10 Green and Red Superfoods Everyone Should Eat
Eat More of These Red and Green Superfoods!
We're well aware of how overwhelming the transition to a healthier lifestyle can be, especially if you never really put much thought into the nutritional value of foods. For a majority of the population, convenience foods are a dietary staple. The problem is that most convenience foods are highly processed, loaded with added sugars, and devoid of essential nutrients (e.g. fatty acids and protein).
And even though things like fast food, candy, and fried snacks are typically cost-friendly, the medical expenses of treating chronic diseases like heart disease and type-2 diabetes will not be so cheap. Thankfully, you don't need to spend tons of money to eat a healthy diet. In fact, there are several so-called "superfoods" that are quite affordable.
In this handy guide, we'll outline some of the best nutrient-dense foods (read: "superfoods") to stock up on your next trip to the grocery store.
What Are Superfoods?
"Superfood” is a colloquial term often used in food industry marketing contexts and fitness subcultures to describe various nutrient-dense foods, such as leafy greens (e.g. kale and collard greens), cruciferous vegetables, chia seeds, and acai berries. Though there isn't a universally accepted definition of "superfood," it's implied that the high nutritional density of certain foods imparts many health benefits that may reduce the risk of chronic diseases, notably heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and obesity.
As such, superfoods may also be referred to as "functional foods," in that they serve a broader health-preserving purpose beyond their calorie and macronutrient contents. Intuitively, a healthy diet must provide all the essential nutrients (in adequate doses) or the body won't have the chemicals it needs to sustain itself and stay resilient.
But the rise of "flexible dieting" and "if it fits your macros (IIFYM)," which has been a long-overdue change of pace in health and fitness subculture, seems to have birthed a counterculture that overlooks small yet significant details of foods. Vitamins and minerals, for example, are necessary to support myriad biological processes that depend on them as cofactors, coenzymes, and cosubstrates. Likewise, many plant foods contain phytochemicals called flavonoids, which are potent antioxidants that help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation .
Of course, protein, fat, and carbohydrates are the major focus for active individuals. The irony is that micronutrients enable the body to metabolize and utilize macronutrients. Without the essential micronutrients, numerous enzymes wouldn't have the helping hand they need to carry out life-sustaining reactions, such as converting amino acid precursors into neurotransmitters. Even nonessential micronutrients, like green tea polyphenols, shouldn't be overlooked when it comes to healthy eating.
The salient takeaway here is that consuming plenty of (micro)nutrient-rich food can positively affect your health, vitality, and performance. If you base your food choices solely on macronutrient and calorie content, there's a high likelihood you'll be missing key components of a balanced diet.
Green Superfoods to Level Up Your Diet
Green, leafy vegetables are revered for their rich profiles of micronutrients and fiber. Spinach is a notable example of leafy greens that have claimed "superfood status." Spinach is chock full of micronutrients, namely B vitamins, zinc, and iron.
The combination of B vitamins in spinach may protect heart health by regulating homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid produced in the body that is readily converted to cysteine with the help of vitamin B12, vitamin B6, and vitamin B9. When these B vitamins are deficient in the diet, homocysteine levels rise and instigate chronic inflammation of blood vessels; in turn, the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure increases .
So, be like Popeye and eat your spinach! (Preferably the fresh varieties, not from a can.)
Kale is another leafy green vegetable with exceptional micronutrient content. A 100-gram serving of kale packs more than 100% of the reference daily intake (RDI) for vitamins A, C, and K. Kale also contains a high amount of glucosinolates -- a group of compounds that help eliminate toxins from the body by inducing specific liver enzymes .
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that's unique in that it contains a relatively high amount of indole-3-carbinol, a phytochemical that the body converts to diindolylmethane (DIM). If you've ever used Transparent Labs Vitality, odds are you're familiar with the estrogen-modulating properties of DIM.
Another benefit of broccoli is that it's very satiating due to its water and fiber content. On top of that, it's also loaded with carotenoids, vitamin K, vitamin C, folate (vitamin B9), and trace minerals. A cup (113 grams) of steamed broccoli will provide 10-20% of the RDI of these micronutrients.
Green Tea Leaves
Green tea leaves are prized in traditional Chinese medicine for their distinct polyphenols known as catechins, especially epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Recent clinical studies have shown that EGCG is a potent antioxidant with vast health benefits, including :
reducing oxidative stress in vascular tissue
lowering blood pressure
decreasing fasting blood triglycerides and LDL cholesterol
stabilizing blood glucose
While drinking green tea is a great lifestyle choice, supplementing with green tea leaf extract is another prudent option.
