Amanda Bontempo, MS RD CSO CDN is a registered dietitian and board certified in oncology nutrition, having received a bachelor's of science degree and master's of science degree from New York University. She has worked in oncology for over five years and consults with progressive health and technology companies in New York City. She's passionate about food and an equal lover of kale and chocolate. Follow Amanda on Twitter @AmandaBontempo and Instagram @amandabonbon.
There is no consistent or accepted definition of “superfoods” or “power foods” or other similar terms or phrases. “Superfood” is a marketing term used to describe food with supposed health benefits. It is a term used loosely by dietitians, nutritionists, trainers, doctors, naturopaths and part-time health readers alike.
It’s generally accepted, however, that superfoods provide substances that shield our body from damage to promote health and help prevent disease like cancer. Oftentimes, superfoods are identified to represent a single component that confers health benefits. While there are scores of common food items that provide the same or similar nutrients and benefits, superfoods are often those that are less known or even exotic and worth getting to know. This means eating the food, not taking the supplement.
A nutritious diet is essential to health and when we focus on specific changes or food inclusions, we purposely reduce the unhealthy mass-produced processed foods and replace them with whole foods. The food we choose to eat has an enormous impact on our health and wellbeing. In the same spirit, superfoods are often those that are chosen to represent certain health promoting and disease fighting antioxidants and phytochemicals. Antioxidants are substances that help protect the body against free-radical damage. Some antioxidants are vitamins and minerals while others are phytonutrients, also called phytochemicals. Examples include polyphenols, terpenes and catechines.
We don’t eat single nutrients or single components. We eat real food
. Phytonutrients include a huge range of compounds, many of which haven’t even been identified yet. Those that have been identified seem to work synergistically
with other nutrients present in a single food item. Mother nature has somehow created combinations of nutrients to provide the best benefit and absorptive capacity for us. It is for this reason that it is imperative that we eat the most whole, natural forms of food not pills, powders or other elixirs.
Blueberries, salmon and kale have been touted for their nutrient benefits. And they are indeed healthy items to include in well-balanced diet.
Less common superfoods may include acai berries, goji berries, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds called “hearts,” kefir, black garlic, nutritional yeast, seaweed, Brazil nuts, artichoke, squash.
Other superfoods already found in your pantry are garlic, onions, cabbage, spices including turmeric and thyme, parsley, green tea and tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, mushrooms, citrus like lemon and limes, beans and lentils, greens like spinach and even dark chocolate or unsweetened cacao powder. I’m also bringing back eggs here because they’ve been labeled as a foe for cholesterol-conscious people but eggs are a powerful protein source and one of the few natural sources of choline in our diets. Yolks included.
How to incorporate:
One of the most important strategies whenever making changes to our diets is to plan ahead.
Go to the grocery with the intention of trying one new food a week. When you get home and before you put the groceries away, prep them so that it’s easier and faster to use during the week.
Chop leafy greens, onions etc. and store in a zip bag
Peel and smash garlic and cover with olive oil in a container in the fridge
Search online for recipe ideas or inspiration. This way you have some plan on how to prepare a new food item that you may be less familiar with
Do a mental “dry run” of the meals you plan to eat that day. This will help you mentally prepare for healthy meal and snack items while also keeping you accountable.
For me, healthy eating starts on Sunday. This way I can go shopping, prep ingredients and plan meals, even if just vague ideas in my head. This way, on busy and tired evenings I still have a plan that’s easy to stick to
Check out these superfood swaps
Amanda Bontempo, MS RD CSO CDN