With the rise of obesity in North America in the past twenty-five years, many people have become health-food fanatics, doing whatever they can to stay away from unhealthy, fatty, and salty foods. However, food is unfortunately part of the capitalist machine that is ineluctable in this day and age, and companies have taken note. Food is being constantly labeled as “fat-free” or made with “no trans-fat,” but oftentimes brands which try to advertise their healthiness are not so healthy. The safest bet is to buy foods that are fresh, organic, and not pre-packaged.
To help burgeoning health fanatics out there, this list looks at ten “super-foods” that everyone should add to their diet. Enjoy—and eat healthy!
Given their shape and colour, Avocados are colloquially referred to as “alligator pears.” At first glance, the nutritional profile of avocados seems to suggest that they are not a healthy fruit, since roughly 85% of their calories come from fat. However, not all fat is created equal, and avocados actually contain a great deal of monounsaturated fats, which, instead of increasing inflammation within our bodies, provide anti-inflammatory benefits. It is important to balance your diet with a healthy dose of these anti-inflammatory, healthy fats because they help to slow down your body’s natural oxidization process and provide good support to your cardiovascular system. Along with these healthy fats, avocados are also packed with antioxidants called carotenoids—namely, lutein, beta-carotene, and alpha-carotene—and these help to limit our bodies’ production of free radicals—or, cancer-causing cells—and support healthy vision. Last, these miraculous fruits provide a great deal of fiber and vitamin K, both of which our bodies need on a daily basis.
One quick tip for selecting ripe avocados: when unsure of an avocado’s ripeness, look for one that has the same softness as the front of your nose. An avocado that feels like your forehead is unripe and one that is supple like your cheeks is overripe.
In a day and age when the mercury contamination of our oceans is a real and scary phenomenon, fresh salmon is a boon. Unlike similarly ubiquitous fish like tuna, salmon are not packed with mercury, which is due to their relatively small size. Thus, salmon can be consumed more often than other fish that have similar nutritional profiles. Packed with omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is great for balancing out one’s diet that is probably already high in omega-6 fats. Studies have shown that these omega-3 fatty acids have wide-ranging effects on our bodies’ health, from cardiovascular protection to improving mood and cognition to decreasing the risk of cancer. Moreover, salmon is packed with nutrients like vitamin B12, selenium, and vitamin D, the latter of which is vital to cancer prevention. Salmon is also dense with protein, so it makes healthy and filling alternative to meat.
Quick buying tip: wild salmon contain less mercury than farmed salmon, so pay attention to labels when purchasing your fish.
Given its widely known health benefits, kale is quickly moving into more people’s kitchens. This dark green vegetable is similar to spinach, but it packs a healthier punch. Kale is loaded with vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, and it contains a good amount of manganese and fiber. Vitamin K is especially important in that it helps our bodies’ blood to clot properly and not, for instance, bleed excessively. Studies have shown that Kale’s unique blend of vitamins and anti-oxidants helps our bodies to flush out cholesterol instead of letting cholesterol absorb into fat and create problems down the road.
Important cooking tip: kale’s health benefits are, contrary to what many raw food purists might say, heightened when the vegetable is lightly steamed for up to 5 minutes. If, however, kale is boiled or steamed for too long, it loses a significant amount of its vitamins.
Nuts and seeds have scared away many people trying to lose weight, but almonds are actually quite healthy additions to anyone’s diet. Like avocados, almonds contain monounsaturated fats, which provide the body with anti-inflammatory benefits. Among other things, these fats help our bodies fight aging and reduce the amount of LDL-cholesterol—or, bad cholesterol—in our blood. Almonds are also packed with vitamin E, which is an important antioxidant that our bodies need. Vitamin E helps our bodies to fight the free radicals and thus can help our bodies prevent cancer. Last, these nuts that ostensibly ruin anyone’s attempts to shed weight contain a not negligible amount of protein, which will make the stomach feel fuller for longer.
Warning: research on the effects of roasting almonds is split between there being no effects to there being harmful effects, so buy raw almonds to be safe.
