The One Superfood That's Actually Worth The Money (According to Registered Dietitians)

We love playing around with superfoods in the kitchen, but it can get expensive. We asked registered dietitians to weigh in on their absolute favorite, so you can kick your collection off on the right note.

Article by Liz Moody

Turmeric

Photo: Stocksy

Photo: Stocksy

I think turmeric is worth it. I sprinkle it everywhere—in smoothies, teas, on roasted veggies and soups and marinades too. The mood benefits are insane (curcumin, the active ingredient, has been found as beneficial for mood disorders as Prozac), as are the anti-inflammatory, whole-body benefits. Black pepper also increases turmeric absorption, so i try to have a sprinkle of it wherever possible. Try to buy organic, and the whole root will be more nutritious than most shelf-stable powders. 

Carolyn Brown, R.D., founder of FoodTrainers

Cacao

I'm a big believer in sourcing the highest quality and unadulterated as well as sustainably and ethically sourced ingredients that provide the most bioavailable and absorbable nutrients, and this alone usually comes with a hefty price tag. It can be hard to factor quality today, though, with the explosion of superfood products and companies. If I'm being completely honest, though, the superfood that I use almost on a regular basis is cacao. There is nothing I crave more that provides me with the core minerals, mood-lifting, and energizing benefits, and for that result I will happily pay top dollar for both the fermented raw bean, or unprocessed raw bar that has been sweetened with unrefined sugars. 
 

Alle Weil, AADP, founder of Flora Ex Machina

Flaxseed

Photo: Stocksy

Photo: Stocksy

Flaxseeds are best absorbed when ground and provide many benefits to the diet. They are a great source of fiber and help things move along in the digestive tract. Flaxseeds are also are a great vegan source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are protective of the cardiovascular system by preventing and healing vascular damage related to inflammation. The anti-inflammatory properties of ground flaxseeds are not only limited to the cardiovascular system but assist the body in fighting free radicals, which lead to oxidative stress. Consuming anti-inflammatory foods helps to reduce the risk of certain cancers and diseases related to chronic inflammation. Flaxseeds are also a source of plant-based protein and are easily integrated into the diet. Throw them into a smoothie, top your oatmeal or yogurt with them, or add them to healthified baked goods or pancakes. 

Miranda Hammer, R.D., founder of Crunchy Radish

Spices

Spices! While spices aren't a solo superfood, collectively they are antioxidant superstars, and I try and incorporate them into everything. Remember, antioxidants are the "good guys" that scavenge dangerous free radicals that can otherwise cause damage on the cellular level. Plus they add a ton of delicious natural flavor to any given dish. If you can't take the heat, remember that spices don't have to actually be spicy. Think cinnamon, turmeric, basil, garlic powder, etc. I add cinnamon to my morning coffee, oatmeal, and smoothies. Garlic powder and turmeric are great in homemade soups, whole grain pastas, vegetable sides, and even omelets. The key is to make sure your spice cabinet is stocked and easily accessible, so you remember to use them!
 

Leah Silberman, R.D., founder of Tovita Nutrition

Collagen

I think purchasing superfoods is a wise investment into our health. When we place importance on consuming superfoods, naturally nutrient dense and full of health-boosting phytochemicals, we are really investing well into our health and prevention of diseases! If I could pick one in particular, I'd have to say collagen powder. It is incredibly rich in amino-acids that provide the body with many health-boosting benefits, and the powder dissolves so well into all kinds of foods it's virtually undetectable (unlike many other protein powders on the market).  
 

—Cristal Sczebel, CHN, founder of Nutritionist In The Kitch

Bone broth

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Bone broth is truly a superfood, it has so many healing properties. While the bones are simmering, collagen, glycine, and glutamine all get released into the broth. The collagen in the broth helps your skin, hair, and nails look beautiful. It evens helps reduce cellulite and wrinkles! On top of that, the nutrients in bone broth help to heal your gut (which boosts your immune system since about 70 to 80 percent of your immune system lives in your gut!) and reduce inflammation.

Bone broth also contains a variety of different nutrients such as magnesium, phosphorus, and iron that are bioavailable to your body. You know that expensive supplement glucosamine and chondroitin that's recommended for joint health? Well, bone broth is loaded with it. That doesn't even complete the list of benefits—bone broth can also help with sleep, detoxification, metabolism, and anxiety.

