10 Essential Superfoods for Women
By Jill Provost, Special to LifescriptPublished February 16, 2010Do you know which foods pack the most nutritional punch? They’re not the usual suspects. Read on to find out which 10 superfoods you’re not eating enough of...

It’s not always easy to eat the right things. So when you fill your plate with wholesome food, it pays to make sure you’re getting the biggest nutritious bang for the buck.

Romaine lettuce is good for you, for example, but swapping it for dark, leafy greens like spinach or kale is even better. That's because some foods are nutritional powerhouses, with more vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting antioxidants than others.

But a “superfood” doesn't deserve that status if it’s too expensive or difficult to find, says Wendy Bazilian, R.D., co-author of Superfoods Rx Diet: Lose Weight with the Power of Supernutrients.

Like an exercise routine, your diet has to be something you can stick with and enjoy.

Here are the top 10 expert-recommended superfoods and ways to pack the most nutrients onto your plate.

1. Broccoli
Few vegetables are as divisive as broccoli, which was on former President H.W. Bush’s do-not-eat list. Either you love it or hate it — and researchers have even studied the reasons why.

Here’s a clue: If your parents don’t like the green stuff, chances are you won’t. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a tasty way to incorporate it into your diet.

Why women need it: Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts pack a serious punch against cancer.

That’s one reason why Joel Fuhrman, M.D., author of Eat for Health and Eat to Live, recommends eating foods from that family every day.

In lab studies, sulforaphane, a chemical found in broccoli and its cousins, actually made cancer cells like leukemia and melanoma self-destruct. A 2007 Chinese study found that the compound may slow down the spread of breast cancer.

One cup of broccoli also boasts a whopping 135% of your daily vitamin C needs.

Where to get it: Frozen or fresh, broccoli is easy to come by year-round. To get the most out of your super veggie, try to eat it raw or lightly steamed — cooking kills off most of its vitamin C.

If you’ve inherited the “I hate broccoli” gene, indulge in cauliflower instead.

2. Beets
Don’t let the color scare you: These crimson root vegetables are sweet, rich and buttery. And the nutritional power these red devils pack is so great, you should get to know them better.

Why women need it: A 2008 American Heart Association study reports that beet (otherwise known as beetroot) juice is a superstar at bringing blood pressure down.

Even if you don’t feel like you’re at risk for high blood pressure, trust us: You will be. One in three Americans has hypertension and 90% will get it in their lifetime. High blood pressure can damage your arteries, which can lead to plaque buildup, heart disease, blood clots and strokes.

According to Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., author of The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth (Fair Winds Press), beets are loaded with potassium, which counteract the effects of our salt-heavy diet.

They’re also high in folate, which we need to manufacture new cells and prevent DNA damage (a precursor to cancer).

Beet juice may also boost workout stamina by 16%, making exercise feel less tiring so you can go for longer, according to a 2009 English study.

The chemicals in beets also show great promise in combating cancer and inflammation.

Where to get it: If you can’t find beet juice at your local grocer, order it online for $6 a pop at Vitacost. It has a distinctive, earthy taste and mixes well with other juices, like cranberry. Canned beets are much easier to come by — and cheaper.

A great way to serve them up: Toss into an arugula salad with goat cheese and walnuts, and drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette and cracked pepper. Throw in some lean bacon for a distinctive salty-sweet flavor.

Beets are in season now and can be found at farmer’s markets. Try this Roasted Beet Crostini or roast them – peel, chop into bite-sized chunks, toss with olive oil and sea salt and roast in the oven at 450 degrees for a little under an hour – and sprinkle with feta cheese — even your kids will fight you for them.

3. Turmeric
Spice up your meals with turmeric. Most often found in yellow curry dishes, turmeric is a member of the ginger family.

Why women need it: Curcumin, a plant nutrient that gives turmeric its deep golden hue, has long been used in Eastern medicine to treat infections and help speed wound healing.

Preliminary research in mice suggests that the spice may be useful in treating conditions like inflammation, digestive problems, arthritis and Alzheimer's.“Regions of India with the highest regular consumption of turmeric have the lowest rates in the world of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Bazilian, “It may help promote brain health as we age.”

