4 superfoods you should include in your diet today!

There are hundreds of healthy foods out there which help with weight loss, help prevent and fight against cancer, regulate blood sugar levels and improve your mood. Today, I thought I would share with you 4 foods that I cannot get enough of on a daily basis.

I usually include these four foods in salads or smoothies, however you can eat them as you like!

Strawberries

As part of the berry family, claimed to be an amazing superfood group, strawberries are supposed to have a multitude of health benefits associated with eating them. They are high in vitamin C and have powerful antioxidants like anthocyanin, so perhaps there is some truth to these claims.

Reduce the risk of heart attacks. Strawberries are jam-packed with something called anthocyanin, which is thought to help reduce the risk of heart attacks. A recent study by Cassidy et al looked at over 90,000 women, aged between 25 and 42, and compared their diets with actual cases of heart attacks.

It was discovered that the women who consumed at least 3 portions of anthocyanin-rich foods, in particular strawberries and blueberries, were 32% less likely to experience a heart attack.

Help fight cancer. In 2013, a study was published that showed how freeze-dried strawberries could help in the fight against cancer.

The researchers “painted” the inside of the cheek of hamsters who had oral cancers with the freeze-dried strawberries and noticed that after 12 weeks they had significantly less tumours than the control group.

Further study needs to be done in this area, but it is clear that strawberries had a definite impact on the formation of cancer cells.

Reduce diabetic complications. A study carried out in 2014 showed that strawberries may have a short-term, positive effect on cardiovascular problems associated with type 2 diabetes.

The trial followed 36 volunteers, some of whom consumed 1 cup of freeze-dried strawberries every day for 6 weeks and others who consumed a strawberry-flavoured drink.

Whilst the difference between each group was small, the researchers did find that those who had freeze-dried strawberries had better levels of cardiovascular health in the short-term.

Reduce inflammation. It has long been thought that wild strawberries, also known as fragaria vesca, are beneficial in the treatment of inflammatory diseases such as those that afflict the stomach, heart and urinary tract.

A study that was carried out in 2014 was able to prove that there is some truth to this claim.

An extract was made from the leaves and then its effectiveness was tested on proteins by measuring how well it prevented nitric oxide from forming – the molecule that can cause excess inflammation if out of balance.

The results suggested that the strawberry leaf extract was indeed successful at reducing overall nitric oxide production and thus inflammation.

Spinach

Popeye was definitely on to something with his obsessive spinach eating! This deliciously dark green vegetable is pumped full of iron, magnesium and vitamin K – all necessary for optimum health – but it is also scientifically proven to help prevent cancer, reduce the risk of cataracts and help to manage diabetic complications.

One of the best ways to eat it is raw, in order to gain maximum nutritional value; but even when cooked, spinach still packs a punch in the vitamins and minerals department!

Improve complications associated with diabetes. A 2008 study, undertaken by Saraswat et al, has shown that spinach in the diet can help to significantly improve complications associated with diabetes.

Aldose reductase is an enzyme that creates fructose from glucose; in a person suffering from diabetes, the aldose reductase will increase in activity and this leads to damage to a number of cells and tissues, particularly those surrounding the eyes.

This study showed that a small number of certain foods helped to inhibit the activity of the aldose reductase, including spinach.This suggests that regular consumption of spinach could help with diabetes management and associated complications.

Help prevent cancer. Spinach contains something called monogalactosyl diacylglycerol, otherwise known as MGDG, which was thought to be able to prevent the formation of certain cells in mammals.

A study, published in 2013, has shown that MGDG from spinach can significantly inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells in mice by as much as 60%!

The researchers have concluded that the MGDG in spinach could potentially prevent cancer altogether and further research needs to be done in this area.

Lower blood pressure. Spinach is high in a compound called nitrate, which is thought to have a significant effect on blood pressure. In 2013, a study of 26 healthy men and women was conducted, with the aim of seeing how eating a nitrate-rich meal would affect cardiovascular health, in particular blood pressure. The control group ate a low nitrate meal.

The results showed that those who ate a meal with 220mg of nitrate that was derived from spinach had improved elasticity of their arteries, which is important for effective circulation; they also had lower blood pressure.

The researchers concluded from these results that if this level of nitrate was consumed regularly, it would have a positive overall effect on cardiovascular health and blood pressure.

Reduce risk of developing cataracts. Zeaxanthin and lutein are carotenoids that are found in high concentrations in certain foods; they are thought to help reduce the risk of developing cataracts that are severe enough to need removing.

A study, published in 1999, looked at the effectiveness of consuming carotenoid-rich foods in reducing the risk of cataracts in men aged 45 – 75 years old. The results showed that the foods with the highest reduction in the risk of cataracts were spinach and broccoli.

Kale

Sometimes referred to as the seaweed of the land, this spicy leafy green vegetable may seem a little strange to many of us. Being a vegetable it is bound to be packed full of goodness, but this surprisingly modest-looking brassica is actually a powerhouse of nutrients in the world of fruit and vegetables.

Managing Diabetes. Kale is rich in dietary fibre, which has been proven to help manage the effects of diabetes in a study published in 2012. Researchers looked at numerous trials that had been conducted between 1980 and 2010; these trials evaluated whether or not HbA1c – which is when blood sugars mix with blood proteins and increase risk of complications in people with diabetes – was affected by an increase in dietary fibre.