Drink a cup daily or add it to your soups, stews, or veggie dishes. If you're going to purchase bone broth only, purchase homemade batches, from a co-op or a quality meat market. Even better, it's very simple to make yourself (and far more affordable!). 

Britni Thomas, R.D., of Nutritional Weight & Wellness

Chia seeds

A great source of omega-3 fatty acid ALA (the plant-based form), these tiny seeds are also packed with filling fiber and even provide some calcium and protein. They’re great for adding staying power to oatmeal, yogurt, and smoothies. Because they absorb so much water and easily form a gel, they’re also useful as an egg substitute or binding agent in baked goods or as a simple way to thicken sauces and beverages.
 

—Jessica Cording, R.D., founder of Jessica Cording Nutrition

Clean Eating Course 101

From diet books and recipes to your Instagram feed, the clean eating trend seems to be everywhere lately. Read on to find out what it's all about and if it's really worth trying.

Defining Clean Eating

Maybe a new raw cafe has sprung up in your neighborhood, or you read about Katy Perry and Gwyneth Paltrow being fans. Either way, eating "clean" is gaining traction — but what does it actually mean, and how is it good for the body?

Clean eating is a deceptively simple concept. Rather than revolving around the idea of ingesting more or less of specific things (for instance, fewer calories or more protein), the idea is more about being mindful of the food's pathway between its origin and your plate. At its simplest, clean eating is about eating whole foods, or "real" foods — those that are un- or minimally processed, refined, and handled, making them as close to their natural form as possible. However, modern food production has become so sophisticated that simply eating whole foods can be a challenging proposition these days.

What Counts as Processed Foods?

First, let's start with the definition of processed food. "Processing" includes:

Additions of any kind — everything from salt, sugar, and fat to aid flavor and mouthfeel, to preservatives that keep food from spoiling too quickly, to the vitamins enriching everything from beverages to breakfast cereal. 
Changing the form of the natural food — for instance, removing the bran and germ from whole grains to create refined bread, mashing apples into applesauce, or stir-frying veggies.
Foods with components manufactured in a lab. (You probably don't need clarification on this one, but if the ingredient list has stuff you can't recognize or pronounce, that's a pretty solid indication that it's not natural).

In that light, processed food includes everything from a hot dog (where do we even begin?) to jarred organic pasta sauce and instant oatmeal. And yes, changing the form of natural food includes cooking as well, so even your steamed broccoli is technically processed, albeit minimally.

So why, exactly, is processing so bad — especially if it's something as simple as adding heat?

Why Is Processed Food Bad?

In two words: It's not. Or rather, not categorically.

"Processing is not always bad," says Jessica Fanzo, assistant professor of nutrition at Columbia University. "Often processing removes toxins or bacteria, or allows for us to eat certain types of foods in off-season due to freezing or canning." (Pasteurized milk, anyone?) Processing "can also include altering the consistency or taste of food to make it more appealing," Fanzo adds. So that delicious post-workout kale-celery-spinach- banana smoothie  you had? Enjoy that virtuous feeling knowing that you were likely able to down that giant amount of greens because your treat was somewhat processed.

Still, even though pasteurized milk, kale smoothies, and instant oatmeal are all processed, that doesn't make them on par with doughnuts and Diet Coke.

"The key is to avoid foods that are 'ultra-processed,'" says Fanzo — basically, anything food-product-like or ready-to-heat."

The Problem with Ultra-Processed Foods

As you can probably guess, the health problems associated with ultra-processed food are numerous. Foods with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been linked to cancer and infertility; highly processed foods are stripped of nutrients needed for overall health; and heavily modified food tends to have additives that overstimulate the production of dopamine, the "pleasure" neurotransmitter, perpetuating a negative cycle of constant junk food cravings.

However, there's added reason for pause when reaching for the Pop-Tart.

In a 2011 article published in the Journal of the World Public Health Nutrition Association, Carlos Monteiro, professor at the Department of Nutrition of the School of Public Health at the University of Sao Paulo, argues that having ultra-processed foods touted in a way that makes it seem good for you — less sodium! no trans fats! vitamin-enriched! — actually causes more damage to our collective understanding of healthy eating than we may realize. Considering the increasing abundance of "healthfully" enhanced products in the grocery aisles (or perhaps even your refrigerator), Monteiro may be on to something.

