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What Are Superfoods?
When a person wants to make changes in moving toward a healthier lifestyle, the best place to start is with food choices. Whether the goal is to just “be healthier” overall, or to lose weight, manage blood sugar or combat illness, physicians and dieticians suggest that modifying eating habits is a must. A healthy diet will include generous amounts of fruits and vegetables as well as adequate quantities of grains, diary and protein.
Among the larger groups of fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and protein, there are certain foods that provide more benefits than others. Some foods just naturally contain more of the beneficial nutrients, vitamins and other components that help in our quest for health. Because it can be a challenge for people to include all the servings of each of the food groups, many are interested in which foods within the groups seem to pack the biggest punch, or give them the most for their money and effort.
Foods that are especially healthy or specially packed with nutrients have been labeled “superfoods,” and health-conscious consumers are interested in including these foods in their diet. The label however is arbitrary. There are no standardized guidelines for determining which foods qualify as “superfoods,” and many companies use the term as a marketing strategy. Several organizations have created lists of superfoods based on the guidelines or criteria they have determined to be most important, but there is not a central list of identified superfoods that is accepted by all. It is important for consumers to realize that being labeled as a “superfood” does not guarantee that the particular food is any more beneficial than another.
Whose List of Superfoods Should You Use?
A search of “superfoods” on the web reveals a different list for every website. While some lists identify specific, individual foods, another list focuses on groups of foods, such as “leafy greens” rather than specifically “spinach.” Another list seems to favor beans, seeds and berries and include only foods that fall into those categories. A popular medical website even has two separate lists: one general list and one for people who are interested in losing weight. Another site identifies foods that enhance the “brain/beauty” connection. One organization even promotes a list that includes 100 superfoods! Interestingly enough, these organizations do not typically distinguish among the foods on the list as to which are most beneficial.
With all these lists, the question becomes “whose list should a person use”? One way to help consumers sort out the confusion surrounding superfoods is to take a good sampling of all the lists and compile those lists to identify the foods that are most often and most consistently identified by all the sources. This includes lists from the following web sites:
The most common superfoods
The superfoods most common to all lists (in alphabetical order) are:
- Wild Salmon
Nine other foods are named at least twice among all the lists. These are oats, dark chocolate, honey, oranges, pumpkin, soy, tea, tomatoes and turkey.
Even with the lack of accepted guidelines and standards for superfoods, there is certainly agreement that there are some foods that are more nutritious than others. It all comes down to using good judgment. Obviously, the healthiest approach to eating revolves around maintaining a diet that includes recommended amounts from the required food groups. For consumers who want to “super charge” their efforts with superfoods, it is best to keep in mind that the label “superfood” can have a variety of meanings. All fresh fruits and vegetables, whether they are specifically identified as superfoods or not, are valuable to a healthy diet. Being aware of which foods have a reputation for being especially beneficial will help consumers in their quest for healthy eating.
Which Superfoods Are Right for You?
With current, easy access to convenience foods, Americans have drifted away from consuming foods in their natural form. The ease of being able to pull a can out of the pantry or a box out of the freezer can be quite tempting when it comes time for preparing meals. This convenience has a down side, however. Typically, to become more convenient, a food must be processed and refined, which usually involves adding non-beneficial ingredients and eliminating beneficial ones.
As a rule, the fewer ingredients a food contains, the better. For instance, convenience foods generally contain higher levels of sodium, fat and sugar, food additives, food coloring and preservatives. In terms of optimum health, the addition of these extra ingredients is not helpful.
As you look at the best way to get the most out of your food choices, looking at “superfoods” makes sense. Even though there is a lack of standards in the identification of these superfoods, it is worthwhile to consider foods with “super” status in managing a health supportive diet.
With information being so easy and quick to obtain via the Internet, consumers have at their disposal all the information they need to make good food decisions. Unfortunately, all this information can sometimes be overwhelming. Because there are so many superfoods identified among a lot of different lists, people can have difficulty in even deciding which they should eat.
Questions To Ask Yourself in Choosing the Right Superfoods
One very good approach is to look at your own, individual situation and ask yourself the following questions:
- What are my lifestyle goals?
- What do I want to accomplish with my diet?
- Do I have specific health concerns I want to address though my diet?
- What types of foods fit my lifestyle, schedule and preferences?
Someone with issues of bone health may want to make a special effort to include regular amounts of spinach on the menu. A person needing to manage cholesterol levels can work toward that goal by increasing the amount of walnuts and yogurt in the diet. The individual with heart concerns can support a heart-healthy diet through eating salmon, walnuts and beans. Focus on weight loss can be supported through food sources of calcium.
In the case of lifestyle and preferences, nuts may be great sources for omega-3s and protein, and beans wonderful for providing antioxidants and fiber. But if you just flat out don’t like nuts and beans, these foods won’t work for you. The one thing you can count on—there are good superfood choices that will provide great sources of protein, omega-3 fats, fiber and antioxidants that will fit your particular lifestyle and preferences.
There is no single best answer for which superfoods are best. Clarifying the goals you have for your eating program will help you make decisions that are best for you.
The nice thing is, our eating habits can be easily modified to accommodate changing preferences, health needs and lifestyle, so choices made today don’t have to be choices that remain with you forever. You may also find yourself changing some of your choices as the seasons change and food become more or less readily available.
You will gain the biggest advantage in the most areas by looking first at foods classified as superfoods. Past that, you most certainly can still find foods that will help you accomplish your purposes, even if they don’t happen to be on a superfoods list.