The term "superfoods" gets thrown around a lot. Unfortunately, it's often attached to nutrient-rich foods that are expensive, obscure (Acai berry? Isn't that what's in all those annoying Facebook ads?) or something of an acquired taste. (Really, Oprah? Sardines?)
So our list of superfoods for 2010, developed from conversations with dietitians, kinesiologists and holistic-health experts, is more practical. Our suggestions pack a big nutrient bang per calorie and deliver health benefits you need - but you probably already like and eat many of them, like romaine lettuce, walnuts, even seaweed. (Who knew it's not just the fish that's good for you in sushi?)
Eat these 10 foods, and be a healthier you in 2010.
Why you should eat more: Blueberries are packed with antioxidants, which help protect the body from disease; they're high in potassium, vitamin C and fiber, all for about 80 calories a cup. Recent studies have suggested they may help protect against heart disease, cancer (especially colon and ovarian) and age-related diseases such as Alzheimer's. In general, the darker the berry, the more health benefits, so load up on blackberries and elderberries, too.
How to up your intake: Fresh berries can be expensive and anemic-tasting in the winter, but frozen will work just fine, especially in a smoothie or stirred into yogurt. Processing, however, strips them of many nutrients, so that blueberry muffin or PopTart doesn't count.
What it is: It looks and cooks like a grain, but it's really the seed from a leafy plant closely related to spinach.
Why you should eat more: Quinoa is a better source of complete protein than the foods it can stand in for, such as rice. It provides more iron than most grains, and high levels of potassium and B vitamins. It's also gluten-free and easily digestible, even for those with wheat allergies.
How to up your intake: Easy to prepare; it cooks in about 15 minutes. Boost the flavor by toasting in a skillet for five minutes before cooking one part quinoa to two parts liquid. Serve as a hot cereal topped with honey and yogurt; use as a substitute for rice pilaf or pasta.
What it is: Most seaweed eaten in this country is nori, best known as those dried, dark-green sheets used in sushi rolls.
Why you should eat more: Seaweed is rich in iodine, which many Americans don't get enough of. Iodine affects the thyroid, which helps regulate metabolism, nerve and muscle function, and it may boost resting metabolism. Some studies suggest it may even help prevent breast cancer.
How to up your intake: Sushi rolls, of course. At Japanese restaurants, also try it tossed in a soy/sesame/rice-wine vinegar dressing as a salad, or floating in miso soup. Or choose rice crackers flecked or wrapped with seaweed, available at Asian grocers.
Why you should eat more: Unlike other nuts, walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids, the kind associated with fish like salmon and sardines. These fatty acids have been shown to reduce the risks of heart disease and stroke, prevent blood clots, protect against irregular heartbeat, decrease blood pressure and enhance the immune system.
How to up your intake: Walnuts are extremely high in calories, so use moderation; sprinkle on a salad or toss into a trail mix with dried fruit and air-popped popcorn.
What it is: A fermented dairy product drink, it's kind of a cross between buttermilk and yogurt. Once available only in health-food stores, it's in many mainstream grocers, often near the soy milk.
Why you should drink more: As a dairy product, it's high in vitamin D, essential for bone growth and development. Recent studies also suggest vitamin D may help the immune system and protect against tuberculosis, multiple sclerosis, hypertension and some forms of cancer. Also, while most yogurts contain one to three types of probiotics, which aid in digestion, kefir has 10; it also contains prebiotics, which help probiotics work better. Finally, because it's fermented, it's easier to digest by people who are lactose-intolerant.
How to up your intake: Use it to top oatmeal; substitute for yogurt or sour cream in recipes; eat it straight, either fruit-flavored varieties or sweetened with honey, berries and granola in a parfait.
Why you should eat more: They're not flashy, but the often-overlooked apple is high in fiber (4-5 grams per apple) and lower in sugar content on the glycemic index than fruits such as bananas or grapes, so they'll hang around in your stomach a while longer, making you feel full longer. Chewing one can even clean your teeth.
