Spinach, salmon, brown rice and almonds are well-known nutritional superstars. Recently, several newcomers have joined the list of “superfoods” — including a few you may not have tried. Read through the list below and consider adding some of these smart, tasty options to your diet.
A food must be something special when it earns international honors. The United Nations named 2013 the “International Year of Quinoa” to raise awareness of the many benefits of quinoa [pronounced keen-wah]. Though often considered a grain because of its texture and flavor, quinoa is actually a seed that has been cultivated for thousands of years in other parts of the world and packs an impressive nutritional punch. In addition to being a complete protein that provides all of the nine essential amino acids, quinoa has double the calcium of whole wheat and twice the fiber of many grains. It’s also high in iron and magnesium.
Dark leafy greens are usually nutrition superstars, and kale is no exception. A single cup of kale contains five grams of fiber, 200% of the daily recommended allowance of vitamin C and 180% of vitamin A, as well as vitamin B6, magnesium and fiber. It also contains more than 1,000% of vitamin K, which the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports may reduce overall cancer risk. However, too much vitamin K can interfere with blood-thinning medications, so check with your doctor if you use them. Kale is also a good source of copper, potassium, iron, and phosphorus, as well as the antioxidant lutein, which is believed to support eye and heart health.
Swiss chard is another leafy green with thick red, white, yellow, or green stalks. Like kale, Swiss chard is an excellent source of vitamins K, A, and C, and a good source of magnesium, potassium, iron, and fiber.
Although kale and swiss chard do contain oxalates, which can decrease absorption of calcium and can lead to kidney stones, the amount is far less than in spinach, and as a result the calcium in these two leafy greens is absorbed easier than with spinach. In general, the oxalates in food only decrease the absorption of the calcium found in the specific food, and not so much in other foods eaten at the same time.
Replace your white potatoes with sweet potatoes and significantly increase the nutritional benefits. With seven grams of fiber per serving, sweet potatoes have twice as much fiber as other types. They’re also high in vitamins and minerals that are good for your heart. Vitamin B6 helps keep your arteries healthy, and potassium helps your body get rid of excess sodium that can lead to high blood pressure. One medium sweet potato provides the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A or beta-carotene, one of the most powerful antioxidants believed to help prevent several types of cancer. They’re also rich in vitamins C and E.
Move over, almonds. Walnuts are heart-healthy nutritional champions, providing a good dose of the omega-3 fatty acids that may protect against heart disease, depression and Alzheimer’s, and heart disease. The melatonin found in walnuts helps to boost the immune system. Research shows that eating walnuts regularly can cause LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels to drop by as much as 16 percent. A study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology determined that adding about 10 walnuts to a meal high in saturated fat helped reduce harmful inflammation of the blood vessels.
Who knew that the tiny seeds used to grow Chia Pets could be so good for you? One tablespoon of chia seeds has as much fiber as a bowl of oatmeal. They’re also high in omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and iron. The nutty-tasting seeds absorb liquid and take on a gel-like texture, which makes them ideal for adding to soups, smoothies and cereal.
This tiny fruit has big benefits. Among fruit, kiwifruit has one of the highest concentrations of vitamins and minerals per calorie. Ounce for ounce, kiwi provides twice as much vitamin C as an orange and nearly as much potassium as a banana. It is also a good source of the antioxidant lutein. A Norwegian study found that eating kiwi three times a day was associated with a drop in blood pressure. Kiwi’s are also a good source of vitamin E, and also have an aspirin like effect on platelets without any of the side effects listed for aspirin and other nsaids.
Steven Pratt, MD, is an ophthalmologist with Scripps Health and the author of the best selling book SuperFoods Rx: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life. For more information on staying healthy or for a physician referral, please call 1-800-SCRIPPS (1-800-727-4777).