A great deal has been made lately about North America’s overconsumption of meats. Most people, however, don’t know of any good protein substitutes for their meat, so they carry on out of fear of consuming not enough protein. However, lentils, a staple in pan-Indian cuisine, are loaded with protein. On top of their high protein content, lentils are full of fiber, something that many North Americans are guilty of not getting enough of. This important combination helps people stay full after eating lentils and helps our bodies expel unnecessary waste. Lentils also contain potassium, which is an important mineral to counterpoise our bodies’ salt intake. With today’s North American diets being high in sodium, more potassium is needed to prevent hypertension.
Important note: given the amount of fiber in lentils, they are a diuretic. Be sure to drink water while and after eating lentils.
Like almonds, walnuts scare away a lot of people because they are loaded with fat, the majority of their calories being from fat. Again, not all fats are created equal. Walnuts are singular in that they are loaded with omega-3 fats, which are not present in a lot of North American diets these days. There is no nut that is quite like walnuts in this respect. The benefits of omega-3 fats are numerous, such as lowering LDL-cholesterol, improving blood flow, and decreasing inflammation. These benefits are especially important if a diet is high in trans-fat, the worst kind of fat. Walnuts are like almonds in that they don’t have a negligible amount of protein, so they can actually help dieters lose weight instead of keeping it on.
Diet alternative: instead of buying the pre-packaged and pre-sweetened oatmeal for breakfast, buy a big bag of plain oatmeal and add raisins and walnuts for a considerably healthier breakfast.
Perhaps the reason why many of those famous Russian ascetic novelists lived so long is that they ate beet-based borscht every day of their lives. Indeed, beets are packed with a unique range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help our bodies in manifold ways. Beets contain unique phytonutrients called betalains, which have been shown to provide not inconsiderable detoxification and anti-inflammatory support. These betalains help to prevent free radicals in the body. By extension, betalains can be important in cancer prevention. Beets also contain a high concentration of folate, manganese, and potassium. Folate is an important mineral in supporting the body’s nervous system, helping it to function properly, improving memory, and helping to prevent Alzheimers.
Important note: beets lose a considerable amount of their minerals and vitamins when they are cooked too long or at high temperatures. Keep this in mind when trying to maximize the benefits of beets in your diet.
3. Pumpkin Seeds
Like their nut brethren, seeds get a bad rap for being high in fat, and pumpkin seeds are not impervious to these aspersions. Pumpkin seeds, though, have good fats as opposed to bad fats, so they give the body anti-inflammatory support. Pumpkin seeds are high in manganese and magnesium, both of which support the body’s maintenance of bone health, give the nervous system support, and provide anti-inflammatory benefits. For dieters or weight-conscious individuals, pumpkin seeds contain a good amount of protein relative to nuts, which are also fattier. More protein means the body will stay fuller and help curb snacking, which usually leads to the consumption of empty calories.
Warning: like almonds, it is the safest bet to buy pumpkin seeds raw as opposed to roasted. One can always lightly roast their nuts and seeds at home, too.
Berries of all shapes and sizes don’t necessarily contain a high concentration of vitamins like other fruit, but they are very high in phytonutrients, which provide the body with considerable antioxidant support. With regard to healthiness, the king of berries is the blueberry. Indeed, in terms of phytonutrients, blueberries contain Anthocyanins, Hydroxycinnamic acids, Hydroxybenzoic acids and flavonols. All of these give the body antioxidant and anti-inflammatory support. Thus, blueberries have wide-ranging benefits like improving cardiovascular health, bolstering the nervous system, and helping the body keep a clean colon.
Important note: organic blueberries have been shown to contain a much higher concentration of antioxidants as opposed to their non-organic counterparts. Go organic to maximize the benefits of blueberries in your diet!
1. Black Beans
Similar to lentils, black beans are very healthy substitutes for meat in our diet. They contain good amounts of protein and fiber, both of which help us stay fuller longer and thus prevent us from needless snacking. The fiber in the beans is important in keeping the colon clean and moving waste through the body. And though they are not often thought of as such, black beans contain a great deal of phytonutrients, such as Anthocyanin flavonoids and Hydroxycinnamic acids. Indeed, black beans not only provide a good substitute for meat, but they give the body antioxidant and anti-inflammatory support.
Important buying/preparation tip: though it takes much longer to cook raw black beans than raw lentils, canned black beans often come soaked in salty water, which can be harmful, especially in a diet that is already high in sodium. Try and prepare black beans from their raw state as much as possible.