The term has become as ubiquitous as it is vague. Products from chocolate bars to convenience drinks claim to contain them, but what are they and what separates them from regular foods? Can they make you fly or see through walls? Can they make you faster or smarter or live forever? And if not, what is so super about them?
To be clear, the ability to fly and the acquisition of X-ray vision are not associated with superfood consumption. Increased athletic ability, brain function, and life span? Possibly. Superfoods have high phytonutrient (plant nutrient) or micronutrient content, are loaded with antioxidants, and have positive medicinal properties - without most of the side effects that come with traditional western medicines. They are whole foods harvested directly from nature and altered only by, say, dehydration, if at all. They do not come solely from remote Amazonian rain forests, but are growing in our own American pumpkin patches, forests, and fields. Here are six of these powerful foods, demystified, and how you can painlessly incorporate them into your diet.
6. Raw Camu Camu Powder
Camu camu is a berry that grows on low-lying shrubs in the Amazon that is freeze-dried to make a powder supplement. One teaspoon of this contains nearly 12-times your recommended daily value of vitamin C. ONE TEASPOON!
So why is that good? In alternative medicine, some people use overdoses of vitamin C to treat all sorts of ailments, from hepatitis to cancer. Medical practitioners also tout camu camu as an excellent anti-depressant... and, uh, a highly effective antidote to the effects of the herpes virus. The powder is very tart, so adding it to smoothies will lend a tangy citrus flavor.
5. Pumpkin and Pumpkin Seeds
Yes, those big orange globes we've been mutilating every October for as long as anyone can remember are actually fantastic for your health. They're a good source of vitamin E (fat soluble vitamin that neutralizes free radicals, warding off cancer and cardiac disease), thiamin (cardiovascular health, et. al), niacin (nervous system function, healthy hormone production, circulation), vitamin B6 (immune function), folate (especially essential during pregnancy), iron, magnesium and phosphorus, an excellent source of vitamin A (beta carotene - vision, reproduction, bone growth), vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium (heart, kidney, nerve, and digestive function), copper (nervous and immune system function) and manganese (metabolism, bone health). Of course they are also extremely high in dietary fiber. The seeds add cholesterol-fighting health phytosterols, tryptophan, zinc, protein, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fat to pumpkin's health portfolio. You can add fresh or canned pumpkin to stews, soups, and chilis, make pumpkin pie, and add the seeds to oatmeal or salads, or roll homemade veggie burgers in them pre-baking for a delicious crunch and smooth flavor.
In my opinion, maca probably belongs in the number one superfood slot, but seeing as one of maca's most notable effects is an increase in sexual appetite, I suppose it's fitting that I just couldn't wait to list it. Maca comes from a turnip-like vegetable found in Peru and has been used in Andean societies as both food and currency for thousands of years. The root is an excellent adaptogen, which means it regulates endocrine systems in the body and mind that help us cope with stress. Maca increases stamina in the bedroom (and animal studies have backed humans' extensive empirical experiments in this area) and on the battlefield, and combats fatigue. Maca root is packed with vitamins, plant sterols, many essential minerals, amino acids and healthy fats. It has a caramelly, honey-like flavor which blends nicely in with puddings, smoothies, or a bowl of oats. Great for athletes and anyone looking for a caffeine-free morning boost that kinda makes you feel like you're high - and yet totally clear-headed. (Yes, I love my maca.)
3. Bee Pollen
Beekeepers tout bee pollen as "nature's perfect food" because it contains a great balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat, as well as a huge array of micronutrients. In fact, I once interviewed local beekeeper David Rukin who swore that man could survive on water and bee pollen alone. "It has all the vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes that any animal needs," he explained. Potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, manganese, copper, vitamins C, E, and B-6 are among the nutrients commonly found in pollen, but the exact nutritional values will vary depending on the environment from which the pollen is collected. I eat a spoonful of bee pollen with a cup of coffee or tea in the morning, but its creamy, nutty, honey-like (but also a bit waxy) flavor makes it an easy addition to cereal, smoothies, or soy yogurt.
All berries are extremely good for you, as they're all packed with antioxidants, phytonutrients, and vitamin C. But blueberries are among the antioxidant-densest foods on the planet and are certainly one of the world's most functional (and delicious!) foods. Blueberry consumption has been linked to lower blood pressure and faster metabolism, mostly because of the fruit's potent antioxidant anthocyanins (the pigment that gives them their purplish hue). One study showed that blueberries (actually blueberry juice) can enhance performance on memory tests and improve cognitive function in adults with age-related memory loss. Another suggests that blueberries can lower LDL (the bad cholesterol) better than statin drugs, reducing the risk of coronary heart disease without the dangerous side effects. Blueberries may also inhibit the growth of breast and other cancer cells. They've been shown to decrease depression, reduce blood sugar, and they may even fight Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases as well.
To make sure you get all the benefits of the living enzymes of the fruit, it's best to consume blueberries raw or to drink fresh raw juice, rather than to consume them in boiled jellies or baked pies. They're extremely versatile - they go well on salads, in smoothies, on top of yogurts, or of course just on their own. Just make sure to always buy all berries organic as the thin skins of these fruits make them especially susceptible to penetration by pesticides.
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1. Raw cacao
You hear it all the time: "Chocolate is good for you." But you may have figured that was just something people say to make themselves feel better after gorging themselves on a big plastic bag of fun-sized Mr. Goodbars. Chocolate is indeed good for you, but not in conjunction with the sugar and milk fat that typical candy bars contain. Raw cacao powder (cocoa is the "adulterated" processed cousin) is the pure powder of the chocolate bean. It contains theobromine, a mild stimulant that some believe helps to fight depression. Raw cacao is very high in antioxidant flavanoids, which offer free-radical fighting, anti-cancer benefits. Chocolate's essential fatty acids may also help the body to raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. Buy raw cacao and swirl a tablespoon in with your coffee (not when the coffee is too hot, though, or you will defeat the purpose of having bought raw chocolate), make chocolate smoothies with almond milk, berries, banana and raw cacao, or make chocolate chia seed pudding to make use of two superfoods in one great raw dessert.