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  • Hugo Luna

What makes superfoods super?

Hugo Luna, General Manager, Rick & Ann's GNC Stores


We all know that a good diet is essential for our health, but we often neglect it. It’s just so easy to eat junk food — and by junk food, I’m not just referring to bags of potato chips and sugar-packed soft drinks. I’m also talking about heavily processed foods with their natural nutrients drained out of them — things like commercial white bread.


A man standing in front of store shelves.
Hugo Luna, General Manager, Rick & Ann's GNC

But if junk food lies on one end of the nutritional spectrum, there’s another category of food that lies on the opposite end: Superfoods.


What is a superfood?


Superfoods are foods that are packed with nutritional benefits. Add these to your diets (or add comparable supplements), and you’ll give your health and your energy a boost. There’s a range of foods that get the superfood label, and you’ll want to incorporate a variety of them into your daily menu.


In general, superfoods fall into four categories:


  • Greens

  • Grains, nuts, and seeds

  • Fruit

  • Herbs


Let’s take a look at each of those categories.


Greens


Greens are leafy vegetables, like spinach and kale. Some of them are better than others for nutrition. As a general rule of thumb, darker-green color means higher levels of nutrients.


Kale is a great example of a nutrient-rich leafy vegetable. It’s a terrific addition to your diet because — although it’s packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber — it’s nonetheless very low in calories. You can get all those nutritional benefits while still managing your weight.


Here are just a few of the nutritional benefits of this superfood:


It's an excellent source of vitamins such as A, C, and K, and it also contains small amounts of several B vitamins like B6 and folate. A half cup of cooked kale provides over five times the recommended daily intake of vitamin K!


It contains minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium. These minerals play vital roles in maintaining healthy blood pressure, bone health, and muscle function.


It’s loaded with antioxidants, including quercetin and kaempferol. These compounds help protect cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals and may reduce the risk of chronic diseases.


There are a lot of good greens, so there are also a lot of ways to incorporate them into your diet — they’re not just for salads. Check out recipes that use spinach, kale, swiss chard, bok choy, mustard greens, collard greens, beet greens, and turnip greens. They can all give you a big nutritional boost while minimizing your calorie intake.


(And don't forget to look at supplements, like Flow Greens, to get the nutrients of greens into your diet.)


Grains, seeds, and nuts


Whole grains, seeds, and nuts can provide a big nutritional boost — especially seeds and nuts. These superfoods share something in common — all of them are seeds — but they’re each packaged a bit differently.


Whole grains are terrific because they deliver fiber and complex carbohydrates (our primary source of energy), plus some vitamins and minerals. Keep in mind that I’m talking about whole grains, things like whole wheat bread and brown rice. Whole grains haven’t had the nutrients stripped out of them and — something really important — they release their energy slowly throughout the day, not in sugar bursts that throw off your insulin levels and drive weight gain.

Seeds and nuts are nutritionally similar. In fact, generally speaking, nuts are just seeds with a hard shell. In both cases, they’re packed with nutrition. That makes sense, because seeds are used by plants to reproduce, and each seed contains the nutrients necessary for a young plant to start growing. If you eat seeds and nuts, here's what you’ll be getting:


Healthy fats that support heart health, reduce inflammation, and improve cognitive function.


Protein for muscle building and repair.


Vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorous, calcium, and zinc.


Anti-oxidants that protect cells from damage and reduce the risks of chronic disease.


Fiber for healthy digestion.


On the downside, seeds and nuts carry a lot of calories (young, growing plants need calories, after all), so you should eat them in moderation. Also keep in mind that a lot of commercially available nuts are packaged with salt, and too much salt in your diet can be unhealthy. Try to get used to unsalted nuts and seeds, and take a look at recipes that incorporate them.


Fruits


Fruits are another seed-delivery mechanism, like nuts, and -- like nuts -- they’re highly nutritious. Some fruits are so densely packed with nutrients that they’re considered superfoods. That list includes cranberries, blueberries, cherries, mangoes, avocados, and even bananas, which are packed with potassium and fiber.


(Note that modern agriculture has created variations of some fruits that lack seeds, so not all fruits have them any longer; that’s ok, we weren’t eating the seeds anyhow.)


