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Do Superfoods Have Super Powers?

While the foods deemed superfoods do have desirable properties, it's important to know what's fact and what's fiction. Here's the scoop on some of the foods currently making headlines for their powerful claims:

Acai Berries. Pronounced "ah-sigh-ee", these berries come from the rainforests of South America. They may not be the key to weight loss, but they are packed with lots of nutritional benefits:

  • Acai berries have high levels of antioxidants, which neutralize free radicals in your body and help to protect the body from cellular damage.

  • The berries contain tannins, which are known to have anti-infective, anti-inflammatory, and anti-hemorrhagic properties.

  • They are also rich in dietary fibers, which aid the digestive track.
 

Kale. Both affordable and nutritious, kale is a leafy green whose claim to fame is it's low calorie-to-nutrient ratio. It's also known for it's versatility, as it can be used in everything from salads to smoothies, and is delicious when raw, steamed, sautéed, blanched, or baked. Kale may not be the fountain of youth, but it does pack a powerful nutritional punch:

  • Kale is loaded with vitamins A, C, E, and K. Just one portion of the low-calorie vegetable will fulfill your vitamin A needs for the day.

  • It is rich in beta-carotene, which is what helps the vitamin A give us healthy skin and mucus membranes, improve our immune system, and preserve our good vision.

  • It's high in iron and calcium. Iron is essential for cell growth and liver function, while calcium helps prevents bone loss and aids a healthy metabolism.
 

Chia seeds. These seeds have been said to give you more energy by day and help you sleep better at night, help you feel full faster, make your hair shinier, and reduce your cravings for unhealthy foods. They may not be a miracle cure, but these tiny seeds are still potent:

  • In just a 1 ounce serving you can find 11 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein, which definitely contributes to feeling fuller faster.

  • Like kale and acai berries, chia seeds are also packed full of antioxidants.

  • They are easy to incorporate into your diet. Try them on top of your cereal in the morning, incorporate into baked goods, or add them to juices or smoothies and find yourself with healthy portions of calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins and minerals your body needs.
 

Pistachios. These under-appreciated nuts often take a back seat to the more popular almonds and walnuts, so many people miss out on the healthy advantages these tasty little green nuts deliver:

  • Like most nuts, pistachios contain protein, fiber, and heart-healthy unsaturated fat, which make them a perfect and portable food. They're also the less caloric of all nuts, so you can enjoy 30 of them for only 100 calories!

  • They are rich in phytosterols and soluble fiber, which are natural plant compounds that help reduce cholesterol levels.

  • They are packed with potassium and vitamin K, and just one serving gives you 25% of the daily value for vitamin B6, which plays a key role in the production of serotonin and dopamine that affect brain function and mood.
 

There is no doubt that these foods can contribute to the overall health of the body. However, they should be included in a balanced and diverse diet of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and quality protein.

A registered dietician or nutritionist can help you evaluate your diet and determine if you might be missing some of the key benefits superfoods can provide.

For more advice on how to improve your nutrition, schedule an appointment with an El Camino Hospital Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. HealthPerks members are eligible for one free 30 minutes consultation. To schedule an appointment, call 650-940-7210.

This article first appeared in the September 2014 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.