk, amasake, bleu cheese, hard cheeses, fermented vegetables, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, miso, some pickles, sauerkraut (not canned), some soy sauce, tempeh, umeboshi plums, vinegar, yogurt.
Super-food #4. Grass Fed Meats and Wild Caught Salmon - Grass-fed beef and wild caught salmon have more beta-carotene, vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids than beef produced using conventional cattle-feeding strategies.
Three ounces of ground beef from cattle fed conventional diets contain about 41 micrograms of beta-carotene and a typical rib eye steak has 36 micrograms. In contrast, meat from cattle fattened predominately on ryegrass has almost double the beta-carotene, 87 micrograms in 3.5 ounces of ground beef and 64 micrograms in a steak.
Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is a critical fat-soluble vitamin that is important for normal vision, bone growth, reproduction, cell division and cell differentiation.
In addition, grass fed meats are much higher in Vitamin E. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin with powerful antioxidant activity. Grass fed cattle exhibit about 3 times as much vitamin E per serving as grain fed beef.
The primary factor in both wild caught fish and grass fed meats is the fat content and the fat ratios. Both have significantly high levels of the essential fatty acid omega 3, which has powerfully positive health effects.
Grazing animals fed an exclusive grass fed diet, as well as wild caught salmon eating their natural diet, significantly alters the fatty acid composition. Cattle fed primarily grass have 60 percent more omega-3 fatty acids and a more favorable omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Likewise for salmon raised on their natural diet. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and help prevent heart disease and arthritis. The essential fatty acids are also highly concentrated in the brain and appear to be particularly important for cognitive and behavioral function.
The meat and milk from grass-fed ruminants are the richest known source of another type of good fat called "conjugated linoleic acid" or CLA. When ruminants are raised on fresh pasture alone, their milk and meat contain as much as five times more CLA than products from animals fed conventional diets.
CLA may be one of our most potent defenses against cancer. Also, natural CLA from grass-fed meat and milk has been shown in studies to help build muscle and increase fat loss.
Superfood #5. Grass Fed Raw Dairy Cheeses and Butter - Few people are aware that clean, raw milk from grass-fed cows was actually used as a medicine in the early part of the last century. That's right. Milk straight from the udder, the "stem cell" of foods, was used as medicine to treat, and frequently cure some serious chronic diseases. From the time of Hippocrates to until just after World War II, this "white blood" nourished and healed uncounted millions.
Clean raw milk, cheeses, and butter from grass-fed cows are a complete and properly balanced food. You could live on it exclusively if you had to. Raw dairy contains a wealth of healthy substances including: amino acids, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats such as CLA.
Amino acids are building blocks for protein. Depending on whom you ask, we need 20-22 of them for this task. Raw dairy products have all 20 of the standard amino acids. About 80% of the proteins in milk are caseins- reasonably heat stable but easy to digest. The remaining 20% or so fall into the class of whey proteins, many of which have important physiological effects (bioactivity). Also easy to digest, but very heat sensitive-and lost in the pasteurization process, these include key enzymes and enzyme inhibitors, immunoglobulins, metal-binding proteins, vitamin binding proteins and several growth factors.
Lactoferrin, an iron-binding protein, has numerous beneficial properties including (as you might guess) improved absorption and assimilation of iron, anti-cancer properties and anti-microbial action against several species of bacteria responsible for dental cavities. Recent studies also reveal that it has powerful antiviral properties as well.
Two other players in raw milk's antibiotic protein/enzyme arsenal are lysozyme and lactoperoxidase. Lysozyme can actually break apart cell walls of certain undesirable bacteria, while lactoperoxidase teams up with other substances to help knock out unwanted microbes too. The immunoglobulins, provide resistance to many viruses, bacteria and bacterial toxins and may help reduce the severity of asthma symptoms.
Two thirds of the fat in milk is saturated. Is saturated fat good or bad for you? Saturated fats play a number of key roles in our bodies: from construction of cell membranes and key hormones to providing energy storage and padding for delicate organs, to serving as a vehicle for important fat-soluble vitamins.
All fats cause the stomach lining to secrete a hormone (cholecystokinin or CCK), which, aside from boosting production and secretion of digestive enzymes, signals the brain that we've eaten enough. With that trigger removed, non-fat dairy products and other fat-free foods can potentially help contribute to over-eating.
