Healthy Habits: The Power of Superfoods
Sometimes we don’t give eating a second thought. The time of the day comes for a meal and we look for what is readily available to sustain the appetite. Food offers the energy needed to get through the day but is occasionally overlooked as an option for disease prevention. The term “SUPERFOOD” has been used to boost sales by marketing certain food products, but what makes a food so super?
There is no regulatory or scientific definition of the term superfood. In general, foods get a superfood status if they have been shown to provide health benefits beyond their normal nutritive value, offer a high level of desirable nutrients or have been linked to some type of disease prevention. New research reveals certain edible plants carry more value to our health because they contain phytochemicals. These active compounds appear to promote health and reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and other conditions. These phytochemicals contribute to the brilliant colors and distinct aromas of plants and their fruit.
Phytochemicals are the likely culprits of putting the “super powers” into superfoods.
Plants may have over fifty known phytochemicals, but only a select few may be in large numbers. Each compound plays different and multiple roles in the body depending on the mechanism of action. Research has shown pure extracts of phytochemicals in supplements to be less effective than eating foods in their whole form. The reason for this is because depending on the compound, the metabolism of one phytochemical may be relying on a secondary phytochemical or different compound in that plant to initiate its absorption. It is important to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes due to different phytochemicals working together to provide varying health benefits.
Many phytochemicals have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants protect against harmful cell damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are highly toxic compounds created when an oxygen atom splits and scavenges the body to pair up with another oxygen atom. This causes cell damage. This oxidative stress comes from various environmental sources such as cigarette smoke, radiation, drugs, pesticides, solvents, and other pollutants. Consuming foods with various antioxidant properties, as well as reducing exposure to the listed environmental sources above, can reduce the potential harm from free radicals.
The list of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes is too extensive to list in this column, but various charts can be found online to help your understanding of what compounds, in which foods, contribute to various health benefits. These tables and graphics can offer guidance in ensuring you are maximizing the potential for variety, flavor, texture and healing potential within a balanced diet.
This week’s Healthy Habit: Start thinking in color. Look at your plate as a painter’s palette. Make an effort to consume a variety of red, purple, green, white and yellow fruits and vegetables throughout your day.