The body can absorb only a fraction of the curcumin we eat, but adding black pepper may boost our system’s ability to use it by 2,000%, according to Indian researchers.

Where to get it: Look for turmeric in the spice aisle in your supermarket. It should run you about $4 per bottle. You can also opt for curry powder, which contains large amounts of the super spice. Or, if you’re lucky enough to live near a “little India,” you can find turmeric in bulk for much cheaper.

Add turmeric to your diet today and try this recipe for Shrimp with Mango and Basil.

4. Sardines
Sardines get a bad rap. But before you toss this one back to sea, know this: These guys taste like tuna, are less fishy than caviar and come already de-headed – so they won’t stare back when you peel open a can.

Why women need it: Sardines are a cheap and convenient way to fill up on fish oil, vitamin D and calcium all at once, says Janis Jibrin, M.S., R.D., co-author of The Best Life Guide to Managing Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes (Simon & Schuster).

"Just one can of bone-in sardines covers 125% of your vitamin D needs, 35% of your calcium and 88% of your daily selenium requirement,” she says.

Selenium, an antioxidant, helps keep the immune system fighting fit and protects our cells from damage.

Where to get it: For the healthiest catch, choose water-packed sardines without added salt.

Try our Sardines on Crackers or Jibrin’s easy (and tasty) sardine recipe: Drain a can of sardines, mix with lemon juice, a little crushed garlic and a few tablespoons of chopped parsley. Serve on whole-grain crisp bread or toast.

If you still can’t stomach the tiny fish, canned salmon with the bone will give you the same amount of calcium, vitamin D, omega-3s and selenium.

5. Kale
Kale is part of the broccoli, or brassica, family. So if you’re broccoli-phobic, but want to reap its benefits, learn to love these leafy greens.

Why women need it: Not only does it do a number on cancer, it also helps the heart. According to Jibrin, a half-cup of kale juice per day jacked up helpful HDL cholesterol by 27% and lowered artery-clogging LDL in just 12 weeks.

Kale is loaded with vitamin C, which is great for your complexion, along with calcium and vitamin A, Bazilian says. Leafy greens also contain nutrients — carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin – that help preserve vision and prevent eyestrain – a serious asset for those who stare at a computer screen all day. Where to get it: You probably breeze right by kale every time you wander through the produce department. It’s sitting next to those other leafy greens you’ve probably never tried, like collard, mustard, and turnip greens and Swiss chard.

There are dozens of recipes with kale so it’s easy to add to your weekly menu. It’s delicious steamed, with pepper and garlic, or try it sautéed with apples and mustard.

6. Blueberries
This superfruit needs no introduction. The berries are so common in the U.S., you might have grown up picking berries right off bushes in your backyard.

Anthocyanidins, the chemicals that give blueberries their color, have hit the spotlight recently for their purported health benefits.

Though still being studied, plants with these super-antioxidants have anti-inflammatory powers that may lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and protect against mental decline, according to various studies.

But what makes blueberries a standout is their convenience.

“They’re versatile,” Bazilian says. “They don’t require seeding or chopping and you can get them year-round, frozen, fresh or dried.”

Acai, a Central American newcomer to the U.S., is a blueberry relative and just as good for you, but they’re expensive and hard to find.

Where to get it: Blueberries can cost less than $2 a pound in summer, but then skyrocket in winter. To save money, buy them in bulk when they’re cheap and freeze them to use year-round.

Make this recipe for Blueberry Maple Muffins.

7. Black beans
Found most often in Mexican cuisine, black beans are more popular than ever in the U.S.

Why women need it: “Beans hit it out of the ballpark when it comes to nutrition,” says Jibrin.

They’re loaded with the essential minerals, folate, magnesium and iron.

Beans are the only food that crosses two categories on the food pyramid, Bazilian says. They’re both a complex carbohydrate and a protein source.

“People who regularly consume beans have better weight management and blood sugar regulation,” explains Bazilian.

That's because of their soluble fiber.

Black beans, in particular, have three times the amount of omega-3 fats than other beans, and their dark skin contains cancer-fighting chemicals called flavonoids.

Unfortunately, “beans can be a tough sell, because they can be gassy,” Jibrin says. On the plus side, they keep you regular.If you’re wary of the fiber content, Bazilian and Jibrin say you can avoid digestive distress by easing beans into your diet slowly. Eat no more than half a cup at a time.

