3 Best Superfoods For Health: Include Them Into Your Diet!
The term superfood was coined in 2004 when Dr. Steven Pratt wrote Superfoods Rx: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life. Although there’s no universal definition of superfoods, I believe the term encompasses foods that are natural, nutrient-dense and contain high concentrations of essential nutrients with proven health benefits to enhance longevity. They’re chocked full of vitamins, minerals, omega 3 fatty acids, probiotics, antioxidants and phytochemicals.
Contrary to common belief, superfoods are not confined to plant based foods like fruits and vegetables; they include certain whole grains, animal protein and dairy options.
According to Dr. Pratt, there are 3 criteria that a superfood must have:
- Availability. Superfoods should be available to everyone. You should be able to easily purchase it at a local supermarket, farmers’ market, wet market (in Asian countries) or from a trusted online source.
- Nutrients that enhance longevity. Superfoods commonly have above-average quantities of natural health-boosting and disease-fighting nutrients i.e. vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and essential fatty acids.
- Health benefits are backed by medical studies. Claims of anti-aging, protection against disease and other health benefits from these superfoods must be supported by scientific evidence.
In today’s post, I’ll be exploring 3 best superfoods for health, namely:
- Rolled and Steel Cuts Oats
- Chia Seeds
- Flaxseeds or Linseeds
Best Superfoods for Health 1: Rolled and Steel Cut Oats
Oats are a superfood, a highly nutritious whole grain with many excellent health benefits. They are an excellent source of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They are chocked full of beta glucans, a polysaccharide that has been medically proven to boost the immune system. They are the only source of a unique group of antioxidants called avenanthramides, which have protective effects against heart disease.
In medical studies, oats have gained considerable interest as a superfood because of its ability to lower LDL and blood glucose.
Health Benefits of Oats
Lowers LDL Cholesterol
This is because of the beta glucans in oats slow the absorption of fats and cholesterol by increasing the viscosity of the digestive contents as shown in this animal study. The beta-glucans then bind with cholesterol-rich bile acids in the intestine, produced by the liver to aid digestion. After that the beta-glucan carries them down the digestive tract and eventually out of the body.
Normally, bile acids are reabsorbed back into the digestive system, but beta-glucan inhibits this reabsorption process, leading to reduced levels of LDL.
It’s because of such studies that nutritional guidelines of consuming at least 3 grams of beta glucan daily to prevent heart disease are drawn up by medical authorities in many countries.
Moderates Insulin and Blood Glucose in Type 2 Diabetes.
Oats are also beneficial for those with prediabetes and diabetes because the beta glucan moderates both the insulin response and the blood glucose levels of such patients.
In fact a study showed that a 4 week dietary intervention with oats resulted in a 40% reduction in the insulin dosage needed for stabilizing blood sugar levels of patients with Type 2 diabetes and severe insulin resistance.
Another study shows that consumption of oats can improve and normalize blood pressure for patients with hypertension. Eating oats also help people to lose weight because of its satiety level i.e. it makes you full much longer and when you’re full you eat less food, thereby decreasing overall calorie intake.
When you buy oats please ensure that it’s either rolled or steel cut oats. This is because rolled and steel cut oats are the least processed which gives them a low glycemic index and load of 55 and 13 while instant and quick cooking oats, which are much more processed, have a much higher glycemic index and load 83 and 30. The lower the glycemic index and load of a food, the more stable the blood glucose will be after eating it.
How to Eat Oats
Rolled oats taste great as overnight oats. Just soak the oats overnight in your favorite beverage in the fridge. Take it out the next morning, add a bit of stevia and some fruits and you have a delicious and nutritious breakfast.
Rolled and steel cut oats are readily available at any supermarket or grocery store. If, for any reason, they’re unavailable at a location close to you, you can always buy it at my Amazon store.
Best Superfoods for Health 2: Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are one of nature’s superfoods. It delivers maximum nutrients with minimum calories and promotes digestion and detox of the body. Originally grown in Mexico, the seeds were highly valued for their medicinal properties and nutritional value. Aztec warriors ate chia seeds to give them boundless energy and endurance.
Fiber is essential for your body’s ability to detoxify and Chia seeds promote bowel regularity because of its high fiber content and healthy fats. They are high in alpha linoleic acid (ALA), a fatty acid which helps the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. It can absorb up to twelve times its own weight in water!
The content of heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids in Chia seeds are exceptionally high: about 75% of the fats in chia seeds consist of the omega 3 fatty acid alpha linolenic acid (ALA), while the remaining 20% consist of omega-6 fatty acids. Studies such as this indicates that a high ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 can reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, inflammatory diseases and premature death.
However the omega 3 (ALA) in chia seeds aren’t as readily available to the body as those from fatty fish and fish oil because these fatty acids need to be converted to EPA and DHA (found in fatty fish and fish oil) before the human body can readily utilize them.
Chia seeds contain more protein than most grains and are therefore a great plant-based protein source. They are also excellent sources of many essential minerals like manganese, phosphorus, copper, selenium, iron, magnesium and calcium, but relatively poor sources of vitamins.
Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
Lowers Blood Sugar and Blood Pressure
Studies such as this one show that bread made with chia seeds causes a reduced blood sugar spike compared to white bread. Other animal studies such as this one show that chia seeds reduce insulin resistance and improve blood sugar control, which are critical risk factors for metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
In another study, the consumption of chia seeds by diabetic patients saw improvements in blood pressure and the readings of an inflammatory marker called hs-CRP went down by 40%. Another risk factor called vWF also decreased by 21%.