The Perks of Clean Eating

Thanks to extensive research that has linked eating whole foods with good health, "we do know that largely plant-based diets are healthy," says Fanzo. Multiple studies have shown that diets heavy on fruits and vegetables can curb or prevent certain life-threatening conditions and diseases, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Plus, there's research linking diets high in fruits and veggies to healthy weight management and glowing skin and hair — as if you needed more motivation.

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How to Eat Clean

Unprocessed foods include:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Dried legumes
  • Nuts
  • Farm-fresh eggs

Minimally processed foods include:

  • Unrefined grains, like whole wheat bread and pasta, popcorn, steel-cut oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Unprocessed meat; wild over pastured, pastured over grain-fed
  • Hormone-free dairy
  • Oils

Pesticide-free organic food is preferable to avoid consuming added hormones or chemicals. It's also important to note that eating clean doesn't give you free reign to eat endless quantities. They may be healthy, but they still have calories!

"You always have to think about portion size," says Marissa Lippert, RD, owner of Nourish Kitchen + Table, a seasonally influenced cafe in New York City. "I always encourage people to think of their plate in terms of fifths: three-fifths should be fruits and vegetables, one-fifth should be protein, and one-fifth healthy carbs."

How to Shop Clean

Realistically, eating clean doesn't mean you need to eat everything raw and straight from the ground. It means choosing minimally processed foods with few ingredients on the label, if it has a label at all.

If you're shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store, that's always a good start, says Lippert.

When perusing the main aisles for packaged foods, ask yourself: Where did this food or its ingredients come from? How much has it been processed or handled? The ingredient label should be short, and all ingredients should be recognizable. Scan for easy-to-avoid additives like artificial coloring and flavors.

How to Cook Clean

Cooking does alter your food, but it isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"While it's true that some nutrients are lost during cooking, like vitamin C, other nutrients are increased when foods are cooked, like lycopene, so it's best to eat a wide variety of foods, in both their raw and cooked forms," says EA Stewart, RD, who blogs at The Spicy RD.

When cooking food, "the focus should be on maintaining the integrity of what you are consuming and avoiding high-fat cooking methods such as deep-frying or stewing in animal or vegetable fats," says Miranda Hammer, a New York City registered dietitian and author of food blog The Crunchy Radish.

When cooking, opt for flash-cook methods such as stir-frying and ones without additives like steaming. For fruits and veggies, raw is best, but steaming is a close second in terms of preserving nutritional value and keeping the food's natural integrity.

The Paleo Lifestyle

The Paleo diet, which promotes eating only foods as our ancestors did during the Paleolithic era, is similar to a clean diet in that they both advocate whole foods. However, the Paleo diet limits food to pre-Industrial Revolution, meaning it prohibits all grains (not just refined ones), legumes, and dairy products, which clean eating does not.

While there are many personal testimonials that Paleo works, some experts are skeptical. "I don't think we need to all eat meat," says Fanzo. Moreover, "banishing major food groups makes no sense from a physiologic point of view. It sets a person up for failure and rebounding weight."

The Whole 9 Lifestyle and Whole 30

Founded in 2009 by a couple in Texas, the Whole 9 lifestyle is based on nine principles that contribute to a balanced life. Nutrition is one of the core factors, and the lifestyle's eating recommendation is one of whole foods, like meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit, healthy oils, nuts, and seeds.

If you're new to Whole 9, it kicks off with a 30-day detox called Whole 30, in which whole foods are eaten but all alcohol, sugar, grains, legumes, and dairy are eliminated to "push the reset button with your metabolism, systemic inflammation, and the downstream effects of the food choices you've been making."

Experts like Fanzo see the elimination of entire food groups (as with the Paleo diet) as problematic. For some people, though, a short cut-off may help them get in the right "healthy eating" mind-set.

"If a brief, up to one week abstinence from certain foods — not all foods! — helps people get in the right mind-set to eat healthier, and they don't have any medical conditions, then I think this is fine from a health and nutrition standpoint," says Stewart. "However I don't think it is necessary, and in many cases it sets people up for an 'all or nothing' approach to their diets."

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Be Healthy,

Total Wellness Resource Center 

Original article was published in Fitness Magazine . Author : Joselyn Voo