Full-fat raw dairy is the ONLY healthy dairy... NOT fat-free pasteurized dairy, which is basically a food with it's nutrition destroyed.
Full-fat raw dairy is the ONLY healthy dairy... NOT fat-free pasteurized dairy, which is basically a food with it's nutrition destroyed.
CLA, short for conjugated linoleic acid and abundant in milk from grass-fed cows, is a heavily studied, polyunsaturated Omega-6 fatty acid with promising health benefits. Among CLA's many potential benefits: it raises metabolic rate, helps remove abdominal fat, boosts muscle growth, reduces resistance to insulin, strengthens the immune system and lowers food allergy reactions. Grass-fed raw dairy has from 3-5 times the amount found in the milk from feedlot (grain fed) cows.
Discussions of minerals, or any nutrients for that matter, must deal with ranges rather than specific amounts, since individual needs vary. Raw milk contains a broad selection of completely available vitamins and minerals, ranging from the familiar calcium and phosphorus, to Vitamins A and D, and on down to trace elements. Raw grass-fed dairy also has a missing nutrient called 'K2', which is extremely valuable in helping the body absorb calcium, and therefore rebuilding bone, repairing cavities, and keeping the blood vessels clean.
The 60 plus (known) fully intact and functional enzymes in raw milk have an amazing array of tasks to perform, each one of them essential for one key task or another. The most significant health benefit derived from food enzymes is the burden they take off the body.
The amylase, bacterially-produced lactase, lipase and phosphatase in raw milk, break down starch, lactose, fat (triglycerides) and phosphate compounds respectively, making milk more digestible and freeing up key minerals. Other enzymes, like catalase, lysozyme and lactoperoxidase help to protect milk from unwanted bacterial infection, making it safer to drink.
Raw dairy contains about 3mg of cholesterol per gram - a decent amount. Our bodies make most of what we need, that amount fluctuating by what we get from our food. Cholesterol is a protective/repair substance. A waxy plant steroid (often lumped in with the fats), our body uses it as a form of waterproofing, and as a building block for a number of key hormones.
It's natural, normal, and essential to find it in our brain, liver, nerves, blood, bile, indeed, every cell membrane. Unfortunately, pasteurization allows for sloppy farm practices and unhealthy cows. You will find it hard to find raw milk in most areas, but you can find a co-op or local farm at www.realmilk.com
Superfood #6. Avocados - Avocados contain oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that may help to lower cholesterol. In one study of people with moderately high cholesterol levels, individuals who ate a diet high in avocados showed clear health improvements. After seven days on the diet that included avocados, they had significant decreases in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, along with an 11% increase in health promoting HDL cholesterol.
Avocados are a good source of potassium, a mineral that helps regulate blood pressure. Adequate intake of potassium can help to guard against circulatory diseases, like high blood pressure, heart disease, or stroke.
One cup of avocado has 23% of the Daily Value for folate, a nutrient important for heart health. One study showed that individuals who consume folate-rich diets have a much lower risk of cardiovascular disease or stroke than those who do not consume as much of this vital nutrient.
Not only are avocados a rich source of monounsaturated fatty acids including oleic acid, which has recently been shown to offer significant protection against breast cancer, but it is also a very concentrated dietary source of the carotenoid lutein; it also contains measurable amounts of related carotenoids (zeaxanthin, alpha-carotene and beta-carotene) plus significant quantities of tocopherols (vitamin E).
In a laboratory study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, an extract of avocado containing these carotenoids and tocopherols inhibited the growth of both androgen-dependent and androgen-independent prostate cancer cells.
Enjoying a few slices of avocado in your tossed salad, or mixing some chopped avocado into your favorite salsa will not only add a rich, creamy flavor, but will greatly increase your body's ability to absorb the health-promoting carotenoids that vegetables provide.
Since avocados contain a large variety of nutrients including vitamins, minerals, as well as heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, eating a little avocado along with carotenoid-rich vegetables and fruits is an excellent way to improve your body's ability to absorb carotenoids while also receiving other nutritional-and taste-benefits.
Oral cancer is even more likely to result in death than breast, skin, or cervical cancer, with a mortality rate of about 50% due to late detection. Avocados may offer a delicious dietary strategy for the prevention of oral cancer.
