Wouldn’t it be nice if food could have superpowers? Well, it turns out they do! Superfood, a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot these days, is used to describe foods that are highly nutrient-dense. Each bite packs a punch full of vitamins and minerals, and may contain other beneficial compounds such as phytonutrients, bioflavanoids, antioxidants, amino acids, and essential fatty acids. These superfoods are said to help kick disease in the pants, battle the bulge, and combat aging. And the only side effects include feeling great from the inside out!
Top superfoods gaining attention include: spirulina, cacao, the allium family (garlic, onions, leeks), sprouts, barley, wheat grass, pumpkin seeds, bee pollen, cinnamon, quinoa, the list goes on… But perhaps most popular are berries.
The goji berry, a distant cousin of the tomato but tart like a cranberry, is touted as one of the most nutritionally dense foods. This vibrant orangey-pink berry has been used in Eastern countries for centuries, reportedly for its ability to improve eyesight, boost immunity, prevent cancer cell proliferation, and help reduce blood glucose and cholesterol levels.
Goji berries contain many antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation and damage to our cells. According to oracvalues.com, the goji berry has an ORAC value of 3,290 per 100 grams. ORAC is a scientific measurement of the antioxidant power of a food. (The highest food on the ORAC scale is sumac, a variety of the grain known as sorghum. It rates at 312,400.)
Packed with B vitamin, goji berries are also are high in calcium, potassium, iron, zinc and selenium, plus they contain three times more vitamin C in weight than an orange.
Goji berries may help reduce cholesterol because they contain beta-sitosterol and betaine, which can lower homocysteine levels associated with heart disease.
If you thought carrots were good for your eyes, goji berries actually contain significantly more beta-carotene than Bugs Bunny’s favorite snack. They also contain the carotenoids zeaxanthin, lutein, lycopene and cryptoxanthin – all great for maintaining eyesight. Zeaxanthin in particular helps to protect the eyes from developing macular degeneration and cataracts.
But goji berries don’t stop there! These berries are a complete protein. They contain all eight of the essential amino acids we must take from our diet. They can be found in any health food store and come in dried or powdered form. Try them whole as a snack, grind them up and add them to your smoothie, or soak them and brew them into a tea. Goji berries can come at a cost, though. Be prepared to pay a pretty penny for these super berries. Some organic products run from just under 20 bucks for 16 ounces, up to 35 dollars for the same size.
Near the top of the ORAC chart are açai berries (at 102,700) – the highest out of any fruit on the scale. The açai berry is found in tropical climates near the equator. Because UV rays are highest at these temperatures, the açai berry produces a ton of its own “sunscreen”, available to us as antioxidants. These antioxidants include anthocyanins, and phytosterols known to help reduce cholesterol and protect the immune system.
When ripe, açai are dark blue-purple in color, and plump up to the size of a blueberry – but with twice the antioxidants! The berry is almost entirely seed, with only 20 percent fruit and skin – which is why it’s mostly sold as powder, in supplement form, as juice or frozen concentrate.
Besides being loaded in antioxidants, açai is high in omega-3 and 6 essential fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation and keep the heart healthy. And they’re low in sugar and rate low on the glycemic index, which is why people can’t stop talking about them as a weight loss tool.
They’re also rich in calcium, phosphorus, beta-carotene and vitamin E. And according to a University of Florida study, the açai berry has been proven to be anti-cancerous. Extracts from the berry triggered the destruction of leukemia cells in up to 86% of cells tested.
When purchasing açai, it’s important to note that most of the nutrients come from the skin of the berry. Consider products that are not made entirely from juice only. Juice and powder form (unless immediately freeze-dried after picking) will also contain 30-50% less antioxidants than from fresh pulp. Açai berries aren’t typically as expensive as goji berries, but can run at a high cost because they come in so many forms.
But when it comes to superfoods, you don’t always have to shell out the bling to get the benefits. If strapped for cash, the more affordable raspberries and blueberries also find themselves on the list of super-fruits!
Raspberries and Blueberries
Raspberries and blueberries might be cheaper, but they’re still loaded with antioxidants. Raspberries rate at 5,065 and wild blueberries rate at 9,621 (conventional blueberries are half the rating, equaling half the antioxidants).
Raspberries come in a rainbow of colors including black, purple, red, and gold. Blueberries are one of the few fruits native to North America. The blueberry also happens to be one of the most researched fruits, and one of the first to be classified as a superfood.
Many studies show blueberries might be Mother Nature’s answer to aging, as they appear to slow down neurological degeneration. Both berries also contain the cancer-fighting compound ellagic acid, which helps keep free radicals from causing damage to our cells.
Low on fiber? Up your daily dose by adding raspberries to your diet. One cup is a whopping eight grams of fiber! (Your minimum daily fiber intake should be around 35 grams.) High-fiber foods help to keep us full, and can be used as a weight loss tool.
Both berries also contain vitamin C, calcium, magnesium and manganese – an often-forgotten mineral. This trace mineral makes up the compound called superoxide dismutase, which fights free radicals in our bodies.
Whatever berry you choose, eating a wide variety of super-fruits is always beneficial and a “berry” good key to maintaining a healthy diet.