I find the concept of superfoods irresistible. Forget deprivation, elimination of entire food groups, and/or the tricking, smashing, and brain-washing of fat cells. Instead, fill your life, and your bowl, with foods loaded with super-levels of nutrition and taste; these superfoods will make you feel good, look great, and rejoice, rather than despair, come breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The premise is simple: certain foods are nutritional powerhouses, and incorporating them into your meals can make profound differences in overall health and well-being. Superfoods tend to come in bright bold colors and flavors, and rich textures—for example, blueberries, leafy greens, pomegranates, whole grains, and (Hallelujah), dark chocolate. Here’s a list of a few more that top most nutritionists’ lists:
Berries of all varieties
Tea (green or black)
Several best-selling books on the topic may go too far, ascribing superfoods with fountain of youth qualities that stretch the boundaries of reality, but the fundamental science is well-supported by leading nutritionists across the board.
What I find most exciting about the notion “superfoods,” though, is it goes beyond nutritional science and enters the realm of social science, by offering a new way to conceptualize eating good food, and some simple how-tos for putting the knowledge into practice.
Most of us learned in kindergarten that eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains makes good sense; the lesson is reinforced for the remainder of our lives. It sounds so simple, and it would be: if we were robots. But instead we’re temperamental, unpredictable, social beings, and that makes all of our choices and activities—like eating—complex. So while I like to keep up to date with nutritional news, recommendations and breakthroughs, I rarely begin a meal with the acuity of a scientist. I eat what I crave, and what I think will make me feel good (satisfied, comforted, relaxed, energized).
And that’s where I see the superfoods concept as helpful. It gives good food a fresh identity (i.e., eat more of these foods because, well, they’re super in every way and they make you feel super). Not health food, not diet food, not punishment, not restriction, but superfoods, my friend. As in Superman, Superhero, Superstar, Super-Duper, and the Superfriends hall of justice.
I think the symbolic shift is key in the little choices I make in those split seconds each day: hmm, perhaps I’ll put some spinach on my sandwich, eat a cup of yogurt for a snack, or nibble a bit of really good chocolate. Not because I should, or because I’m on a diet, or because I’m punishing myself….but because I want to, it’s doable, it tastes wonderful, and (how about that) it makes me feel great, too. Huh; who knew being trendy could be so delicious.
Glossary of Superfood Terms
You’ve probably seen or heard some or all of these terms thrown around the news; it can be confusing, especially since there is overlap in what some of them mean and do. Here is a basic glossary of terms:
Antioxidants. A general term for a wide range of substances that slow the body’s normal process of oxidation, meaning a reaction to oxygen that releases “free radicals” that damage cells and break the body down. Digestion releases free radicals from food. Antioxidants help prevent this and also are thought to destroy free radicals and slow oxidation, reducing allergies, heart disease, cancer and aging effects. Dozens of antioxidant nutrients have been identified so far, and there are likely many more. Many vitamins have antioxidant effects, including A (which is a carotene), C and E.
Flavonoids. Perhpas the best-known, most touted antioxidants (tea and dark chocolate are chock full of them) among a group called polyphenols. Flavonols, a subgroup of flavonoids, is also used. Relatives are anthocyanins (which give blueberries their claim fame).
Carotenoids. These are the pigments that protect dark green, yellow, orange and red fruits and vegetables from sun damage; they work as antioxidants in humans, too. Beta-carotene (also called Vitamin A) is the best known. Other famous carotenoids (there are many dozens) are lycopene and lutein.
Vitamins. Nutrients considered essential to health; a shortage of vitamins can create health problems.
Phytonutrients. Plant-derived compounds that are believed to improve your health, but aren't essential to your health. An example is areservatol, a phytonnutrient found in red wine that has cancer-fighting properties.
Roast Turkey Hoisin Wraps with Spinach & Scallions
Hoisin sauce is the Chinese equivalent of bbq sauce—it adds tremendous flavor to these wraps, giving them a taste similar to Peking duck. You’ll find it where soy sauce is shelved in the grocery store.
2 cups roasted turkey cut into strips (I bought a 1/2 pound piece from the deli—unsliced—then cut into strips at home)
5 tablespoons bottled hoisin sauce, divided use
2 medium-size flour tortillas (regular or whole wheat)
1/2 of a seedless cucumber, roughly cut into thin strips
4 green onions (scallions), trimmed and roughly chopped
2 packed cups prewashed baby spinach
Combine the turkey and 2 tablespoons of the hoisin sauce in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Heat 30 seconds until warmed through. Place the tortillas on a dinner plate and heat in microwave 15-20 seconds until warm.
Spread the tortillas with the rest of the hoisin sauce, then use to wrap up turkeywith the cucumber, onions and watercress. Cut in half and enjoy while still warm. Makes 2 servings.
Nutrition per Serving (1 wrap):
Calories 232; Fat 6.9g (sat 1.1g, mono 2.3g, poly 2.7g); Protein 18.2g; Cholesterol 32mg; Carbohydrate 29.8g; Sodium 741mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
(1) Packing wraps to go: You can pack these for lunch at work; just place the cucumber, scallions and spinach in one container, and the hoisin chicken in the other (for ease of transport, combine the chicken with all of the hoisin. At work, heat the chicken, tortillas, and assemble as described above)
(2) Vegetarian option: use well-drained, extra-firm tofu (as is, or quickly pan fry first), cut into strips, in place of the turkey.
Superfoods in this Wrap:
Spinach, Green Onions and Cucumber: All three are “green foods,” and as such have marked beneficial effects on cholesterol, blood pressure, immune response and cancer prevention. These effects are attributed in part to their high concentrations of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll, the phytochemical that gives leaves, plants and algae their green hues, is the plant equivalent of the oxygen-carrying red pigment hemoglobin in red blood cells. Dietary chlorophyll inhibits disease bacteria and exerts therapeutic effects on bad breath and internal odors.
Lean Turkey: Skinless turkey breast is one of leanest meat protein sources available. It also offers a rich array of nutrients, particularly niacin, selenium, vitamins B6 and B12, and zinc. These nutrients are heart-healthy and are also valuable in helping to lower the risk for cancer.