How to Use Superfoods to Up Your Nutrient Intake and Fight Disease

by Shannon Gierl

By now you've probably at least heard the term "superfoods" (if you're like me, maybe more than you want to - I swear it is EVERYWHERE these days) and you may be wondering what exactly all the hype is.  Have they discovered a new food that comes from a different planet (Krypton?!) and will make you faster than a speeding bullet?  Uh, sorry, not yet.  But superfoods are pretty cool and can be found right here on Mother Earth (some in your backyard!).

So what are superfoods exactly and why the name?  Basically, superfood is a term given to any edible food that, calorie for calorie, contains a really high concentration of the nutrients our bodies need (when compared with other foods).  So what is the cut-off? What puts a food into the magical "super" category?  Well, there really isn't one.  Because of this, we have what I call "superfood-creep", in which all moderately-healthy foods somehow end up being thrown into the superfood bucket.  Low-fat yogurt? Try again.

You can really boil it down to two categories: superfood foods that you would normally eat and can find in almost any grocer (think leafy greens like kale, spinach, broccoli, collards) and superfood supplements  (this is a term I have coined - so you probably won't find it out there on the world wide web).  Superfood supplements are things that you can add to "normal" foods or take a quick shot of (hello, wheatgrass!) but they probably won't make up a significant portion of your calories for a day.  But that's kind of what makes them so magical!

Want more deets?  Below is a list of some of my favorite superfoods.  It is by no means exhaustive, but I wanted to give you a glimpse into the ones that I actually use on a regular basis, and how you can start using them, too!

Cacao

What makes it super:  Raw cacao contains possibly the most antioxidants found in any food. It is also extremely high in magnesium and iron, two of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the human population.  But don't get too excited.  That chocolate that you have stashed in your desk drawer at work, while it is derived from cacao, it definitely isn't as "super".  Most chocolate in our food supply is processed with the Dutch Method, which heats the cacao at such a high temperature that it is essentially stripped of all its goodness and left with just the flavor.  And then in goes the added sugar, milk, soy lecithin, and a bunch of other things that are definitely not superfoods.  Because of this, make sure to attain certified organic raw cacao in a powder or nib form.      

How to eat it:  I put cacao nibs or powder in my smoothies, and sometimes in my oatmeal.  I also make my own trail mix by combining cacao nibs, dried cherries, and cashews and almonds. 

Coconut Oil

What makes it super:  It is a big immunity booster! It has anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral properties (so important for the cold and flu season that is now upon us!).  It also has amazingly good-for-you fats.  The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil are processed differently than other fats in that they are easily absorbed and sent directly to your liver, which converts them to energy!  It supports a healthy metabolic function (read: can help manage weight!).

How to eat it:  I use unrefined coconut oil as butter on gluten free bread (Food for Life is my favorite brand).  Use refined coconut oil in place of your regular sautéing oil.  You can also just take a teaspoon of it in the morning - it is sweet and tastes like coconut! (duh)

Chia Seed

What makes it super: Chia seeds are chock full of antioxidants and minerals your body needs to fight disease and function optimally.  They also contain omega-3 fatty acids (those are the "good fats" you always hear about) that are essential for optimal brain health as well as can lower your risk for heart disease.  And perhaps the most "moving" characteristic of chia seeds is that they contain a lot of fiber.  Bottoms up!

How to eat it:  Chia seeds can be used a lot like cacao: put them in your smoothies (I put them in after I blend as I like the texture of the whole seed), or in your oatmeal. You can even just put a tablespoon in your water for an energy boost on the go.  Bonus: combine 1 tbsp of chia seeds with 2 tbsp water and you have the perfect vegan egg replacer for baking recipes!

Maca Powder

What makes it super:  Many people don't know exactly what maca is, because it usually comes in powder form.  It is actually a root, used by ancient Peruvians to increase strength and endurance.  It is full of nutrients and is used to increase energy, promote fertility in women, increase sexual desire, and as an immune enhancer.

How to eat it:  Maca has a very strong flavor, so I usually put it in my smoothies along with peanut or almond butter, chocolate plant based protein, cacao, coconut milk, and kale or spinach.

Seaweed

What makes it super:  Seaweed gets a bad rap, in my opinion.  It litters our white beaches when the tide comes in and can make taking a dip in the ocean a little messy.  Heck, us Westerners even inverted our sushi rolls so we could use less seaweed and not have to look at it as we woofed down our fried, baked, mayo-ed and sweetened sushi rolls.  But seaweed is actually one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet.  It contains 10 times more calcium than milk!  And the chemical make-up of seaweed is similar to human blood plasma, so it's a great blood purifier and regulator of our circulatory system.  Seaweed also contains iodine, which helps make our thyroid gland happy (and our thyroid gland regulate our metabolism, so you definitely want to keep it healthy!).  Finally, it is a chelator, which means it helps rid the body of heavy metals and toxins (which is really important after you've had 5 spicy tuna rolls :) ).

How to eat it:  There are many different types of seaweed and they come in different forms. I sprinkle dulse flakes on my stiry fry, and eggs.  You can put a strip of kombu into your pot as you cook beans, rice, or any grain, and it will make them easier to digest (as well as diffuse all its amazing goodness into your grain).  And of course, you can use nori to make your own sushi rolls (skip the frying and mayo-ing of course!).  Find a good variety of seaweed at your local health food store like Whole Foods.

Aloe Vera

What makes it super:  This superfood can basically be thought of as a cure-all medicinal plant. Beyond having an incredible amount of vitamins and minerals and aiding in digestion and detoxification, it is a very effective immune booster.  Aloe has anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-biotic properties and is a disinfectant.  So next time you feel a cold coming on or just feel run-down, take a shot of aloe vera juice every morning for a few weeks.  I took it in the weeks leading up to my wedding so I wouldn't catch anything and I would feel healthy and look radiant on my Big Day!

How to eat it:  As I mentioned above you can take the juice of the aloe plant as a shot.  Many groceries will have organic aloe juice (a common brand is Lakewood Organic).  At some health food stores like Whole Foods you can buy an entire aloe leaf.  Then you can 'fillet' it and use the inner gel in smoothies!

Super Greens

What makes them super:  Everyone knows you should eat your veggies.  But did you know that some veggies have extra nutrient power?  Phyto-nutrients are the name given to natural chemicals found only in plants.  They are usually responsible for giving plants their pigment.  So that is why you hear the advice to go for vividly colored veggies like kale, beets, etc.  Some great superfood greens are kale, spinach, broccoli, parsley, dandelion greens, and endive.

How to eat them:  It's a little more obvious how to get these guys into your diet than some of the superfood "supplements" I listed above.  A salad is always an easy, time-saving method.  I also like juicing and blending many of these greens: dandelion, kale, romaine in my juices, and spinach or kale in my smoothies.  Get creative - you can blend or juice almost anything!

So, last week I was on local Fox19 in Cincinnati and I shared some superfoods on the morning news! Check out the segment for a visual on what exactly all these amazing foods look like and how you can get them in your Radiant Bod!

That's it from me!  Now I'd love to hear from you!  Do you have a favorite superfood?  Leave a comment below and let me know what it is, especially if it is something not listed here!  

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