Here’s why you need to eat the rainbow

Consuming everyday “superfoods” can help you live longer and better

By Ashton Miller

Kale. Blueberries. Salmon. It seems like a new “superfood” is declared every week. But what exactly is a superfood and which are worth adding to your diet?

Pallavi Dharamsi, registered dietitian with Novant Health UVA Health System, helped explain what superfoods are and how they benefit your diet.

Defining superfoods

For starters, a superfood is nutrient-rich and is beneficial for overall health and wellness.

“There is no standard list of approved ‘superfoods,’” Dharamsi said. “I consider plant-based foods as superfoods. Dark green leafy vegetables, fresh fruits, beans, raw nuts and colorful, starchy vegetables can all be considered superfoods.”

Other examples include whole grains like old-fashioned oats, quinoa and wild rice, she said.

How many superfoods should you consume?

Instead of focusing on a specific food, Dharamsi said it’s important to consume a variety of superfoods.

And she said the amount depends not only on the superfood, but also on the person consuming it. For fruits and vegetables, five servings daily is a good benchmark. For nuts, legumes and seeds, the American Heart Association recommends four servings a week for someone eating 2,000 calories a day.

With fiber-rich whole grains, Dharamsi said you should eat at least three ounces a day.

Eat the rainbow

“Vegetables have high amounts of carotenoids and other nutrients that prevent age-related diseases like macular degeneration,” Dharamsi said. Nut and seed consumption, she said, provides protection against heart disease by lowering total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, and by raising HDL (good) cholesterol.

Different colored fruits and vegetables contain different phytonutrients, she added, and different color families produce different benefits.

For example, blue or purple foods – such as blueberries, plums, eggplant and purple cabbage – help maintain memory function, promote healthy aging, improve urinary tract health and lower the risk of certain cancers.

Yellow or orange foods – such as carrots, yellow apples, oranges, squash, yellow peppers and sweet potatoes – can help support a person’s vision, immune system, and heart health as well as lower the risk of some cancers.

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, walnuts, flaxseed and canola oil, help maintain body functions, like building brain cell membranes, controlling blood clotting, and reducing inflammation.

Many plant-based superfoods contain a lot of fiber that can reduce cholesterol levels, aid in healthy digestion, protect against colon cancer, and help keep people feeling full longer.

A superfood-inspired diet

Dharamsi recommends the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes the following:

  • Plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grain, legumes and nuts.
  • Lean protein such as fish, chicken and turkey, and reduced red meat intake.
  • Low-fat and fat-free dairy and healthy fats such as olive and canola oil in place of butter and fried foods.
  • Cooking with herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods.

“The Mediterranean-style diet can promote health and protect against chronic disease,” Dharamsi said. “Research has shown that eating a diet rich in plant foods and healthy fats protects against cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Dharamsi said that superfoods should be part of an overall healthy diet.

“One may think that they’ll be protected from health problems if they include some of these foods in their diet and continue other poor eating habits,” Dharamsi said. “Moderation and variety are the keys to healthy living. A heart-healthy diet should be balanced in lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, nuts, seed, legumes, and vegetable oils.”

To support better access to healthy foods and nutritional options in the community, Novant Health UVA Health System Haymarket Medical Center partners with the Exit 40 Haymarket Farm Market on Thursdays from 2 to 6 p.m., May through October.  

The market features more than a dozen local vendors selling produce, pastured meats and eggs, local honey, preserves, artisan foods, prepared foods and more. It also hosts live music, cooking demonstrations, children’s activities, recipe contests and more.

The market is on the campus of Novant Health UVA Haymarket Medical Center at 15225 Heathcote Blvd., Haymarket, VA 20169, just off the intersection of Routes 15 and 66 at Exit 40.

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