Phytonutrients in Hass avocados, the most readily available variety, target multiple signaling pathways, increasing the amount of free radicals (reactive oxygen species) within pre-cancerous and cancerous human oral cell lines, that leads to their death, but cause no harm to normal cells. Hass avocados may inhibit the growth of prostate cancer as well. When analyzed, Hass avocados were found to contain the highest content of lutein among commonly eaten fruits, as well as measurable amounts of related carotenoids (zeaxanthin, alpha-carotene, and beta-carotene).
Superfood #7. Almonds, Walnuts, Pecans, and Other Nuts - A high-fat food that's good for your health? You betcha!
Almonds and walnuts sit at the top of the heap for nutrition, but other nuts are healthy, too, including pistachios, pecans, and cashews. Nuts are high in monounsaturated fats, the same type of health-promoting fats as are found in olive oil, which have been associated with reduced risk of heart disease. Five large human epidemiological studies, including the Nurses Health Study, the Iowa Health Study, the Adventist Health Study, and the Physicians Health Study, all found that nut consumption is linked to a lower risk for heart disease.
Researchers who studied data from the Nurses Health Study estimated that substituting nuts for an equivalent amount of carbohydrate in an average diet resulted in a 30% reduction in heart disease risk.
A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition indicates that when foods independently known to lower cholesterol, such as almonds, are combined in a healthy way of eating, the beneficial effects are additive. In this study of 12 patients with elevated LDL cholesterol levels, a diet containing almonds and other nuts, plant sterols (also found in nuts), and soluble fiber (in high amounts in beans, oats, pears) reduced blood levels of all LDL fractions including small dense LDL (the type that most increases risk for cardiovascular disease) with near maximal reductions seen after only 2 weeks.
In addition to their cholesterol-lowering effects, nuts' ability to reduce heart disease risk may also be partly due to the antioxidant action of the vitamin E found, as well as to the LDL-lowering effect of monounsaturated fats. In addition to healthy fats and vitamin E, a quarter-cup of almonds contains almost 99 mg of magnesium (that's 24.7% of the daily value for this important mineral), plus 257 mg of potassium.
Magnesium is Nature's own calcium channel blocker. When there is enough magnesium around, veins and arteries breathe a sigh of relief and relax, which lessens resistance and improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Studies show that a deficiency of magnesium is not only associated with heart attack but that immediately following a heart attack, lack of sufficient magnesium promotes free radical injury to the heart.
Potassium, an important electrolyte involved in nerve transmission and the contraction of all muscles including the heart, is another mineral that is essential for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function. Nuts promote your cardiovascular health by providing 257 mg of potassium and only 0.3 mg of sodium, making them an especially good choice to in protecting against high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.
Walnuts, pecans, and chestnuts have the highest antioxidant content of the tree nuts, with walnuts topping out the others in antioxidant content. And, peanuts (although technically, a legume) also contribute significantly to our dietary intake of antioxidants.
Even more impressive were the results of a review study of the evidence linking nuts and lower risk of coronary heart disease. Subjects consuming nuts at least 4 times a week showed a 37% reduced risk of coronary heart disease compared to those who never or seldom ate nuts. Each additional serving of nuts per week was associated with an average 8.3% reduced risk of coronary heart disease.
Superfood #8. Sprouts -Sprouts are one of the most complete and nutritionally beneficial of all foods. Their nutritional value was discovered by the Chinese thousands of years ago. Recently, in the USA, numerous scientific studies suggest the importance of sprouts in a healthy diet.
As an example, a sprouted Mung Bean has the carbohydrate content of a melon, vitamin A of a lemon, thiamin of an avocado, riboflavin of a dry apple, niacin of a banana, and ascorbic acid of a loganberry. Other studies have shown sprouts to be a powerful antioxidant and may assist in preventing some types of cancer.
Sprouts are the most reliable year-round source of vitamin C, beta-carotene, and many B vitamins (such as folacin). Sprouting seeds, grains, and legumes greatly increases their content of those vitamins. For example, the vitamin A content (per calorie) of sprouted Mung beans is two-and-a-half times higher than the dry bean, and some beans have more than eight times more vitamin A after being sprouted.
