SUPERFOOD is a word!
Evidently it really is. I honestly thought it was just a term used by nerdy food people when describing things kale and grass-fed beef. "Superfood" is defined as "nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being." Makes sense, that's exactly what I thought it was. Nutrient density refers to foods that have a bounty of nutrients but are relatively low in calories. These foods contain vitamins, minerals, clean protein, healthy fats and low-glycemic carbohydrates. Our food can either be the best form of medicine or the slowest form of poison. Unfortunately, a calorie is not just a calorie. 100 calories worth of Oreo's are not going to do your body the same favors as 100 calories of spinach. So lets get into it!
Of course this would be #1, I had to get it out of the way. And who hasn't heard of kale anyway? There are some people who will say kale is not all of what it's cracked up to be, maybe they're right. Let's dive into the statistics and see what's what in this fad of all green fads.
Kale is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, quickly becoming one of the most popular health foods on the shelf today. Just one cup of kale boasts a high number of antioxidants in the form of flavonoids and carotenoids. Within the flavonoids, kaempferol is a primary antioxidant in kale, followed by a flavonoid called quercetin. You're likely to be absorbing around 60 milligrams of kaempferol and 29 milligrams of quercetinin one cup of kale. Within the carotenoids, lutein and beta-carotene are its standout antioxidants.
Without sufficient intake of antioxidants, our oxygen metabolism can become deflated over time. This can lead to a series of issues called "oxidative stress." Within the antioxidants of kale, anti-inflammatory nutrients are found to help regulate of our inflammatory system, which if compromised, can lead to chronic inflammation. This will be a recurring theme throughout this article which will highlight oxidative stress and chronic inflammation being risk factors for performance debilitation at best and development of cancer at worst.
Vitamins & Minerals found in Kale
One cup of kale, or 67 grams is around 34 calories, and hosts an off the charts array of vitamins and minerals including but not limited to;
- Vitamin K- 547 mcg (684% DV)
- Vitamin A- 10,300 IU (206% DV)
- Vitamin C- 80 IU (134% DV)
- Potassium- 299 mg (9% DV)
- Manganese- 27% DV
- Vitamin B6- 11% DV
- Fiber- 10% DV
- Calcium- 9% DV
- Magnesium- 6% DV
- Vitamin B2- 7% DV
- Omega-3 Fats- 121 mg (5% DV)
One cup of kale also contains 10,652 mcg of beta-carotene, which works with vitamin A, lutein and zeaxanthin to promote healthy eye sight, skin and hair repair, tissue growth as well as protect against infection from pathogenic organisms.
Often overlooked, vitamin K is necessary for normal blood clotting, antioxidant activity, and bone health. Vitamin K, along with a host of other nutrients found in kale are fat soluble, meaning it is best to consume kale with some sort of healthy fat to make the phytonnutrients more more bioavailable. Examples of healthy fats might include; grass-fed butter, MCT oil, coconut oil, avocado, avocado oil or uncooked, undamaged extra virgin olive oil.
One of my favorite ways to eat kale, outside of smoothies, is in an omelet.
- Steam a handful of kale in a covered frying pan on a low flame for about 5-10 minutes.
- Drain the water.
- With the flame still low, add one tablespoon of grass-fed butter and crack 2-4 eggs on top.
- Cover it back up, let cook on low for about 7-10 minutes just until the whites are cooked- do not damage the nutrient dense egg yolks by blasting the eggs with high heat.
- Add sea-salt, garlic, cayenne or black pepper and enjoy with half an avocado. Easy-peezy.
- (Optional) Take a picture for Instagram or Snapchat and use hashtag #healthyasfuck
#2 Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are one of the most nutrient dense and healthiest foods in the world. They are tiny black seeds from the plant Salvia Hispanica, cousin to the mint plant. Chia seeds are packed with fiber, clean protein, healthy fats (55% of which are omega-3 fatty acids-more than salmon!) They are also high in linoleic acid, a fatty acid which helps the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K as well as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese. There are also a high amount of anti-oxidants, which as advised prior, have a host of anti-cancer and long-term health promoting benefits.
A two-tablespoon serving of chia seeds has 11 grams of carbohydrates almost all of which are a form of dietary, soluble fiber. In other words, they are technically "carb-free". The same serving holds 4 grams of protein, and comes in at around 120 calories.
The protein, healthy fats and fiber make chia seeds a great tool for weight loss, keeping you full for longer, as fiber is supposed to do. A superfood for sure.
Chia seeds are easy to add to any diet. They go great on top of yogurt, in a smoothie, dark chocolate avocado ice cream, on a salad or as a seasoning. They don't taste like anything, but have a soft, poppy seed like texture. Make sure to carry a toothpick though- these things can make your smile pretty grungy looking.
The next few foods are a couple of my favorites, starting with coconut. This superstar food is highly nutritious, rich in fiber, and packed with essential vitamins and minerals. Used in mind-blowing cuisine and as a common beauty regimen, coconut has been touted by star athletes and Hollywood's elite in the last few years.