Some of the health and nutritional benefits of fruit consumption include:


Vitamins and minerals: Fruits are excellent sources of essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, folate, and various B vitamins.


Dietary Fiber: Fruits are rich in dietary fiber, which is beneficial for digestive health.


Antioxidants: Fruits are loaded with antioxidants, including flavonoids, polyphenols, and carotenoids. Antioxidants help protect cells from oxidative damage caused by free radicals, reducing the risk of chronic diseases and supporting healthy aging.


Heart Health: The potassium, fiber, and antioxidants in fruits contribute to heart health. Potassium helps regulate blood pressure, while fiber can lower cholesterol levels. Additionally, fruits like berries have been associated with reduced risk factors for heart disease.


And this is just a sampling of the benefits.


But keep in mind: You are far better off if you eat whole fruit rather than drinking fruit juices. Yes, the juices contain many of the key nutrients we expect from fruit, but they also contain far less fiber. That means that you’re getting a big shot of unmoderated sugar. Fiber in the whole fruit, on the other hand, slows the absorption of sugar, which means you won’t upset your insulin levels and you’ll have less weight gain.


Including fruit in your diet can be pleasurable as well as healthy, so there’s no reason not to do it.


Herbs


Herbs have long played a role in traditional medicine, and that makes sense, because they were typically available in the wild and they pack a lot of health benefits into small packages.


Western science has come to recognize the value in a lot of those herbs, and, as a result, they’re now packaged as supplements (which is handy for those of us who no longer forage in the wild for our food).



Of course, a lot of herbs are also used in cooking, especially in non-Western cuisines. Turmeric, for example, is a spice that’s popular in India, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. In recent years it’s become more popular in Western cuisine, too. That’s partly because its health benefits are being recognized, but it’s also because people are broadening their tastes and learning to appreciate foods from other cultures. Curries are a particularly good example of a food that makes use of turmeric.


Let’s take a look at turmeric as an example of how herbs can deliver health and nutrition benefits. Traditionally, turmeric has been credited with anti-inflammatory properties, anti-oxidant activity, pain relief, arthritis relief, improved digestion, heart health, brain health, and cancer prevention.


But you know what is another, indirect benefit of turmeric (and other herbs, too)? It adds flavor to your food and reduces the need for salt.


Let’s face it, we consume too much salt in our American diets. Here in San Antonio, my biggest complaint about a lot of restaurant food is that it tends to be over-salted. Salt an easy way to add flavor. My suggestion: Instead of adding more salt to your diet, try adding some flavorful herbs like these:


  • Turmeric

  • Basil

  • Sage

  • Rosemary

  • Thyme

  • Tarragon

  • Cumin

  • Coriander

  • Dill


You won’t have trouble finding good recipes that include them.


And while I’m talking about herbs used in cooking, I should also mention ginger root. It’s not an herb, but it shares some qualities with herbs: It adds flavor to your cooking and it has a long history of use in traditional medicine.


Different herbs have different nutritional benefits, so I suggest you learn a little bit about them and start experimenting with them in your cooking. You should also check out our herbal supplements. :


Make it easier with our superfood supplements


Superfoods are great because they pack a big nutritional wallop in a compact package. They’re also great because — in most cases — they taste good and they’re a pleasure to eat.


As always, however, I recognize that it’s sometimes difficult to get the nutrition you need in your diet. Maybe you don’t have time to cook a curry to get your turmeric; maybe you’re eating on the run. It’s even possible that you don’t like how some of these foods taste.


Our Rick & Ann’s GNC stores carry a lot of supplements that can help you with that. We’ve got plenty of them listed on our website and even more on the shelves of our stores. Let me make some specific suggestions:


First of all, be sure to check out the section of our site for Superfoods. These products put a slection of superfoods -- greens, beets, and herbs -- in a bottle.


Next, take a look at the section we have for vitamins and minerals. These supplements pack in the nutrients even more densely than superfoods, and they're easy to take. And also check out the supplements aimed specifically at men and specifically at women. They're specially formulated for the different nutritional needs of each.


And finally, to help solve the 'I don't have time to cook a curry' problem, we have a selection of on-the-go snacks that are a good replacement for the quick junk food fix you might otherwise choose.


Keep in mind that we don't list all our products on our website. We've got more on our shelves. So stop into one of our stores and talk to one of our experts. We’re there to help.



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