Super foods are a buzz word in modern times, everyone wants the magic elixir to cure all and promote vitality. While realistically, no one food will live up to those expectations; there are however a lot of foods that show promising research results in terms of disease prevention and obesity. This article will give you my top four super food picks, with both my reasoning as well as ideas on how to incorporate them into your daily routine.
# 4 goes to chocolate!
Chocolate comes from the cocoa bean and is one of the richest sources of flavonol (at about 510mg per 100g), a phytochemical that is responsible for its bitterness. The health benefits from chocolate are largely related to its flavonol content, which are known for their antioxidant capacity. In a meta-analysis, higher chocolate consumption was associated with a 37% reduction in heart disease risk, 31% reduction in diabetes risk, and 29% reduction in stroke risks!
Now before you buy your chocolates, there are a few things to consider. Processing of chocolate results in massive flavonol content reductions; bean selection, fermentation, roasting, and alkalizing largely determine how many flavonols will be present. Increased time roasting, higher cooking temperatures and increased fermentation times lead to more flavonol loss. Alkalization, which is a Dutch process, pretty much wipes out the flavonols. Although a little pricey, good chocolate is definitely the way to go for everyone since cheaper chocolate tends to have minimal flavanol contents. Another consideration is the calorie content (which is about 500kcal/100g); while the flavonols show positive effects on chronic diseases, calorie consumption continues to play the most important role in many chronic diseases as well as weight control. Moderation is key while enjoying chocolate.
Are you vegan and have had the notion that you can’t have chocolate because of the dairy? Well I’ve got some great news for you, it is vegan! A good quality chocolate will typically only have cocoa, cocoa butter, lecithin, and sugar, so go ahead and indulge! My personal favorite vegan chocolate is from a great company called Giddy Yoyo. They make a spicy raw vegan chocolate that is to die for (and now also comes in ginger, orange, spirulina, and banana!)!
#3 goes to green tea!
Green tea has long been enjoyed, with consumption beginning in China around 5000 years ago. Green tea is derived from non-fermented Camellia Sinensis leaves, a plant native to China. The health benefits from green tea are vast and include benefits in terms of oral health, odor, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, weight control, LDL cholesterol, and blood pressure.
When drinking green tea, the tea should be steeped in water a bit cooler than boiling temperature for about 2–3 minutes, otherwise the taste may become too bitter. Green tea is available in many different flavors (my personal favorite is Candy Cane Lane around Christmas time) and tastes great with the addition of honey or agave and lemon. It can be enjoyed either hot or iced. Matcha green tea is another option to look into (I have a serious addiction to Matcha almond milk lattes at the moment). While the drink is delicious, I am more amazed with the ways you can use matcha in baking! Matcha can be added to muffins, smoothies, breads, cookies, energy bars, and more.
#2 goes to flax!
Flaxseeds are widely used for many purposes, from industrial use to food to animal feed; it is one of the most important oilseed crops. So what makes flax so great? It is rich in alpha-linoleic (ALA) omega-3, soluble dietary fibers, lignans, protein (although limited by lysine, it is highly digestible), and minerals. Flax is one of the richest ALA and lignin sources. More and more research is showing that many of the health effects from flax are due to their ALA omega 3, soluble fiber, and lignin (which has phytoestrogen properties) content. Some of these health benefits include a decreased risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis as well as an increased spatial memory.
When using flax, it’s important to know how to properly store it so you can get the most bang for your buck in terms of nutrients. Unopened packages can be kept in a cool, dark cupboard for up to 4 months (unless otherwise directed). When the package is opened, when closing the bag, squeeze as much air as you can out of it and store the bag in your fridge. Flax should be used within 1–3 months as directed by the manufacturer.
There are many ways to use flax; it’s all about being creative! Ground flax is great as an egg replacer in vegan recipes and is an excellent addition to many baking goods. Flax is almost unnoticed when added to dinner items, for example soup or casserole. It can give fruit smoothies a nice nutty taste or provide a good holding agent in homemade energy bars.
And finally, #1 goes to ginger!
Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe) has been long and well-documented as a healing spice; it is currently the most widely grown and used spice world-wide next to black pepper. It is grown extensively in the tropics, with India, Nigeria, Australia, China, and Jamaica being the top producers. Research is mounting on the beneficial health outcomes associated with ginger consumption; it’s no wonder Indians considered it as Mahaoushadha, which translates to ‘the great medicine’.
Ginger is used widely in traditional oriental medicine for things like colds, motion sickness, morning sickness, loss of appetite, heart burn, arthritis, migraines, hypertension, digestion, and so on. Current research has concurred with these older practices, showing exciting health improvements associated with ginger consumption. Research is indicating positive effects on nausea, vomiting, coronary artery disease (both prevention and treatment), stomach ulcers, arthritis, cancer prevention, migraine relief, and more. Many of these health effects are due to both the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of the ginger root.
Ginger has a pungent and fresh taste and is a great spice to work into your daily routine. So how can you do that? Fresh ginger is a nice addition to many recipes; it can be grated into many dishes to give them a bit more of a ‘kick’. Maybe add a slice into your fruit shakes? I went through a phase of making ‘pumpkin pie’ smoothies. I would stick one scoop of vanilla or natural flavor protein (Sunwarrior protein is great here!) with pumpkin puree, a banana, cinnamon, almond milk, nutmeg and a good ½–1 inch of fresh ginger. My personal favorite way to use ginger is grating fresh ginger into boiling water, letting it steep for about 10 minutes with lemon, and enjoying it as a hot drink (agave or honey would go great in there). Whenever I have any pain or inflammation problems, ginger is always my go to solution. Ginger is super cheap at grocery stores and is a tasty addition to many recipes; there’s really no reason not to use it!Akhta S, Ismail T, Riaz M. (2013) Flaxseed - A miraculous defense against some critical maladies. Pak J Pharm Sci. 26(1):199-208.Johnson R, Bryant S, Huntley A. (2012) Green tea and green tea catechin extracts: an overview of the clinical evidence. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2012.08.008.Kubra R, Rao J. (2013) An Impression on Current Developments in the Technology, Chemistry, and Biological Activities of Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe). DOI: 10.1080/10408398.2010.505689.Sudano I, Flammer AJ, Roas S, Enseleit F, Ruschitzka F, Corti R, Noll G. (2012) Cocoa, Blood Pressure, and Vascular Function. doi:10.1007/s11906-012-0281-8.Singh K, Mridula D, Rehal J, Barnwal P. (2011) Flaxseed: a potential source of food, feed and fiber. doi: 10.1080/10408390903537241.Suzuki Y, Miyoshi N, Isemura M. (2012) Health-promoting effects of green tea. doi: 10.2183/pjab.88.88.See this and other articles on Jennifer Novakovich's website JennovaFoodBlog.com