This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
Every day, it seems there’s a newly crowned miracle food that claims to aid in everything that’s ailing you. It’s not just health food anymore — it’s SUPERFOOD.
So what exactly makes a food, well, super? “The great effects they have on the body,” says Dr. Nicholas Perricone, MD, board-certified dermatologist, skin-care expert, and author, who has been writing about superfoods for years. “Many of these foods and spices lower and/or stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels — key factors in the many diseases associated with aging,” he says. “They are also superior sources of antioxidants, nature’s natural anti-inflammatories.” Perricone adds that they can also help with the waistline. “Interestingly, the vast majority of foods that delay the onset of age-related diseases in all organ systems are also excellent for their weight loss.”
Dr. Jessica Wu, board-certified dermatologist and author of Feed Your Face agrees. “For me, a superfood is one that’s been clinically proven to have a positive impact on the skin. While certain foods contain protein, fiber, etc., a superfood has science behind it that proves that it can improve and enhance the performance and condition of the skin,” she says.
Celebrity nutritionist and author of The Beauty Detox Solution, Kimberly Snyder, also adds that you don’t have to search far and wide for these superfoods. “Contrary to popular belief, superfoods don’t have to come from across the world. For example, goji berries are great, but it’s important to remember that some of the best ‘superfoods’ are locally sourced and more familiar to you than you might think,” says Snyder.
But can you really become a better person (physically, that is) just by eating these so-called superfoods? Actually, yes. From more supple, youthful skin to fewer breakouts, here’s how you can look and feel better with simple dietary changes. Superfoods to the rescue!
Outside of being delicious, berries can have an incredible effect on skin when it comes to sun damage — as in, it can help protect against it. “Blackberries and raspberries contain a type of ellagic acid that helps protect against sunburn and sun damage,” explains Dr. Wu.
Snyder agrees: “Blueberries, cranberries, and strawberries have been shown to shield the brain from memory loss and contribute to enhanced memories in various studies, making them serious superfoods. Diets rich in blueberries will actually improve learning capacity and lower stress. In fact, blueberries are among the best source of antioxidants that you can easily purchase and incorporate into your diet. Berries are high in water and fiber that regulates your blood sugar while cutting your sugar cravings. This superfood is loaded with phytonutrients, a natural bioactive compound that works with minerals and vitamins to ensure mental and physical health.”
Obviously, this isn’t a call to remove sunscreen or to stop reading those complicated books, but if a low-calorie snack will help protect against sun damage and help us remember where we left our keys, sign us up!
These spicy veggies are proven to possess beneficial anti-cancer and heart-health properties. Dr Perricone explains: “The spicy constituents of capsaicin — the component in peppers that makes them hot — exerts strong anti-inflammatory effects and possesses proven anti-cancer and heart-health properties.”
But that’s not all! Chili peppers can also help with weight control. Dr Perricone goes on to explain, “Chili peppers deserve a place of spicy distinction, because they offer unique weight-control attributes. They suppress appetite; raise your metabolic rate temporarily, which stimulates your body to release adrenaline, thus increasing your body’s propensity to burn stored body fat and sugars (glycogen); stimulates thermogenesis; and inhibits spikes in blood sugar for about 30 minutes after ingested, reducing the risk of an insulin response.”
And, if that still weren’t enough, they increase endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals that boost your mood. How can you resist? Spice up your diet, and you can evidently reap waist-cinching, mood-enhancing benefits. Win-win!
Mom always said to eat your green beans, and if you’re looking for stronger, healthier hair, she’s absolutely right. “Green beans are naturally high in silicon, a mineral found in the earth,” explains Dr Wu. “Silicon and biotin are two compounds that are naturally found in green beans that have been shown to grow stronger, healthier hair.”
This cruciferous vegetable isn’t something that you would always think to add to your diet, but studies show that you should make the effort since increased intake can reduce the risk of cancers, especially breast and prostate varieties.
“Daily consumption of watercress resulted in a significant decrease in lymphocyte (white blood cell) DNA damage, which is an important event in cancer development,” explains Dr Perricone. “Watercress is a rich source of glucosinolate-derivatives, which show a range of anti-cancer activities. In one study, when smokers ate watercress with each meal for three days, the activation of a key carcinogen in tobacco was inhibited.”
Dr. Perricone also says it’s vital for skin and eye health. “Watercress is a good source of key nutrients and carotenoids, such as lutein and beta-carotene, associated with the maintenance of eye and skin health. Watercress is also rich in vitamin A and vitamin C, and a source of folate, calcium, iron, and vitamin E. It contains a variety of phytochemicals, including glucosinolates, lutein, flavonoids, and hydroxycinammic acids and is recommended by the Department of Health to help reduce the risk of many chronic diseases.”
