Published July 20, 2012
Superfoods are the latest craze to hit the health scene, but they're not just a fad. These nutrient rich foods can add a powerful punch to diets. Experts say superfoods are naturally packed with essential vitamins and nutrients that can help prevent and fight cancer and heart disease, as well as boost energy levels and weight loss.
However, once a food has been deemed a superfood, its price tag tends to rise on higher demand. “Some superfoods are so expensive that they’re never going to be part of your week-to-week shopping experience,” says Jennifer Shea, a registered dietician and nutritional spokesperson for supermarket chain Supervalu. “But there are some that are right under your noses on the produce aisle.”
When shopping for superfoods, remember that “an apple a day” really does keep the doctor away, says Kristi Crowe, registered dietician and food chemist at the University of Alabama and spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists.
“If you’re shopping for superfoods, you’re shopping for color—and don’t forget that white is a color,” says Crowe. “Fruits and vegetables with those deep pigmentations: blue, red, purple and green—those are going to be full of the phytonutrients inherent to superfoods that help you fight disease and stay healthy.”
We checked in with health and fitness experts to find seven superfoods that don’t carry a hefty price tag and can be found right in your local supermarket.
“The intense red pigmentation of tomatoes is derived from the phytochemical lycopene, which can help with cancer prevention, prostate health, and offer a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and increased eye health,” says Crowe.
Pasta and pizza lovers are in luck: canned tomatoes have more lycopene than fresh ones due to a change in the tomato’s chemical structure that takes place during heating and canning. Canned tomatoes are also very cheap, sometimes as inexpensive as $1 per 32-ounce can, she adds.
“Tomatoes are a great way to take in some intense bioactive compounds--whether you’re eating them raw in a salad or as part of spaghetti or pizza sauce,” Crowe says.
Tomatoes are also rich in vitamins C and A, and are fat free as well as low in carbs for people who are already on a diet, says Crowe.
“You often hear about strawberries being great for anti-aging or memory boosting, but they’re also great for clear skin and they’re wonderful immune system boosters,” says Shea.
For parents of picky eaters, strawberries are often a great choice for sneaking some superfoods into kids' diets, she says. For adults on a diet, strawberries typically have around 45 calories in eight medium-sized berries, making them a great choice for snacking.
“Strawberries are great for people who may have too much salt in their diet, which is the majority of Americans,” says Shea. “A diet rich in berries and leafy greens can help counteract too much sodium in the body. They’re also rich in potassium and antioxidants, and some studies have shown that they help improve brain function.”
Grocery stores tend to discount strawberries when they are in season during the summer months from May to August.
Broccoli is in the “cruciferous” vegetable category along with brussel sprouts and cauliflower, and cruciferous veggies are “one of the most powerful weapons in our diets to fight cancer,” says Shea. Broccoli’s bright green color is an indicator that it’s also rich in cancer-fighting antioxidants.
For people on a diet, broccoli provides a good source of fiber which can help you to feel fuller longer on fewer calories. For pregnant women or those considering pregnancy, broccoli is also rich in folic acid, which some studies show can prevent birth defects.
And cheese lovers rejoice: The calcium naturally found in broccoli is better absorbed when eaten with something rich in healthy fats, such as cheese or olive oil, Shea says.
“Broccoli is not only one of the most nutrient dense vegetables, it’s also inexpensive year round,” she says.
The cancer-fighting and memory-boosting power of omega 3 fatty acids found in salmon make it one of the few non-vegetarian superfoods. Although any fatty fish such as mackerel or sardines contains the same amount of omega 3 as salmon, most people find the flaky pink salmon to be the tastiest choice.
“Salmon is packed with protein, and the omega 3s are great for brain health and decreasing inflammation in the body. More research is being done about its ability to combat arthritis,” says Shea.
For people who are leery of cooking fish, Crowe says don’t be afraid to buy it pre-cooked and frozen.
“The more you can get into your diet, they better off you’ll be in terms of risk reduction for everything from diabetes to heart disease,” she says. “You can find pre-cooked fillets in the freezer section of any grocery store.”
There are many types of salmon, and Ann Kulze, a nutrition expert and family physician, and author of Eat Right for Life, says it’s best to opt for wild caught Alaskan salmon when possible.
“It’s lower in environmental contaminants than farm-raised salmon,” says Kulze. “In my experience, it’s occasionally available fresh, it’s frequently available frozen, and always available canned.”
“Quinoa is a whole grain, but it’s also a seed and it’s higher in protein than any other grain,” says Shea. “That satiating power is always what we’re looking for. It’s important for digestive health and the soluble fiber can help reduce the levels of bad cholesterol in your body.”
For families in a rush, Kulze says a benefit to quinoa is that it cooks in 15-20 minutes, and it can be used just as you would use rice—as a side dish in a stir fry, or own its own. Because quinoa is substantially more expensive than rice, Shea advises looking for it in bulk at your local grocery store or discount outlet. However, it will almost always come out to less than $1 per serving.
“Quinoa is also rich in amino acids and iron, which is something you don’t often find in vegetarian foods, and it’s gluten free so you can even use it in place of stuffing at Thanksgiving if you want,” Shea says.
Similar to potatoes, quinoa can be found in many different colors: golden, black, multicolor or red.
“Greek yogurt is so hot right now, because it [can be] lowfat or fat free, and it’s high in protein and calcium so it’s got that hunger satisfying quality,” says Shea.
The calcium found in Greek yogurt is essential for bone health, and the vitamin D it contains is great for boosting your immune system. For dieters worried about salt intake, Greek yogurt is also lower in sodium than other types of yogurt.
“It’s a popular food, and thankfully there are so many brands available there’s usually one of them on sale,” says Shea. “It’s not out of the question to find a 10 for $10 deal.”
Shea recommends adding fruit such as strawberries, blueberries or bananas to the plain variety for a sweet treat, and for a savory dip, adding caramelized onions and herbs.
“Blueberries are the healthiest food you can eat,” says Kulze. “They have a wide array of disease-fighting phytochemicas and they contain more than a dozen vitamins and minerals.”
One of the best things about blueberries may be that they are available year-round, says Crowe, and even if you can’t get them fresh, frozen blueberries pack the same antioxidant punch as those picked right off the farm.
“They’ve got incredible antioxidant power as well as vitamins C and D,” says Crowe. “They’re also highly researched for their ability to increase brain function and possibly delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. Also, they’re great for diabetics who can’t usually eat fruit because it spikes their blood sugar. Blueberries don’t create that spike.”
For people who prefer their blueberries in muffin form, Crowe says to go for it—cooked blueberries are just as healthy for you as the fresh ones.