The Benefits of Superfoods

Have you had the opportunity to taste the fresh strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, arugula, radishes, Swiss chard, beets, cherries, apricots, broccoli, red bell peppers and other brightly colored fruits and vegetables from this season?  Many of these foods are known as “Superfoods,” as they contain high levels of phytochemicals that have been studied for preventing diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Some top “superfoods” include berries, such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, and elderberries, which are all high in antioxidants that may protect the heart and help improve the functioning of blood vessels. For instance, blackberries have been widely studied for their protection against cancer by aiding in DNA repair and reducing the stress response, among other biological processes. Berries are great blended into smoothies, stirred into yogurt, or enjoyed as a dessert in a warm cobbler or compote.

Beans and legumes, including chickpeas, lentils, black beans, pinto and kidney beans, are all high in fiber, which help lower cholesterol levels, as well as improve blood glucose levels. Beans are versatile and can be used to thicken soups when pureed, made into hummus for an afternoon snack with crudités, or added to vegetable soups to increase the protein and fiber content of the dish.

Pistachios, cashews, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, pumpkin, sunflower, and flax seeds, among others have many phytochemicals that are protective to the heart by improving blood pressure regulation and cholesterol levels. In addition, they are high in many nutrients including zinc, magnesium, vitamin E, copper, potassium, iron, vitamin B6, fiber, and selenium (mainly Brazil nuts). These can be tossed into salads in place of croutons to add texture and flavor, added into baked goods such as muffins or quick breads, or as a trail mix for a mid-afternoon snack.

Broccoli contains a compound known as sulforaphane, which has been studied for its cancer protective effect, along with inhibiting bacteria that may lead to stomach ulcers. Other vegetables and leafy greens including kale, cauliflower, Swiss chard, beet greens, collard greens, cabbage, red bell peppers, eggplant, watercress, spinach, and tomatoes have many phytochemicals that may be cancer protective and improve heart health. Enjoy these vegetables chopped up and added into a salad with your favorite dressing or lightly sautéed over low heat to retain many of the nutrients.

In addition to these foods, there are many other “superfoods” including garlic, onions, scallions, plums, peaches, pineapple, pomegranates, green tea, mushrooms, and dark chocolate that may help to lower blood pressure, improve blood flow, and reduce inflammation. When choosing your meal, opt for vibrant, brightly colored fruits or vegetables to your dish to take advantage of all the nutrients available in these foods.

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