Monday, July 29, 2013

360fit - What Makes Super-Foods So Super?

This blog post was inspired by one of my fellow 360fit trainers. Earlier this week, he mentioned some of the new super foods he was incorporating into his diet. This conversation got me thinking; I should incorporate more super-foods into my diet as well, because I know that they are packed with nutrition… but what is it exactly that makes "super-foods" so super? The answer: Phytonutrients!

Phytonutrients are naturally occurring plant chemicals, thought to have some serious health protecting qualities. Some of these qualities include protection from different types of cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. The main phytonutrients I want to talk about are Carotenoids, Ellagic Acid, Flavonoids, and Reservatrol. The technical names of these phytonutrients make them sound very complex and hard to understand, but It is actually incredibly easy to add them into your regular diet. With all of the health benefits that come with these phytonutrients, why wouldn't you want to eat them everyday?!

Carotenoids are chemicals that your body can convert into Vitamin A, which is important for a strong immune system, and needed to keep your eyes healthy. Carotenoids are found in yellow and orange foods, such as carrots, mangoes, oranges, papayas, pumpkins, red and yellow peppers, and acorn squash. A couple of ways you can get the benefits of carotenoids is by adding chopped peppers into salads, and stir-fry, baking squash and pumpkin as a side dish with dinner, or chopping up the fruits mentioned and enjoying them all on their own.

Ellagic Acid is known to help protect the body against cancer, and Flavonoids can help reduce risk of heart disease, asthma, and some cancers.  Ellagic acid is found especially in strawberries, raspberries, and pomegranates. Flavonoids can be found in apples, berries, and grapes. Try mixing these fruits into yogurt, or blending them into smoothies, for a light snack. Apples, berries, and grapes are also easy to eat on their own, throughout the day.

Resveratrol acts as an antioxidant, and an anti-inflammatory. Antioxidants prevents cell damage caused by oxidation reactions that occur within the body; not all oxidative reactions are bad, but some can lead to cell death or free radicals, which can contribute to diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Anti-inflammatory properties can help reduce pain associated with arthritis, tendonitis, and asthma. Reservatrol can be found in grapes, and red wine, however, there are tons of other foods that contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties as well. For example, antioxidants can be found in berries, garlic, tomatoes, spinach, and whole grains, and anti-inflammatory properties are high in green vegetables such as kale, spinach, and broccoli.

In addition to phytonutrients, super-foods tend to be minimally processed, helping to maintain all their nutritional integrity, and usually contain a mixture of essentials needed by the body to maintain optimal health, such as fibre, protein, vitamins, and minerals. The best way to reap the benefits of these phytonutrients is by consuming them through whole foods. If you consume these whole foods raw, you will doing yourself an even greater service; by eating them raw, none of the nutrition is lost through the cooking process, maximizing the nutritional benefits your body will receive from them.

Please keep in mind that I have only mentioned a few super-foods, and that there is a vast range of other super-foods that you can explore; I encourage you to take some time and explore the produce isles and organic sections of your grocery store, and local markets, to find others that you may enjoy. Incorporate super-foods into your daily diet, and know that you are helping to push your body towards optimal health!

-Kaley Hall
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