If you need a nutritional punch but don’t have time to cook meals or plan your lunches a week in advance, superfoods are your best option for providing your body with all the minerals, nutrients, and antioxidants you need to fight disease.
Some foods have the power to improve mood, energy, metabolism and vision even when you consume them in small doses. Spring is one of the best times to find these supercharging healthy treats, as many of them are in season now. After all, the general rule to eat healthy and cheap is to buy fruits and vegetables that are in season.
Such powerhouse foods are not their own category. “Superfood” is simply a marketing term used to describe produce and other items in the grocery stores that are rich in nutrients lowering bad cholesterol and the risk of heart problems, cancer and other diseases.
One way to recognize spring superfoods is by color; they resemble all the hues you see outside – green, yellow, pink or blue. The more colorful your plate is with fruits and vegetables in season, the more “super” your meal is.
Problems remembering things? Maybe walnuts can help. They contain alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fat that's been shown to improve memory and coordination. You only need about 10 or so to get your daily dose of it as well as copper, manganese, and Vitamin E. “Nuts and seeds are a must-have in your diet and are a great addition to an already high protein diet,” Angela Martindale, a celebrity nutritionist. They’re full of healthy fats and fiber. Make sure you consume enough cashews, which are rich on vitamins and antioxidants, and almonds.
Fresh asparagus in the produce aisle at the store means spring is here. The green vegetable is a great source of folate, a vitamin that can treat certain types of anemia. It’s also commonly given to pregnant women. Folate plays an important role in the production of dopamine and serotonin, the “happiness hormones.” Just one cup of the veggie has 70 percent of vitamin K, important for delivering calcium to your bones. Asparagus is also the best source of glutathione, an antioxidant that protects against cancer.
Artichokes are very rich on antioxidants, according to studies. The vegetable is often used to cure liver diseases (and hangovers too). Artichokes are low on calories, contain no fat, have an enormous amount of potassium, vitamin C and magnesium, a nutrient many people are lacking. They are also a good source of fiber and inulin, which help the production of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Salmon is rich on omega-3 fatty acids that have been credited with endless health benefits, from lowering the risk of a heart attack and regulating cholesterol to keeping skin healthy. “They have anti-inflammatory properties that can help counteract the negative effects of adrenaline and cortisol, according to Martindale. Studies have shown that people who took omega-3 supplements had a 14 percent reduction in anxiety. “One 3-ounce serving of cooked wild salmon can have more than 2,000 milligrams of omega-3s, which is double the daily dose recommended by the American Heart Association for people with heart disease,” she adds.
Blueberries are super rich on antioxidants, potassium, and Vitamin C. Research has suggested they are important for fighting cancer. The tannins found in the fruit have been known to reduce a protein that plays a role in the metastasis of cancer. Another cruel disease blueberries can help against is Alzheimer’s. A 2010 study found that people with memory problems due to their age, who drank 2.5 cups of blueberry juice a day, made significant improvement in memory and learning.
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Super greens range from algae-wheat grass and spinach to kale, and they’re packed with high potency phytonutrients, fiber, antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, and enzymes, which all assist with digestive functionality and cell optimization by helping oxidize cells, assisting the body in eliminating food toxins with binding fiber, and helping to balance metabolism, according to Martindale. “Super greens also keep our heart happy by lowering cholesterol, and assisting in the breakdown of protein in the body for more effective muscle and tissue repair.”
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Radishes do magic with the digestive system. They have a lot of Vitamin C, about a third of what you need a day. Don’t ignore the leaves. They are also rich in Vitamin C, but contain plenty of calcium and protein. If you don’t like the taste of raw radishes, add them to your smoothie. You’ll barely taste them but enjoy all of their benefits.
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“Oatmeal is a great brain food to keep us sharp,” Martindale says. The complex carbs cause our brains to produce serotonin. Beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber found in oatmeal, has reflected higher satiety scores than other whole grains in food research, she adds, which means it's better for the brain in keeping people sharp and energy high than other types of soluble fiber.