The results that were collated from these studies show that increasing the intake of dietary fibre does indeed have a positive effect on reducing HbA1c. Since kale contains 10% of the daily requirement of dietary fibre per cup, it stands to reason that regularly consuming it can help with the management of diabetic complications.

Prevent cancer. In 2012, a study was published that looked at how phytochemicals in red and green curly kale affected the growth of colon cancer cells, depending on how the kale had been prepared and stored.

Researchers divided the kale in to groups depending on whether it had been blanched, boiled in a bag, stored in the freezer or was raw.

The results showed that raw kale had a stronger effect on inhibiting cancer cell growth compared with the processed kale, but all groups did manage to inhibit cell proliferation to some degree.

Improve cognitive function after brain injury. Kale contains a number of antioxidants including something called sulforaphane, which is thought to assist in improving cognitive functions.

A study carried out in 2009 looked at how administering sulforaphane after a brain injury would affect recovery in rats.

The researchers found that there was indeed an improvement in cognitive functions, but only if sulforaphane was administered within an hour of injury occurring.

This study certainly suggests that consumption of sulforaphane-rich foods like kale will help improve overall brain health.

Lower cholesterol. It has long been thought that the effectiveness of bile binding in the digestive tract relates to the amount of cholesterol removed; with lower levels of bile binding meaning that less cholesterol is removed from the body.

A study, published in 2008, looked at how steaming vegetables such as kale, mustard greens and broccoli affected their ability to bind with bile, compared to being eaten raw.

The results suggested that steaming these vegetables greatly improved their ability to bind with bile in the digestive tract and therefore allowed them to remove more cholesterol.

Supports bone health. It is well known that calcium intake is extremely important in helping to maintain bone health.

Whilst many assume that calcium should be mainly derived from dairy products, a study has looked at a number of trials and statistical data and concluded that more of our daily calcium intake should be obtained from plant-based sources.

It also showed that 1 cup of kale contains the same level of calcium as cow’s milk. So regular consumption of kale can assist greatly in maintaining bone health, especially for those who are lactose intolerant.

Avocados

Also known as the alligator pear, it is an odd-looking fruit that has a rather bland, unoffensive taste; yet anecdotal and now scientific evidence has shown that the creamy avocado is a powerhouse of nutrients and health benefits that simply cannot be ignored.

Lower cholesterol and prevent hyperlipidemia. Hyperlipidemia refers to abnormally high levels of lipids in the blood; lipids are the fats in the blood.

Having high levels of bad cholesterol can contribute significantly to experiencing hyperlipidemia, which in turn results in a number of cardiovascular problems.

In 1992, a study looked at how the monounsaturated fatty acids found in avocados affected the lipid levels in the blood of 16 healthy volunteers.

The researchers found that the avocados provided the volunteers with the necessary healthy fats their bodies needed without having an adverse effect on the “good” cholesterol that low-fat diets can have; at the same time, the levels of “bad” cholesterol were lowered.

Reduce inflammation. This study looked at how adding avocado to a hamburger would affect inflammation of the blood vessels after consumption. The study was conducted with 11 healthy volunteers who consumed a burger without avocado on one occasion and then consumed a burger with avocado on another occasion.

The results found that there was significant constriction and inflammation of the blood vessels after eating the burger on its own, the same was not true when avocado was added.

This study shows that avocados do have anti-inflammatory benefits, although more extensive research does need to be done in this area.

Help manage weight and blood sugar levels. It would seem that adding half an avocado to your lunch every day can be beneficial in managing weight and regulating blood sugar levels, according to a study by Wien et al, published in 2013.

The research team found that in 26 overweight but otherwise healthy adults, those who consumed a lunch containing avocado felt more satisfied and less inclined to eat than those who didn’t; they also had lower blood insulin levels.

More in-depth study needs to be done in this area because it is possible that the extra calories from the avocado – 112 on average – may have contributed to the feeling of being satiated, but it is clear that this fruit had some sort of beneficial effect on those who ate it.

Boosts the immune system. This study conducted in 2011 has found that avocados have a positive effect on the human immune system.

According to the research, an extract from the avocado fruit increases the proliferation of lymphocyte cells – these are important white blood cells that decide on the appropriate immune system response to infectious microorganisms and bacteria.

Help fight cancer. It would seem that avocados do have a significant impact on the proliferation of oral cancer cells, as seen in a study published in 2011.

Researchers used avocado flesh to create an extract that they used to experiment on human oral cancer cells. The results showed that cancer cell growth was notably inhibited, suggesting that avocados have the potential to assist in the fight against oral and other types of cancer.

Protect skin from UV damage. Finally, avocados contain something called polyhydroxylated fatty acids (PFA) which are thought to help provide protection to skin cells from UV damage, according to a study by Rosenblat et al.

The researchers treated keratinocytes (which are the cells in the outermost layer of skin) with PFA before then exposing them to UVB radiation and found that the cells had a greater resistance to damage caused by UVB rays than those who weren’t treated.

Conclusion

So there you have it – a boat load of reasons to start eating more strawberries, spinach, kale and avocado – all backed by scientific evidence!

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