By now, we all know that not all foods are created equal. Even in the upper echelons of quality and nutrition, healthy and natural foods are not good for us in equal measure.
Superfoods are those vegetables, fruits, legumes, meats, herbs and dairy products that pack significant nutritional punch through high phytonutrient content and other health-protecting properties.
These foods, some nutrition experts suggest, may positively affect our overall health, help prevent cancer, keep our cholesterol in check, and even improve our mood.
From a financial perspective, making superfoods part of our regular diet can give us more bang for our food budget buck, and just may help keep us healthier longer. If you’re considering how to stretch your grocery budget in the direction of better nutrition, consider adding these 14 superfoods to your shopping list:
Beans of any variety are an inexpensive source of low-fat protein — ideal for those on a low-meat or meat-free diet. The high fiber content of beans can help improve colon health, and beans’ potassium, magnesium and iron content are essential cancer-fighting phytonutrients. Try making beans a regular ingredient in soups, as a side dish with lean meat entrees, or as part of a salad.
Loaded with antioxidants and high in potassium and vitamin C, blueberries are truly a superfood. They may reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease, plus they have proven anti-inflammatory properties. Try mixing blueberries with yogurt, adding them to hot or cold cereal, or eating them as a solo snack.
Broccoli may be nature’s perfect food. Packed with vitamins C and K, broccoli is high in fiber, iron, calcium and folate. Steam broccoli, drizzle with olive oil, and finish with a pinch of sea salt for a quick, easy and healthy snack.
4. Green or black tea
Both green and black varieties have strong antioxidant properties, but green tea has the added benefit of containing ECGC, a particularly powerful antioxidant that’s been shown to lower LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol and inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Try replacing a mug or two of coffee with a steaming cup of green or black tea during the day.
This heart-healthy and budget-friendly whole grain contains B vitamins, fiber, protein, zinc, copper and potassium. Reconnect with your childhood and make oatmeal part of your breakfast menu again.
Vitamin C is just part of the reason that oranges make the superfood list. Like other citrus fruits, oranges contain flavinoids — antioxidants that may help ward off cancer by preventing initial cell mutations in the body.
Pumpkin gets a lot of well-deserved attention around the holidays, but we should make it part of our diet all year long. Pumpkin is high in fiber and contains alpha carotene, beta carotene, and vitamins C and E. Add pumpkin puree to soups, chili, oatmeal and yogurt to give each a powerful nutrient boost.
Soybeans are part of the legume family and are a rich source of polyunsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Since soy offers a complete protein profile, it can be an especially good source of low-fat protein for those on a meat-free diet. Add soy to your diet easily with foods like edamame, tofu and soy milk.
Popeye was spot on about spinach. This leafy green is low in calories and high in protein, iron, potassium, magnesium and vitamins A, K and C. Add fresh leaf spinach to salads or thaw frozen spinach and mix with soups and stews.
Tomatoes contain lycopene, a carotenoid and phytonutrient that’s also found in other red fruits like strawberries, watermelons and cherries. Research indicates that lycopene may be helpful in lowering the risk of lung, stomach and prostate cancer.
Rich in iron, B vitamins and zinc, turkey is a lean and versatile alternative to beef that’s perfect as an entrée, in chili, on sandwiches, or as an ingredient in a healthy salad.
Walnuts are loaded with fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and vitamins E and B6. Add them to slaws and salads or bake them into breads and desserts.
13. Wild salmon
Salmon is an excellent source of lean protein, vitamin B, and omega-3. If you have a choice in your region, choose wild-caught salmon over farm-raised. Wild salmon are genetically different fish and are far less likely to contain contaminants.
Yogurt contains probiotics, live bacteria that aid in digestion and contribute to a healthy immune system. Calcium, B vitamins, and protein also help make yogurt an important member of the superfood list.
Before making any major diet change, it’s always a good idea to first check with your physician to make sure there are no health issues that could affect your nutritional choices.
But as research continues to confirm their health benefits and as shoppers become more attuned to how value and nutritional value intersect, no doubt we’ll be hearing a lot more about superfoods.
Remember, you don’t need to rush around and fill your fridge and kitchen cupboards with every item on this list. Start slowly and explore what you like. Gradually integrate more whole superfoods into your meals, or add them as ingredients in healthy dishes you already love. Your body (and your budget) will thank you.
Do you try to fit superfoods into your diet regularly? What are your favorites? Share your comments (and recipes!) below or on our Facebook page.