Can it also help you watch your waistline? Absolutely. “As a low calorie vegetable, watercress may play a role in weight management. And, 85% of watercress’ caloric intake is protein — an extremely high ratio,” says Perricone.
Pumpkin & Kale
We’ve all enjoyed the effects of munching on kale and pumpkin pie during the holidays, but it turns out that these two foods are also pretty helpful all year round.
Pumpkin is super-high in two crucially important carotenoids that help eradicate free radicals in the lens of the eye, possibly helping to prevent the formation of cataracts and lessening the risk of macular degeneration, a serious eye problem that typically causes blindness.
Meanwhile, the erupting popularity of kale in every form, from chips to salads, has good reason. “This dark, leafy green is rich in vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, including vitamins K, A, C, & E, as well as magnesium, fiber, calcium, and omega-3 fats,” says Snyder. Which means they’re great for the body as well as the skin.
Dr Perricone enthuses, “Carotenoids help block sunlight-induced inflammation in the skin, which leads to wrinkles, can cause skin cancer, and may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, in part because of their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties.” Perricone does note that unlike food sources, supplemental carotenoids such as alpha- and beta-carotene do not produce consistently positive results against cardiovascular disease.
In addition, he says that “the lutein and zeaxanthin abundant in spinach, kale, and collard greens exert protective antioxidant effects in the retina, and, accordingly, they appear to help prevent cataracts, macular degeneration, and prostatic changes.”
Barley & Oats
No, we’re not advocating you to drink more beer— that’s between you and your bartender. We are advocating that you get more hulled barley (the one that retains its outer coating, unlike its pearl and Scotch variety siblings) into your diet. Along with its friendly sibling, oats, it provides some amazing health benefits. Dr Perricone explains, “Not only is barley a low-glycemic grain, it is high in both soluble and insoluble fiber. Dietary fiber is critical to health.”
He adds, “Many experts believe that good health begins in the colon, and without sufficient dietary fiber in the diet, we run the risk of a host of diseases, ranging from colon cancer to hemorrhoids. The fiber found in barley provides food for the beneficial bacteria in the large intestine. This is important, as the ‘good’ bacteria can crowd out the disease-causing bacteria in the intestinal tract, resulting in greater health and disease resistance.”
Barley and oats can lower blood cholesterol, help prevent cancer by providing selenium and helping to speed food through the digestive tracts, provide much-needed niacin for heart health, stabilize blood sugar, and contain high concentrations of tocotrienols — the “super” form of vitamin E — as well as lignans, which are phytochemicals that function as antioxidants. Added bonus? “Women who consume lignans — also present in high levels in flax seed— are less likely to develop breast cancer,” Perricone explains.
The Allium Family: Onions, Garlic, Chives, Leeks, Shallots & Scallions
You might want to carry a breath mint or two, because this family of foods contains a whole host of superfood goodness. Snyder explains, “Like blueberries, onions — and particularly red onions — have been used for centuries in India to improve memory. The key is in a naturally occurring flavonoid, fisetin, which facilitates long-term memory by stimulating certain pathways in the brain.”
Perricone adds that this valuable veggie family is a powerful tool to prevent cancer. “Garlic, onions, leeks, and chives contain substances that stimulate the production of glutathione — the liver’s most potent antioxidant. Glutathione enhances elimination of toxins and carcinogens, putting the allium family of vegetables at the top of the list for foods that can help prevent cancer.”
Additionally, eating garlic can help lower total cholesterol (and raise the good HDL cholesterol), lower blood pressure, and reduce blood clots. Onions can boast many of these same benefits, but with the added bonus of preventing colds and reducing the risk of diabetes. Leeks are also known to contain vitamins B6, C, folate, magnesium, iron, and fiber.
In short, you’ll look smarter and feel better by adding these great superfoods to your diet. Just, you know, feel free to tell people about the health benefits when you’re popping breath mints and gum post-meals.
We know, we know: We’ve already told you just how great fish can be for you. But we think it bears repeating that cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines are loaded with omega-3 oils, which are key for reducing inflammation — perfect for all skin types, but particularly for those with oily skin.
“Most of my patients who have acne avoid fish oil or oily fish for fear that the oil in the food will produce more oil in the skin,” says Wu. “The truth is that oily foods won’t cause acne. Omega-3 rich foods actually help reduce acne because they reduce inflammation in the skin, which helps your acne.” While a balanced diet including omega-3 rich fish is great for any skin condition, if you’re struggling with acne, definitely aim to add a serving or two to your diet weekly.
Illustrations by Gabriela Alford
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