Okay, we realize there are "non-green" apple varieties out there, but the message remains the same: An apple a day keeps the doctor away! While the apple is not an "exotic fruit," it boasts a stellar profile of polyphenols, including quercetin, and a high content of vitamin C.
Research even suggests that those who consume apples regularly have a lower risk of heart disease and heart attack . These health benefits may be tied to quercetin, which has been shown to reduce inflammation, risk of blood clots, and blood pressure .
5 Red Superfoods That Shouldn't Go Unnoticed
Turmeric is a perennial plant with rich golden color and distinct taste, often used in curry dishes. This plant superfood has been used for millennia in traditional Chinese medicine for treating aches/pains, fever, arthritis, autoimmune conditions, and much more.
Turmeric is full of a promising class of heavily studied compounds known as curcuminoids, which are potent antioxidants and immune system enhancers . One particularly important curcuminoid is curcumin, which is abundant in the root of the turmeric plant.
Recent research suggests that curcumin may reduce the expression of genes that induce muscle-wasting (sarcopenia) pathways in the body . In other words, curcumin appears to be an anti-catabolic compound and can help you maintain lean body mass, especially when nutrient and protein intake is limited.
Furthermore, a recent meta-analysis concludes that curcumin may promote healthy cardiovascular function by modulating blood pressure, as well as alleviate joint pains/aches, reduce inflammation, and support immunity .
Goji berry, also called the Lycium berry or wolfberry, has more iron than spinach and more vitamin C than oranges (per gram). Goji also contains a high amount of zeaxanthin, an eye-supporting compound similar to lutein that also increases the absorption of essential fatty acids such as EPA and DHA [10, 11]. (If you take an omega-3 fish oil supplement, goji berry is a must-have in your diet.)
Moreover, clinical research shows that goji has potent immune-regulating benefits, particularly in older adults .
Pomegranate has three times more antioxidants than green tea and red wine, containing rich amounts of vitamin K, vitamin C, polyphenols, and potassium. Research has demonstrated that regularly eating pomegranate may promote healthy blood pressure and cardiovascular function by blocking the actions of angiotensin - a peptide that normally makes your blood vessels constrict (and therefore increase the pressure of your blood against vessels) .
Montmorency Cherry (Tart Cherry)
Montmorency cherry, known commonly as tart cherry, is often sold in the form of a healthy fruit juice in supermarkets. Tart cherries are loaded with B vitamins, vitamin A, iron, calcium, magnesium, and even omega-3 essential fatty acids.
Research suggests that tart cherries have more than five times the antioxidant capacity than sweet cherry varieties . Other evidence suggests that tart cherry can help reduce blood pressure and ameliorate the symptoms of gout by reducing levels of uric acid in the body [15, 16].
A simple way to distinguish tart cherries from sweet cherry varieties is by their color; tart cherries have a bright red color, whereas sweet cherries are generally darker - like a maroon hue. Be wary that tart cherry juice you find at the supermarket may contain high amounts of added sugars. Your best bet is to find pure tart cherry juice (without added sugar) or simply whole tart cherries.
Raspberries are one of the most beneficial berries, containing a vast array of potent phytonutrients, such as catechins, ellagic acid, and quercetin, which are shown in clinical research to promote anti-inflammatory actions in the body and support the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals .
Raspberries also contain an exclusive nutrient called raspberry ketone, which gives them their ruby color. Research demonstrates that raspberry ketone has distinct actions in the body and significantly boosts catecholamine-induced lipolysis (fat breakdown) .
How to Get More Superfoods in Your Diet
The good thing about all of the foods mentioned above is that they're generally quite affordable. Assuming your goal is to eat five to six 100-gram servings of green vegetables per day, which is the minimum recommended amount for overall health, you shouldn't need to spend much more than an "extra" $3 to $5 per day.
If you have the budget, opt for natural/organic vegetables as they are cultivated with fewer pesticides. Farmer's markets and food coops can be good places to find raw organic fruits and veggies at reasonable prices. (Don't sweat it if you can't buy organic; "regular" vegetables are still plenty healthy.)
Better yet, superfood powders like Transparent Labs Prebiotic Greens and Transparent Labs Reds make it a cinch to get more nutrient-rich, organic foods in your diet without breaking the bank. These are also a godsend when you're too busy to sit down and eat a whole-food meal. Life can get pretty crazy, but that shouldn't stop you from taking care of yourself!