- Supports a healthy immune system
- Helps keep hair and skin youthful, preventing wrinkles and sagging skin
- Promotes weight loss
- Provides a natural source of quick energy from healthy fats enhancing cognitive, physical and athletic performance
- Improves digestion and absorption of nutrients
- Increases heart health and prevents degenerative disease
- Improves HDL cholesterol, the cholesterol responsible for rebuilding cells and mitochondria funtion
- Supports thyroid function
Very few folks will take the time to buy a coconut and chainsaw it open to make their own concoctions, so most coconut derivatives will come from the following;
Coconut oil or MCT oil (medium-chain triglycerides)- coconut oil is made up of a series of fatty acids, the shorter the chain, the faster your body will digest it and start to burn fat. Most coconut oils are made up of several medium and long-chain fatty acids, where a quality MCT oil will provide only the C8 and C10 (the shortest of the fatty acids) and are an exceptional tool for fat burning as they're directly converted into ketones- a source of energy that puts you in "fat burning mode" as oppose to relying on glucose (carbs).
Shredded Coconut or Coconut Chips- a great seasoning for seafood, yogurt, or as a snack right out of the bag. The benefits of coconut can easily be out-done by added sugar and flavors. To get the maximum benefit, opt for an unsweetened, organic bag of coconut chips. Not that delicious coconut needs extra sweetener, but you can always opt to add a natural sweet like stevia or xylitol.
Coconut milk- BPA free, canned, full-fat coconut milk is best. Often, boxed coconut milk's are watered down and mixed with artificial ingredients. The coconut milk becoming diluted also lowers its benefits.
Coconut flour- Coconut flour is a staple in my pantry. It is a wonderful source of fiber, healthy, saturated fats and a beautiful alternative to plain white flour made from wheat and high gluten.
Coconut water- I'm a little weary about this one. Coconut water has the most sugar out of any part of the coconut. It's marketed as a low calorie "sports drink" touted as a healthy alternative to Gatorade. It has four-times the amount of potassium as a single banana and a small amount of sodium, a very positive charge of electrolytes. A healthy alternative to Gatorade indeed, I'd still opt for water over coconut water post-workout, unless I really felt like I needed the sugar- which i personally wouldn't.
There is a common misconception that is becoming more and more debunked by the day, and that is eating fat makes you fat, but the right kind of fats do the exact opposite! A typical avocado contains around 30 grams of fat, 20 of which are health-promoting monounsaturated fats and oleic acid nutrients (omega-9) which help to lower LDL - the "bad" cholesterol and balance your hormones.
Avocados assist in hydrating your cells, helping keep your skin soft and young. Avocados are high in B vitamins, vitamin K, vitamin E, vitamin A and have 35% more potassium than a banana. Also, with high levels of omega-9 fats, Avocados can help naturally balance hormones! The unique makeup of this superfood helps the body fight inflammation and reduces the risk of arthritis, and it's damn delicious.
Avocado can be used in so many ways. Whether in a salad, guacamole or even as a dessert. Opt for hass avocados. They provide the most bang for your buck as far as nutrient density and amount of healthy fats per gram.
Avocado oil is also a key derivative of the avocado that is an optimal for cooking due to its high smoke point (520°F!). Use avocado oil instead of olive oil, or any vegetable oils (which you should work to cut out anyway) to avoid damaged, oxidized fats which can be a major contributor to inflammation.
Some really great avocado recipes:
Another favorite superfood of mine. Cinnamon can enhance almost any sweet treat you sprinkle it on and can make your coffee taste like dessert. Valued for its warming qualities, manganese and iron. Cinnamon slows the emptying of the stomach, helping you feel fuller for longer, increases insulin sensitivity and works to reduce spikes in blood sugar. This should be a diabetic's or pre-diabetic's go-to. Polyphenol's in cinnamon help protect your cells against free-radical damage that can cause aging and inflammation. Long-term inflammation is the cause to many diseases such as cancer and gut issues.
Cinnamon's ability to regulate blood sugar can help body burn fat and lose weight. It tastes great and is generally pretty cheap. Use Ceylon cinnamon ("true” cinnamon) over "regular" stuff. It has a sweeter and milder taste and has more nutrient density per gram. My favorite way to use cinnamon is in my giant breakfast/post-workout green smoothies or on sprinkled on top of my Bulletproof coffee.
This is a great one. Cacao is the main ingredient in cocoa and chocolate and is a staple in my diet and most of the sweet concoctions I whip up on the weekends. As a recovering sugar addict, I was a little iffy about just how beneficial dark chocolate bars and flour-less cupcakes could actually be for me, but it seems to be quite surprising how well I've responded. Since replacing Entenmann's Chocolate Fudge cake with homemade dark chocolate, sea salt and almond butter nibs and slammin cupcakes, I've seen and felt a major difference, so I actively made a point to find out why.