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Just half a cup of parsley contains more than 500 percent your daily value of vitamin K, and half the daily dose of vitamin C. Parsley's volatile oils have been shown to hinder tumor formation. The activity of parsley's volatile oils qualifies it as a “chemoprotective” food, which are foods that can help offset certain carcinogens.
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Fava beans are rich on fiber (about 85 percent of your daily value), iron, and protein. They help lower levels of bad cholesterol. Bonus: Fava beans have very few calories. They are also a rich source of levo-dihydroxy phenylalanine (L-dopa) the precursor of dopamine, and they are now being studied for use in the management of Parkinson’s disease.
“Chia seeds pack a powerful immune-boosting punch, all while being one of the best foods for muscle repair that you can eat,” Martindale says. Two tablespoons of chia seeds have 4.5 grams of pure plant protein (brain fuel and muscle/tissue boost), about 5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids (boosting heart and brain functionality) and around 11 grams of dietary fiber (for smooth digestive functionality). Chia seeds are also high in vitamin C potency levels for a quick immunity boost and serve as an anti-inflammatory in the body.
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If you like onions, you’ll love scallions, nicknamed “spring onions.” They are the just a fresher version of them. Scallions are high in antioxidants and help lower blood pressure. The spring onions are also rich in vitamins K and C. Just 100 grams of scallion contain essential minerals like copper, iron, manganese, and calcium.
Green peas are among the first vegetables to naturally grow in the spring. They taste best when they are in season. In addition to their concentration of vitamins and minerals, they also provide the carotenoid phytonutrients, lutein and zeaxanthin, which are known to promote vision and eye health. The unique phytonutrients in green peas also give the body key antioxidants for anti-inflammatory benefits. Bonus: They are very cheap.
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Eggs are an excellent way to get protein in your diet at 6 grams of protein and only 70 calories, Martindale says. “Eggs are also one of the most versatile forms of protein out there.” Egg whites contain the most protein, according to her, so adding an extra egg white to your eggs, will boost your fat busting protein power, without going overboard on saturated fat or cholesterol. They will curb your hunger enough that you'll have about 300 calories less throughout the rest of the day.
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They don’t look particularly delicious but fresh figs are an absolute powerhouse of a fruit. They are a rich source of fiber and potassium, which help control blood pressure. The fruit has a lot of calcium that’s vital for bone health. Fresh figs are also a good source for iron, vitamin B and manganese. You can eat them raw or add some feta cheese and honey for a more intense flavor.
Beets are some of the lesser known superfoods out there. They’re not winning any beauty contests, but they are very healthy nevertheless. They are rich in folate, potassium, vitamin C, and fiber. Beets are also a great source for iron and magnesium. In recent lab studies, betanin pigments from beets have been shown to lessen the growth of tumor cells. Beets also boost energy and lower blood pressure.
“Strawberries have consistently ranked in the top five fruits for antioxidant power by food researchers,” Martindale says. “Antioxidants help combat the damaging effects of free radical activity to cellular structures and DNA.” Just 1 cup (about 8 strawberries) has 113 percent of your daily recommended vitamin C. Raw strawberries are an amazing anti-inflammatory food that can help fight diseases like diabetes, cancer, and even skin issues like acne, she adds. The fruit is also attributed to pain relief.
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Cauliflower, just like broccoli, belongs to the cancer-fighting cruciferous family of vegetables. It is jam-packed with vitamins, manganese and omega-3s. It also has plenty of fiber, which is why it’s a good idea to replace white rice with this vegetable. To make it even easier on the stomach, sub potatoes with cauliflower as well.
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You’ve probably heard of the many benefits of drinking lemon water? Lemons are real superstars when it comes to vitamin C sources. Just one serving provides more than 180 percent of the daily value. They also provide, iron, potassium, fiber, and magnesium. The nutrients in lemons help prevent kidney stones, soothe a sore throat, aid with weight loss by improving digestion, and balance pH levels.