I’m the first to admit that the term “superfood” gets thrown around a lot in media and marketing, but that doesn’t mean we should turn our backs on the bursting-with-nourishment, lovely, potent, and delicious foods that fall under the moniker. Especially when these foods are known to lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, and, while we’re at it, put you in a better mood.
Although some people have run rampant with the term and have made a mint by promoting the “miraculous! fountain-of-youth! death-defying!” benefits of superfoods, I hope that there won’t be a backlash against good, old-fashioned, super nutrient-exuberant food. As I’ve said before, I’m a crusader for most edibles in their pure forms–and the majority of them are superfoods in my book. There are few whole foods from the plant world that don’t have some health-boosting element to brag about–so how to decide what to eat? That’s why I like to think about (and eat) superfoods by season. Sure pumpkin is an A-plus superfood, but I like to save that for fall when it’s fresh and local, and look towards new fruit and tender green things this time of year. It’s a way to be connected to the planet’s cycle and decrease food miles, while giving your body a diversity of nutrients throughout the year to maximize its potential. And, to me at least, spring produce just tastes its amazing best in, yes, the spring! Funny how that works.
Studies have shown that artichokes contain a very high amount of antioxidants in the form of phytonutrients. A study undertaken by the USDA ranked artichokes as the number one fresh vegetable in antioxidant count. Among the most powerful phytonutrients are Cynarin and Silymarin, which have strong positive effects on the liver–any coincidence that artichokes have been reputed to help in the cure of liver diseases, liver cancer and to cure hangovers?
One large artichoke contains only 25 calories, no fat, 170 milligrams of potassium, and is a good source of vitamin C, folate, magnesium, and has 6 grams of dietary fiber–25 percent of the daily recommended amount.
How to prepare an artichoke? Read this.
According to the National Cancer Institute, asparagus is the food highest in glutathione, an important anti-carcinogen. It is also rich in two cancer-blocking vitamins (A and C) as well as the mineral selenium. These three nutrients have been singled out in several studies as fearsome cancer fighters. A 5 ounce serving (only 20 calories!) provides 60 percent of the recommended daily allowance for folacin which is necessary for blood cell formation, growth, and prevention of liver disease. Asparagus is also an excellent source of potassium, fiber, thiamin, vitamin B6, and is one of the richest sources of rutin, a compound which strengthens capillary walls.
They’re rich, they’re buttery, they’re delicious, and they have about 30 grams of fat per fruit. Ouch. But that’s no reason not to love an avocado. Nutritionists have back-pedaled on their gentle warnings about avocados after finding that most of the fat in an avocado is monounsaturated–the happy fat that actually lowers cholesterol levels. Yay! Let’s have an avocado party!
A study published in the Archives of Medical Research found that the 45 volunteers who ate avocados every day for a week experienced an average 17 percent drop in total blood cholesterol. (Maybe because they were so happy to be eating so many avocados?!) As well, their levels of LDL (“bad fat”) and triglycerides, both associated with heart disease, went down. Their HDL (“good fat”) levels, which tend to lower the risk of heart disease, increased.
Avocados are rich in beta-sitosterol, a natural substance shown to significantly lower blood cholesterol levels. In a review article published in the December 1999 issue of the American Journal of Medicine, researchers pointed out that beta-sitosterol was shown to reduce cholesterol in 16 human studies.
Blueberries were one of the early belles of the Superfood Ball. Jam-packed with antioxidants and phytoflavinoids, blueberries are also high in potassium and vitamin C. Recent research has found that additional components of blueberries may play an important role in preventing and fighting cancer. The results of one study suggest a wide array of potential cancer fighting benefits related to wild blueberry consumption. Blueberries also have anthocyanin pigments, which may have the ability to halt cancer in the critical stages of promotion and proliferation. A 2005 study published in the Journal of Biochemistry and Cell Biology indicated that, in isolated cells, the tannins found in blueberries are very active at lowering a protein that plays a role in the metastasis of cancer.
And that’s not all! In addition to helping prevent and fight cancer, the compounds in blueberries are believed to help against Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, eye disease and urinary tract infections. See? Super.
5. Fava Beans (AKA Broad Beans)
Mmmm. Spring in a pod–I adore fava beans, even if they are a little work. Okay, a lot of work, but so worth it! Not only are the big, fat, creamy beans scrumptious, but fava beans are particularly high in fiber (85 percent of the RDV), and also high in iron (30 percent of a day’s requirement). They contain no cholesterol and are low in fat. Fava beans are also noted to contain L-dopa, which is used as a drug for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Additionally, as with most whole grains, consumption of fava beans can help reduce risks associated with heart disease.
Next: Fresh Figs