What Are The Top 5 Superfoods? An MD Explains
There's been a lot of talk about superfoods lately. For me, foods that are "super" are not only packed with essential nutrients, they're easy to find, relatively affordable, and simple to cook.
In other words, they have to actually make it to your mouth on a regular basis. Eating a "super" food once won't do much for you. Like most things that change your life, you have to commit, and that's only easy to do if it’s also something delicious that you love.
Here are my top 5 five superfoods:
They're high in flavonoids, which are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. They're also high in Vitamin C and K. And they have a low-glycemic index, meaning they don’t spike your blood sugar. They are also relatively low in calories, about 85 calories per cup.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, they're good for all Doshic types, even Kapha types, being sweet and cooling but simultaneously tart. I like blueberries as a snack, on cereal, or in salads. They make a great refrigerator staple.
2. Raw almonds
Raw almonds are a great source of healthy unsaturated fat. They also have high amounts of Vitamin E and Manganese, both of which are powerful anti-oxidants.
A small handful of raw almonds a great go-to snack. While almonds are high in calories per volume, about 546 calories per cup, because of their fat content, in small quantities they make a meal more satiating. Why more satiating? Well, when you digest fat, chemicals from your gut signal your brain that you are full!
Need another reason healthy nut fats are good? Scientific studies have shown that people who consumed nuts at least four times per week had lower rates of heart disease and heart attacks.
In Ayurveda, almonds are best for Vata types. Because of almonds’ high calorie density, Kapha-types should eat them in small quantities if they are prone to gaining too much weight.
I eat almonds alone as a snack, on cereal, and even crushed up with Dijon mustard olive oil and pepper as a marinade for fish.
Kale is one of my staple foods. I like the curly kind, and "dino" kale. (Tuscan and Dino are the same thing, FYI.) When I first met my fiance, I was carrying a grocery bag with a huge head of curly kale sticking out of the top. He asked what I was going to do with it and
I said, “Kale two-ways.” I meant raw, and sautéed.
Being a foodie, he felt this was a reason to ask me out.
Kale is low in calories (about 33 per cup) and a great source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as beta-carotene, which are all important co-factors and antioxidants. It’s also a decent source of calcium and manganese.
From an Ayurvedic standpoint, raw kale can be tough for delicate Vata digestion, so for Vatas out there, cook your kale! The good news is that, contrary to rumors, cooking doesn’t alter the antioxidant benefits of kale.
I make raw kale with olive oil and sea salt at least once a week. I also sautee it in olive oil with salt pepper and spices like cumin, coriander and nutmeg. Sometimes I sprinkle parmesan cheese, and raw pumpkin seeds (aka pepitas) on top and add diced pears or figs for a little natural sweetness. You can also lightly coat the leaves with olive oil and sea salt and stick them under the broiler for a few seconds to make kale chips.
Who knew kale could be so sexy!
Yes, this is a spice not a food, but it’s so great I added it in. Turmeric, aka curcumin, is anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant. It's also an adaptogen, meaning it’s a bit of a jack-of-all-trades and goes where needed, putting out fires all around your body.
Cook with it. Take it as a supplement. Drink the juice my friend Dan makes at TumericAlive.
How it works: On a biochemical level, your body is running little reactions inside its cells all the time. These reactions take things apart and put things together, and they require energy and lots of manpower in the form of enzymes and co-factors. Co-factors are molecules that help enzymes work faster. Tumeric is a co-factor.
Turmeric is also a direct scavenger of free radicals and, Tumeric helps turn on genes that then build even more powerful scavengers of free radicals. Free radicals damage DNA, and are active players in aging, heart disease, and cancer.
So in my view, turmeric is great to have every day. Just be careful with the powder – it will stain your clothes and fingers orange!
5. Wild organic salmon
I’m not a vegetarian, but for a number of reasons I don’t eat land animals, only fish. That said, I’m not against being vegan or going paleo, if that’s what’s right for you.
From studying Ayurveda, I think it’s most important to eat what’s best for your unique constitution. For mine, the fats and proteins in salmon are important to my optimal health.
Salmon, like other fatty fish, are high in omega-three fats, which have been shown to be anti-arrhythmic, cholesterol-reducing, and blood-pressure lowering. (Translation: it's good for your heart.)
One-half of a filet of wild Atlantic salmon has about 281 calories and is packed with B vitamins such as B12, B6, Niacin (B3) and Riboflavin (B2). These vitamins are crucial to metabolism and brain function. Salmon is also an excellent source of selenium, which is essential for immune and thyroid function and is an important anti-oxidant as well.
Also, contrary to some rumors I’ve heard, most wild salmon are not high in mercury and do not need to be strictly avoided while pregnant. (According to the FDA, the worst offenders are actually fish like Swordfish and King Mackerel.)
From the Ayurvedic perspective, salmon is best for Vata, and while heating and anabolic, is also ok for Pittas and Kaphas who are in balance.
I love slow-cooked spice-rubbed salmon. Put it in the oven at 200 degrees F and while it will take a while, it is worth the wait!