Top Five Everyday Superfoods

Green Kale

When you see the term “superfood,” do you imagine jars of mysterious blue-green marine life? Exotic dried herbs or strange, shriveled berries? Dehydrated, pulverized grasses?

Sure, the newest health food trends offer nutritional benefits galore. But you don’t need to take up residence in the health food store to benefit from superfoods’ health-enhancing properties. In fact, you likely already have several of nature’s original superfoods, all of which offer the same high-octane nutritional advantages, at home in your refrigerator or pantry right now.

Here’s a list of five common superfoods to get you started (and bonus points if you buy organic).

1. Green Leafy Vegetables

They don’t call kale “the king of vegetables” for nothing. While all dark green leafys (kale, collards, chard, dandelion, spinach, romaine lettuce) possess similar nutrient profiles, kale boasts the best of the best. Packed with all-important calcium and magnesium for bone health, vitamins (A, K and folate), over 45 different flavonoids, anti-inflammatory properties (preventing chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis) and detoxifying properties, kale is a bona fide superstar. Prepare your greens raw, cooked or blended into other dishes (such as spaghetti sauce).

2. Beans and Legumes

These little gems offer one of the most economical–and satisfying–ways to eat your antioxidants. Beans and legumes like chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans or lentils contain cholesterol-lowering fiber (helping you feel satiated) and can help prevent heart disease. They also support stable blood sugar levels while providing a wide array of essential minerals. If you don’t soak and cook your own (from dried), be sure to rinse and drain well. Use in chilis, hummus, or even meat-free burgers.

3. Berries

Whether blackberries, blueberries or cranberries (those with the highest ORAC score, or antioxidant benefits) or other vibrantly hued varieties, you’ll get a huge array of benefits with very few calories, virtually no fat, and a low GI (glycemic index), which means no spiking blood sugar levels. And let’s not forget the unparalleled fruity taste! Dark pigments known as anthocyanins provide antioxidant benefits against a wide variety of cancers from breast, to colon, to intestinal. They also promote a healthy cardiovascular system (the pterostilbene in blueberries works much like cholesterol-lowering drugs—but without the nasty side effects), eyesight, and even better memory! Enjoy in smoothies, salads, or baked goods.

4. Sweet Potato/Yam

Like carrots, the brilliantly orange sweet potato provides an abundance of Vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene—more than 400% of your daily requirement in a single medium serving! They’re also a great source of Vitamin C and manganese as well as fiber. In addition, research has shown that sweet potatoes help decrease inflammation in the body as well as helping to control insulin levels, making them an ideal addition to the diets of Type II diabetics despite their naturally sweet taste. And if you boil or steam rather than bake, sweet potatoes retain a fairly low GI of 50.

5. Dark Chocolate or Cocoa

We couldn’t forget chocolate, could we? It’s true that raw cacao (which is usually found in specialty stores) contains one of the highest levels of antioxidants in the world. But even conventional chocolate measures up very well, with above-average levels of magnesium, potassium, and other minerals supporting a healthy cardiovascular system. Aim for dark chocolate (70% cacao or higher) to obtain benefits for your heart, bones, cognitive functioning and, of course, your mood! Great to nibble on its own, or in any number of desserts.

Boosting your intake of disease-fighting foods is as easy as a regular trip to the local supermarket. Shop for nature’s own “super” foods and enjoy an economical, accessible way to support good health.

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By: Ricki Heller

Ricki Heller is a whole foods chef, TV personality and author of the Canadian bestseller Sweet Freedom: Desserts You’ll Love without Wheat, Eggs, Dairy or Refined Sugar (one of only three cookbooks endorsed on Ellen DeGeneres’ website) as well as three e-cookbooks. She has appeared on Canada AM, Breakfast Television and appears regularly to discuss healthy eating on Rogers’ Daytime and In the Know. She writes the popular food blog Diet, Dessert and Dogs, where she chronicles her ongoing challenges with candida, offers entertaining anecdotes about life, shares sugar-free, vegan, whole-foods recipes and provides a platform for her two chatty lab-border collie cross dogs, Elsie and Chaser. She lives near Toronto with her husband and two “girls.”