Where to get it: Canned beans are, by far, the most convenient – and they’re relatively cheap at 80 cents a can. But with a little planning, dried beans can save you even more money and aren’t too labor-intensive.

Simply cover dried beans with water in a large bowl, let sit overnight with a bay leaf or two, drain, and voila! Your fresh beans are ready to cook.

Jibrin recommends using half beans and half turkey to make chili, or adding beans to lean ground beef for sloppy Joes. This Slow Cooked Beans recipe will be steaming and ready for you after a long day of work.

8. Tart Cherries
Don’t confuse tart cherries with the sweet black cherries usually found in the supermarket produce aisle. This fruit is most often used in baking and comes frozen, canned or as juice.

Why women need it: Tart cherries are anti-inflammatory superstars and may be great for managing pain.

“They’ve long been used to treat arthritis and gout symptoms,” says Bazilian. Research in animals and humans suggests they can help relieve arthritis and post-workout muscle soreness, lower cholesterol and possibly even reduce body fat, according to one 2009 University of Michigan study.

Where to get it: Your cheapest bet: Buy them canned, for about $2.50 each, in the baking aisle. Tart cherries have the same zippy flavor as cranberries and taste good in smoothies or mixed with other fruits. For a good-for-you dessert, whip up this Sour Cherry Fruit Slump, a cousin of the popular cobbler.

9. Almonds
Almonds have been around since Biblical times, and are a staple in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. Mild and versatile, the nuts work well in sweet and savory dishes.

Why women need it: Nearly every packaged food these days, from yogurt to breakfast cereal, claims it’s loaded with probiotics – helpful bacteria that promote healthy digestion and a strong immune system.

Now let us introduce you to prebiotics — non-digestible food parts that create probiotics when they pass through your intestines. Almonds, along with other high-fiber foods, belong to this category and may play a role in improving stomach problems, like irritable bowel disorders and diarrhea, and boosting calcium absorption.Snack on a handful each day to lower your HDL, or bad, cholesterol. They’re high in vitamin E, which is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

A quarter-cup of almonds also contains more protein than an egg. They’re also packed with magnesium, which helps boost production of the brain chemical dopamine — good for regulating mood and preventing depression.

Where to get it: Anywhere nuts are sold. If they don’t have it in your local market, Trader Joe’s has a wide selection. Many farmer’s markets feature a nut seller, who will be happy to answer your questions about the nutritional benefits of almonds, as well as offer samples.

Added bonus: Whether you’re craving salty or sweet, almonds make the perfect snack food. The roasted nuts come in a variety of flavors, like wasabi, BBQ, vanilla or cinnamon. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, swap out your peanut butter for almond butter.

10. Quinoa
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a protein-rich seed that the Incas ate to give them strength and energy. They are tiny pellet-shaped seeds that look and taste like couscous.

Why women need it: Quinoa contains all nine of the essential amino acids. The building blocks of protein, amino acids make up our muscles, tendons, glands and organs. Since our body can’t manufacture or store them, we need a steady source from our diet.

Without even one of the essential nine, our muscles and organs would start to break down. Most of us get all that we need from meat, but vegetarians need a surplus of whole grains and legumes to keep their levels intact.

Unlike refined carbohydrates, which are stripped of nutrients and fiber during processing, whole grains are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Quinoa is a good source of magnesium, which helps relax blood vessels and maintain healthy blood pressure levels. It may even be help prevent migraines.

Where to get it: Look for quinoa in the rice aisle. Prices range from $2.50-$4.50 per pound. Don’t be intimidated by its exotic name – it’s as versatile as rice and cooks the same way too.

Try serving it tossed with chopped tomatoes, green onions, cilantro, black beans and seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Which Foods Can Boost Your Mood?
Food isn’t just a palate-pleasing experience – it affects how you feel physically and mentally. Are you eating mood-enhancing foods? Take this quiz to find out.

Check out Health Bistro for more healthy food for thought. See what Lifescript editors are talking about and get the skinny on the latest news. Share it with your friends (it’s free to sign up!), and bookmark it so you don’t miss a single juicy post!

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