Sprouts preserve our body's enzymes, which is extremely important. How do they do this? Sprouted beans, grains, nuts, and seeds are extremely easy to digest. Sprouting essentially pre-digests the food for us by breaking down the concentrated starch into simpler carbohydrates and the protein into free amino acids, so our own enzymes don't have to work so hard. Sprouting also removes anti-nutrients such as enzyme inhibitors, and that makes sprouts even easier to digest, further sparing enzymes.
Another anti-nutrient is phytates, which is what stops some people from enjoying grains such as wheat. Many people who can't eat unsprouted wheat find they can eat all the sprouted wheat they want with no problem.
Almost any vegetable or grain can be consumed from sprouts. Broccoli, canola, cauliflower, and mustard greens sprouts are loaded with vitamins, minerals, protein, enzymes, and chlorophyll. In a recent study, 1 oz. of broccoli sprouts had the same cancer-fighting power as over 11⁄2 pounds of fully-grown broccoli.
Super-food #9. Tomatoes - Tomatoes are a rich source of several nutrients. They are well known for their high vitamin C content, but also contain significant amount of vitamin A, B vitamins including niacin and riboflavin, magnesium, phosphorous, and calcium. Tomatoes are also a good source of chromium, folate, and fiber.
In recent years a particular nutrient found in abundance in tomatoes, lycopene, has made many headlines for its disease fighting abilities. Lycopene is well known as a preventer of prostate cancer, which makes tomatoes high on the healthy food list for men.
Lycopene is not just important for men though. It is a powerful antioxidant and as such helps to protect the cells in our bodies from damage. Studies in humans have shown that lycopene is protective against a variety of cancers including prostate of course, but also colorectal, breast, lung, endometrial, pancreatic, bladder, cervical and skin cancers.
Lycopene has also been shown to help prevent heart disease and may slow the development of cataracts and macular degeneration, an age related vision problem that can lead to blindness.
The vitamin B6, niacin, potassium, and folate found in abundance in tomatoes are potent protectors against heart disease. Niacin can lower high cholesterol levels and potassium has been shown to lower high blood pressure and to reduce the risk of heart disease. Vitamin B6 and folate also work to convert the homocysteine in our bodies into harmless molecules. High levels of homocysteine are associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
The fiber in tomatoes also helps lower cholesterol levels, helps prevent colon cancer, and helps to keep blood sugars at a low level. Tomatoes are a source of riboflavin, which has been shown to be helpful for migraine sufferers by reducing the frequency of their headaches.
A helpful note about tomato nutrition is that lycopene is actually more available to the body when tomatoes are cooked, so cooked or canned tomatoes are just as nutritious for you as raw. The facts about tomatoes definitely point to this fruit/vegetable as a nutrient powerhouse and a super food to be enjoyed as often as possible.
Superfood #10. Garlic, onion, leeks, and shallots - In a study of centenarians (people living over 100 years of age), it was found that high garlic and onion consumption was one of the factors that surveys revealed may have partial involvement in their longevity. Garlic and onions are a couple of the best sources of uniquely powerful antioxidants.
Garlic health benefits and medicinal properties have long been known. Garlic has long been considered a herbal "wonder drug", with a reputation in folklore for preventing everything from the common cold and flu to the plague! It has been used extensively in herbal medicine. Raw garlic is used by some to treat the symptoms of acne, and the common cold, and there is some evidence that it can assist in managing high cholesterol levels. It can even be effective as a natural mosquito repellent.
A stronger tasting clove of garlic has more sulphur content and hence more medicinal value. Some people prefer to take garlic supplements. These pills and capsules have the advantage of avoiding garlic breath.
Modern science has shown that garlic is a powerful antibiotic, albeit broad-spectrum rather than targeted. The body does not appear to build up resistance to the garlic, so its positive health benefits continue over time.
Studies have shown that garlic - especially aged garlic - can have a powerful antioxidant effect. Raw garlic is very strong, so eating too much could produce problems, for example irritation of or even damage to the digestive tract.
There are two main medical ingredients, which produce the garlic health benefits: allicin and diallyl sulphides.
Allicin is the most powerful medicinal compound derived from garlic and provides the greatest reputed health benefits.
It is produced when garlic is finely chopped or crushed. The finer the chopping and the more intensive the crushing, the more allicin is generated and the stronger the medicinal effect.
As well as having antibiotic properties, allicin is an excellent anti-fungal and has been used to treat skin infections such as athlete's foot.