NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Superfoods have been in the news recently – being promoted as good for you. But what makes super foods super? Superfoods are exceptionally nutrient rich foods that provide a host of benefits to help us live longer, healthier lives. Superfoods are high in phytonutrients, chemicals that occur naturally in food. They protect against cancer, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension and may also boost your immune function and perhaps lower your risk for infection.

Following are some superfoods that offer a good start to a balanced diet.

- Green leafy vegetables - These are one of nature’s best sources of folate – a B vitamin that prevents birth defects, heart disease, dementia and colon cancer (the third most common cause of cancer in women). Folate also prevents vision loss and protects skin and bones. Another compound, called lutein, which is found in green leafy vegetables, helps prevent macular degeneration, a leading cause of age-related vision loss. Lutein also can help prevent cataracts and it helps protect your skin from the damaging effects of sun exposure. It appears lutein protects the fats in the top layer of skin, preventing dehydration, roughness and possibly even wrinkles. Green leafy vegetables also are an excellent source of vitamin K, a nutrient essential for bone development.

- Dairy products - Calcium is necessary for proper bone development and to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. It is also needed for muscle contraction, blood clotting and making sure your nervous system works well. Milk and dairy products are excellent sources of calcium and they provide eight additional essential nutrients, including protein, potassium, phosphorus, vitamins A, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, riboflavin and niacin. Milk and milk products help build strong bones, teeth and muscles. Research shows that when cutting calories to lose weight, three servings of milk, cheese or yogurt each day help people burn more fat and lose more weight than just cutting calories alone.

- Lean red meat - Iron is necessary for transporting oxygen through the blood to the tissues. We need iron in all of our body tissues, including the brain, muscles, heart and liver. It helps to convert food to energy for normal cell activities. A healthy diet should include up to 6 ounces of meat protein a day or equivalents such as eggs, nuts or legumes. Lean meat is high in iron, zinc and niacin. Lean beef is an excellent source of protein, as well. It also is a good source of vitamins B-6 and B-12.

- Whole grains - A diet rich in whole grains provides fiber, vitamin E, folic acid, thiamin, riboflavin, iron, magnesium and zinc. These are necessary for a healthy heart and for building muscle. The types of fiber and complex carbohydrates in whole grains also maintain our blood sugar level, which can reduce abdominal fat and help keep our waistlines smaller.

- Orange fruits and vegetables - Beta carotene in orange vegetables and fruits such as sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkins, carrots, mangos, oranges and papayas is an anti-oxidant that helps preserve healthy skin cells and prevent sun damage. Beta carotene is essential for healthy skin and the lining of membranes in the mouth, throat, lungs, stomach, intestines, urinary tract and the reproductive tract. It also repairs damaged skin cells and is necessary for night vision. Other nutrients in orange fruits and vegetables are manganese, copper, fiber, vitamin B-6, potassium and iron.

- Berries and cherries - Berries have many different compounds that have anti-oxidant properties, including vitamin C. Vitamin C helps keep our skin firm by building collagen. The violet, blue and red colors in berries and cherries are responsible for their healthful properties. Red and blue berries are full of the health-protecting flavonoid anthocyanin. Adding berries to the diet may even help slow the decline in brain function that can occur with aging.

- Cruciferous vegetables - Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts are full of valuable nutrients. At the top of the list is a compound called sulforaphane, an enzyme in the body that detoxifies carcinogens before they damage cells. It may help to lower your risk of getting cancer. Diets rich in cruciferous and dark yellow veggies also may help to protect against cardiovascular disease. Other important nutrients in cruciferous vegetables include vitamin C, beta carotene and potassium.

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