The science of superfoods: Why are they important?

The choices we make at a grocery store roughly rest on our knowledge of what is necessary and good for our health. We tend to rank a plethora of items in the store based on their health benefits. But what is a measure of health in food items, and how do we replace one item with the other? How do we include superfoods?

This is where we flip the package and access the nutrition label. The values surrounding carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals, vitamins, etc. deliver a message and guide our decision. We determine values that suit our needs and goals the best, returning to the grocery store with improved commitment. This commitment is what adds the ‘super’ quality into the food you pick and eat.

Superfoods are not some rare, limited edition stuff, nor are they a part of some mystical diet plan. These are food items that you are used to consuming now and then — think eggs or quinoa. These food items have a great nutrition profile. They pack more nutrients per calorie, fulfilling your nutritional needs better than other food items, with fewer calories.


Why do you need superfoods?

Your fitness goal is one of the strong determinants of your nutritional needs. If you are interested in weight loss, the general principle is to eat fewer calories than you need throughout your day. And as you plan a caloric deficit diet, you need to make sure that you fulfill your macronutrient — carbohydrates, proteins, fats — requirements.

This is where superfoods can come in handy. Most superfoods can be dense in one or two specific nutrients, bearing a few calories. And as you learn to identify your nutritional needs, you get better at identifying which food item qualifies as a superfood for you.

For instance, if you are trying to manage polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), consuming unsaturated fat and quality protein can help with the condition. Avocados, salmon, and eggs can then be your preferred superfoods.

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Other specialties of superfoods

When you walk to a grocery store, you will need a certain amount of energy to get there. This energy comes from oxygen (respiration) and a series of chemical reactions that convert food into energy (metabolism).

These simple processes that remain in operation without attracting attention, release free molecules, which are very unstable and cause cells to age faster by damaging them. Superfoods can protect your cells and slow down such aging. Most superfoods are loaded with antioxidants, which bind to cell-damaging free radicals, rendering them harmless.

The food we eat not only nourishes us. There are bacteria that live in our gut, which help it digest food. What we eat also has to nourish this intestinal flora, and superfoods are good for it.

The high fiber content is another quality that superfoods possess. Fiber and other nutrients balance the intestinal flora, reducing inflammation in the intestine. This also allows the intestine to better absorb nutrients from the food you eat.

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Incorporating superfoods in your diet

It would be useful to note that the effort should go into incorporating superfoods in your existing diet. There is no line, which a food item needs to cross in order to be qualified as a ‘superfood’. It is about picking foods that are rich in nutrients. To keep it simple, start by adding more whole foods, vegetables and fruits to your diet. Such a diet will fill the nutritional gap caused by any single food item. As you start getting your macronutrients right, your micronutrients — vitamins and minerals — begin to fall in place. Combining a variety of fruits and vegetables can have a similar effect as nutrient-rich superfoods. Or, you can hit the grocery store with a list of the following superfoods.


1. Avocados

Avocados are great for heart health. They are high in monounsaturated fatty acids, and rich in antioxidants. They also contain lutein, which helps protect from age-related cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. They may also ease the pain caused by arthritis.

Consume one-fourth to half an avocado a day and not more, especially if your goal is to lose weight as 100 gm of avocado contains 15g fat.


2. Chia seeds

Chia seeds pack tremendous amounts of antioxidants, and are loaded with fibre. They tame free radicals that notoriously damage cells, and nourish the gut flora. Chia seeds are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and unsaturated fats, which is likely to lower cholesterol and improve heart health.

Consume in moderation, keeping your nutrient requirements in mind, as 100 gm of chia seeds contain 31 gm of fat.


3. Spinach

Spinach is one of the most nutritious vegetables, and rightly so. It is low in calories and contains a good amount of vitamins, minerals, and fibre. It packs in a heavy dose of antioxidants, and is great for brain health as it contains folate. It can lower your cholesterol through its high vitamin B6 content. And by regulating sodium levels, can also control blood pressure.

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4. Eggs

Eggs are a great source of protein, as they contain all essential amino acids. They lower the chances of getting type 2 diabetes, all the while decreasing the non-preferred LDL cholesterol, and builds stronger bones.Consume eggs in moderation as they are high in fat.


5. Indian salmon (Rawas)

Rawas is rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which can improve your mood, attention span, and overall brain development. It is also rich in vitamin B12, which helps in building immunity.


6. Broccoli

Broccoli is a great pick if you have metabolic diseases, gut issues, or diabetes, as it is high in fibre, which helps in regulating blood glucose levels. It is also rich in vitamins C and A, which have an anti-aging effect on cells by protecting them from damage. It contains various carotenoids that have a positive effect on vision as well.


The last word

The biggest contribution that superfoods make is that they draw our attention to the nutritional quality of the food items we eat. As you get a better grip on what your nutritional needs are, you will become adept at spotting superfoods. Your aim is to create a balanced diet that is in tune with your fitness goal or helps you navigate any health condition. And anything you eat that fulfills this aim qualifies as a superfood.

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