Plus, they're so practical, you have no excuse not to substitute one for that candy bar. They're relatively cheap, widely available and highly portable - they don't have to be refrigerated, sliced, cooked or even peeled, and they're sturdy enough to roll around in your gym bag all day without getting mushy.
What it is: Any hot variety will do, including jalapenos, poblanos, serranos, Scotch bonnets, cayenne or habaneros.
Why you should eat more: The capsaicin in chilis, which makes them hot, also is believed to have a thermogenic effect - some studies have suggested eating them can increase your metabolism rate and help burn calories. A bonus: Chilis add a ton of flavor for little caloric cost. And because of the heat, you can't gulp down your food; you have to enjoy it slowly, which gives your stomach time to recognize it is full.
What it is: Part of the legume family, they come in a variety of colors - white, yellow, green, red, brown - which all pack roughly the same nutritional punch.
Why you should eat more: A good, inexpensive source of protein popular in world cuisines, especially Middle Eastern and Indian, lentils also provide high levels of folic acid. This nutrient, chronically under-consumed by Americans, helps prevent anemia, may help relieve menopausal hot flashes and is an important nutrient for women who are pregnant, as it's crucial for fetal development.
Why you should eat more: Eggs have had a hard time shaking that bad reputation they got in the '80s, when cholesterol was a buzzkill. More recent research, however, has shown the complete protein and other nutrients in eggs far outweigh any risks for most people.
Eggs are also considered an anti-inflammatory food, meaning they can help reduce bodily inflammation thought to lead to chronic disease including stroke, heart disease and diabetes. They also are a great source of choline, which helps brain functioning, including memory, intelligence and mood, and may help prevent heart disease.
10. ROMAINE LETTUCE
Why you should eat more: All greens are good for you, and the darker the better. They're natural antioxidants and provide a plethora of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, K, C and foliate. But unlike other greens like kale or collards, romaine needs no cooking or special preparation, is palatable to almost everyone and is available virtually everywhere. Caesar salad, anyone?
SOURCES: Miranda Davis, owner of a pilates and yoga studio in Fort Worth, Texas, who has a degree in exercise physiology; Nancy DiMarco, professor of nutrition and food sciences at Texas Woman's University; Karrie Beck, YMCA health and wellness director in Benbrook, Texas, who has a master's degree in exercise physiology; Gay Riley, a registered dietitian and clinical nutritionist;
Get a jump-start on adding superfoods by eating them in combination. Two easy recipes to try.
Lentil and chili soup
1 cup lentils, any variety
8 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2-3 fresh jalapeno or serrano chilis, stemmed, seeded and roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, ground
Salt and pepper, to taste
6 tablespoons of kefir, sour cream or plain, unsweetened yogurt
- Combine lentils, stock, chilis, tomatoes, carrots, onion, ginger, turmeric and cumin seeds in a large soup pot. Bring to a rolling boil.
- Reduce heat to medium low, cover and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until lentils are soft. Check pot occasionally as it simmers; if liquid appears too thick, add up to 1 cup of water or stock.
- Remove soup from heat and let cool for 10-15 minutes. In small batches, puree soup in a blender until fairly smooth; some small chunks will remain.
- Return soup to pot and season with salt and pepper. Heat to serving temperature.
- To serve, top hot soup with up to 1 tablespoon of kefir, sour cream or plain yogurt. Serve with warmed tortillas or Indian naan.
- Adapted from http://foodandspice.blogspot.com
Romaine salad with apples and walnuts
Serves 1 as a main course, 2-4 as a side or starter
4 cups romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
6 cherry or yellow grape tomatoes (sliced in half)
4 toasted walnut halves
1 tablespoon golden seedless raisins
1/4 red onion, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons goat or sheep feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 avocado (cut in small cubes)
1/2 small, tart apple (Granny Smiths work great), sliced thinly or cubed
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon orange juice, freshly squeezed
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Place salad ingredients into a bowl and toss.
- Mix dressing ingredients and pour over salad. Serve immediately.
- Adapted from http://netnutritionist.com