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What’s in a Superfood?

December 16, 2015

By Kara Marker, NCRC Marketing

You’ve probably heard the term “superfood” in reference to certain fruits, vegetables, and grains, but what exactly does it mean in terms of nutrition? These foods are usually given this title because they have large amounts of nutrients that naturally prevent disease and boost longevity.  Here at the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis, NC, our partners in research are looking at fruits and vegetables on the molecular level, determining what exactly makes a superfood as healthy as labels market them to be.

What's your favorite superfood?

What’s your favorite superfood? Image credit: sweat.burnthis.com

We’ve gathered a list of a few fruits and vegetables that are studied at the NCRC for their nutritional benefit to human life. As the new year season begins, consider incorporating a few of these foods into your eating lifestyle. You’d be surprised how quickly your body starts to crave the foods that are so good for you!

1. Blueberries
Mary Ann Lila, PhD, from the NC State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) at the NCRC identified blueberries as an amazing “brain food” in 2014 – showing their potential for reducing risk for developing Parkinson’s disease. In 2013, David Nieman, DrPH, from the Appalachian State University Human Performance Lab at the NCRC studied long-distance runners eating blueberries before and after their exercise. Eating blueberries helped reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure! These juicy delights are famous for their high content of phytochemicals compounds with antioxidant activity that act to neutralize free radical damage that can build up in our bodies due to our diet and contaminants like pollution and cigarette smoke.

2. Kale
You’ve probably seen or heard of the “green smoothies.” Although kale is really hyped up right now, it certainly is popular for a reason! This member of the cabbage family is packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. From the Dole Nutrition Institute (DNI) at the NCRC, Debra Esposito, PhD, specializes in how compounds like brassinosteroids in cruciferous vegetables like kale, cabbage, and broccoli can boost human health by exhibiting anti-inflammatory effects that support immune system function.

Now is the perfect time to eat kale since it’s in peak season, and that’s when it tastes the best. In the winter months it isn’t as bitter, which is why people like to eat it in smoothies. Kale is super versatile – try in on sandwiches, in salads, casseroles, and of course – in superfood smoothies!

3. Bananas
Bananas are a favorite here at the NCRC, and their nutritional benefits are studied by many groups on campus like the DNI and the Human Performance Lab. They’ve been shown to provide energy during exercise in the same way that energy drinks do, without all the additional and unnecessary sugar. The healthy effects of bananas are due to their rich Vitamin B6, manganese and potassium content. Bananas are fabulous since they’re easy, on-the-go, superfood snacks.

4. Pineapple
Although a lot of people don’t realize it, pineapples are also powerhouses of antioxidant activity, as researched by the DNI earlier this year. These juicy fruits are a great way to naturally boost your health and prevent disease. One cup of pineapple contains over 100 percentof DRI of vitamin C. It is also rich in manganese and copper, which play a role in the production of antioxidants Don’t be afraid to buy a whole pineapple and cut it up yourself – they’re most nutritious when they’re fresh!

5. Avocado
Although the jury is still out on whether avocadoes are fruits or vegetables, there’s no doubt that they are highly nutritious! In a collaborate study by the DNI and the UNC-Chapel Hill Nutrition Research Institute (NRI), avocados were found to be one of many effective activators of antioxidant phytochemicals. Avocados are also praised as a source for potassium, fiber, and other vitamins which can boost cardiovascular health. They do have a high fat content, but these are healthy fats that keep you full and satisfied between meals! Lastly, they’re known to fight diabetes, reduce high cholesterol, and prevent cancer. What more could you ask for?The recipe opportunities with avocados are practically endless. Slice one up on a toasted sandwich with cheese and tomato, or create your own version of guacamole! I like a mega-veggie superfood version of guacamole that has an excellent variety of delicious flavors.

Take a look at a few healthy recipes featuring these and other deliciously healthy foods.

 

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