High in antioxidants, chocolate with a high cacao content can enhance your mood, protect your skin from UV sun damage, boost cardio-vascular health and has numerous benefits for your nervous system. Antioxidants protect the body by reducing damage due to oxygen, such as that caused by free radicals. Free radical damage is a factor in the development of atherosclerosis (a blood vessel disease), can cause cancer, and can cause other health issues. By donating electrons to free radicals, the free radicals are neutralized, preventing them from causing harm. Raw cacao has nearly four times the antioxidant power of your average dark chocolate and more than 20 times than that of blueberries.
Just an ounce of two cocoa per day can help lower blood pressure, reduce blood clots, improve the skin, sharpen the mind and slow down the signs of aging. Wow. Calcium, carotene, protein, thiamin, riboflavin, magnesium, sulfur, flavonoids, and essential fatty acids are also present in cacao. Another great source of flavnoids with anti-inflammatory properties is chocolate's sister; vanilla.
Pastured or free-range eggs are produced by chickens that are grass-fed or raised in pastures rather than being confined to cages and fed on grains. Difference? Pastured eggs have 20 times more omega-3 fats than eggs from factory hens. Eggs are a great source of protein; essential for building and maintaining muscle. Grass fed hens that are raised in pastures maintain a diet that is complemented by grass and small bugs that give the eggs extra nutritional value than those fed primarily on grains. As well as being restricted on space, factory hens are fed on antibiotics, which in turn pass through to the eggs they produce. As Donald Trump would say "No good".
Turmeric is a spice commonly used in Indian food ala curry and is a potent spice which contains the super-power compound; curcumin. Curcumin has been found to help fight diabetes, boost the immune system, prevent cancer, reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and reduce inflammation, which as mentioned earlier can be a foreshadowing to an array of different health problems. The Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) rated turmeric as the 4th highest antioxidant-rich herb with an ORAC score of 159,277. An ORAC score measures the antioxidant and chemical levels of food. Turmeric is a key superfood for muscle building and accelerates the healing process. Turmeric has also been found to lower stress levels, improve blood flow, and act as a nootropic, making the brain sharper and improving focus. It can be easily used on salads, burgers, hummus, or in shakes or tea. This super-spice is well worth the $3 it may cost for a shaker-full. Bonus points if you can incorporate a small amount of black pepper with your turmeric which will enhance it's bio-availability significantly.
My favorite use of turmeric is as an alternative to Tylenol or Advil, usually in tea. It works great.
I had to save my favorite for last. As much as I'd love to put my other love on here (bacon), I'd be a little out-of-whack to try and pass that off as a superfood. Coffee, on the other hand actually has some surprisingly beneficial characteristics. While being virtually calorie free in its plain (black) form, the caffeine in coffee also has the ability to stimulate thermogenesis; the way your body turns food (calories) into energy. In a diet or exercise program geared towards weight loss, this increase of energy metabolism can also play a roll in speeding up fat loss (the caffeine can increase the initial energy you have for your workout as too!)
In a study conducted by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it was reported that drinking four or five cups of coffee a day lowered the risk of colorectal cancer by 15 percent while research at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard School of Public Health concluded that drinking coffee in moderation also protects against heart failure. A Swedish study also determined that six eight-ounce (48 oz) cups of coffee a day linked to a whopping 31% lower risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS). Coffee (and tea!) is also a great source of polyphenols, a group of antioxidants, which by now you've read enough of their benefits of to pass a small bio-chem test.
As great as that all sounds, coffee's benefits may go out the window if attached to the wrong ingredients. Using sugar or faux-sugars like Splenda (sucralose) or Equal (nutrasweet/aspartame), and damaged fats like ones found in cheap heavy cream and ultra-pasturized milk will not only decrease the benefits of coffee, but hold to the potential to do some real long-term damage. The best way to consume coffee is in it's purest form, but if that doesn't do it for you, stevia (a sweetener), organic vanilla, cinnamon, coconut oil, emulsified MCT, are all significant upgrades to your cup-o-joe.
For a significant increase in fat burning, try Bulletproof coffee. Blend a tbsp of grass-fed butter, 1 tsp-1 tbsp of MCT oil in a high speed blender until frothy and add cinnamon and stevia to taste. The coffee comes out with a smooth latte-esqu texture and provides a stable flow of energy while the healthy fats put your fat metabolism into overdrive, aka ketosis.
When you've decided to change up your lifestyle- to lose weight, enhance physical performance, avoid spending excessive amounts of money on fast food and snacks or just to generally increase your health (or all of the above!), it is important to ask; what exactly is this food doing FOR me? Research has shown that obesity doubles your risk of heart failure and triples the risk of breast cancer in women. The average middle age weight gain of 22 lbs increases your risk of a heart attack by 75%. Analyzing the nutritional value of your food may be the first step in creating a truly healthy lifestyle. Don't be afraid to question everything.