Improves Digestive Health
Chia seeds are extremely high in fiber, providing nearly 11 grams per ounce. One serving can provide the recommended fiber intake for the day, according to the American Dietetic Association.
Because of its high fiber content, chia seeds promote bowel regularity and healthy stool. The rich fiber content in chia seeds also helps people feel full more quickly because it absorbs a considerable amount of water and immediately expands in the stomach when eaten. Studies such as this proves that chia seeds help curb hunger and suppress the appetite, which in turn helps with weight loss.
Helps Fight Breast and Cervical Cancer Cells
Chia seeds being rich in ALA which is an Omega-3 fatty acid can help ladies battling breast and/or cervical cancers. In 2013, the Journal of Molecular Biochemistry found that ALA limited the growth of cancer cells in both breast and cervical cancers. They found that this Omega 3 fatty acid destroyed cancer cells without harming the healthy cells. Although more research still needs to be done to find out the deeper implications of ALA on other types of cancer, this discovery is good news for ladies struggling with these types of cancer.
How to Eat Chia Seeds
You don’t need to take a lot of it to enjoy the health benefits of Chia seeds; just 2 – 3 teaspoons a day is plenty. In fact, you can just start off with one teaspoon mixed with a liter of water since Chia seeds expands in water pretty easily. You can also add them to your breakfast cereal or sprinkle them on salads.
Chia seeds should be readily available at your local supermarket, depending on your location. If it’s not available in your local supermarket for one reason or another, there’s always Amazon.
Best Superfoods for Health 3: Flaxseeds
Flaxseeds are also known as Linseeds and have been cultivated for thousands of years in the Middle East but it’s only in the last couple of years that it became a popular health food.
Like Chia seeds, flaxseeds have a high concentration of Omega 3 fatty acids, plenty of fiber and adequate protein. They have health benefits such as improving the digestive system and a reduced risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer largely because of the fiber and lignans (estrogen-like chemical compounds with antioxidant qualities, able to scavenge free radicals in the body), present in the seeds.
They are easy to incorporate into your daily diet and grinding them or buying ground flaxseeds is the best way to make the most of their health benefits as it makes them easier to digest.
Health Benefits of Flaxseeds
For patients on cholesterol lowering medication, consumption of flaxseeds may reduce cholesterol more than if the patients relied solely on the medications. In one 12 month study, flaxseeds caused an additional 8.5% reduction in LDL, when compared to those not consuming flaxseeds.
Helps Reduce Menopausal Symptoms
Flaxseeds have also been found to reduce hot flashes in postmenopausal women who did not use estrogen replacement therapy because of the risk of breast cancer.
Improves Blood Sugar
In a study published by Nutrition Research, it was found that the consumption of flaxseeds improved glycemic control of obese men and women with prediabetes.
Another study showed that patients with Type 2 diabetes who supplemented 10 grams of flaxseed powder every day for 1 month showed an average improvement of 19.7% in fasting blood sugar levels.
Lowers Blood Pressure
The omega 3 fatty acids, lingnans and fiber in flaxseeds also shows great promise in treating hypertension as this study shows.
In a six-month study of patients with hypertension who consumed flaxseeds, the systolic blood pressure was reduced by 10 mmHg while the diastolic pressure was reduced by 7 mmHg. Patients with systolic blood pressure higher than 140 mmHg saw a reduction of 15 mmHg plus as a 7 mmHg decrease in diastolic blood pressure.
The risk of stroke was estimated to have decreased by 11 – 13% and the risk of heart disease lessened by 34% for each 5 mmHg reduction in systolic blood pressure, and each 2 to 5 mmHg reduction in diastolic blood pressure.
Reduces Risk of Heart Disease
Although traditionally the studies on heart disease prevention centered around fish oil based omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), plant based ALA has found to be equally effective in reducing the risk of heart disease.
Improves Digestive Health
Animal studies have also shown that the insoluble fiber in flaxseeds prevents both constipation and diarrhea.
The fiber in flaxseeds adds bulk to digestive waste thereby acting as a natural laxative to relieve constipation. The same fiber also increases the bulk of stools by binding water to them, and in this process prevents diarrhea.
Protects Against Cancer
In one study, lignans from flaxseeds have been found to stop prostate cancer cells from growing.
In another study flaxseed lignans decrease the estrogen and androgen levels of postmenopausal women, thereby lowering the risk of breast cancer.
How to Eat Flaxseeds
The easiest ways to include flaxseeds into your diet is just adding a teaspoon or 2 to your breakfast cereal or yoghurt. Sometimes raw and unripe flaxseeds contain toxins so the safest way to eat flaxseeds is to toast them first before adding them to cereals, salads etc.
Ladies who are experiencing menopausal symptoms can take 1 – 2 tablespoons of flaxseeds with their cereals or smoothies together with 1 tablespoon of flaxseed oil to relieve such symptoms.
It’s also better to either get ground flax seeds or grind them yourself it makes it much easier to digest. One great way to enjoy flaxseeds is to mix 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseeds with Greek yoghurt and raw honey (NOT commercial off-the-shelf honey, which is junk food).
Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil can easily last a few months if you put them in the fridge. Flaxseed oil, like fish oil will spoil easily if you store them at room temperature.
Flaxseeds should be readily available in your local supermarket or grocery store. If you’re unable to get them close to your location, there’s always my Amazon store again!
There you have it, 3 easily available superfoods that you should include in your diet; this will go a long way in preventing chronic diseases and enable us to live healthily in our golden years.
Stay tuned as I will be introducing more anti-aging superfoods in subsequent posts!