8 Superfoods to Add to Your Holiday Pantry

By Ching Dee for Belo Medical Group on November 24, 2020

For us more fortunate souls, the lockdown has turned us into plantitas, K-Drama fanatics, artists, and even chefs. While we spend more time at home waiting for the new vaccine that will literally save humanity, it’s our duty to put our (new-found) culinary prowess to keep our bodies strong and healthy to fight off germs and viruses.

“Superfood” is the term used for nutrient-rich food, but according to nutrition experts, there’s really no such thing as a superfood since there’s no single food item that can provide you all the nutrients you need. According to Portland-based registered clinical dietitian-nutritionist Ansley Hill in a 2018 article for Healthline, “the term ‘superfood’ was coined for marketing purposes to influence food trends and sell products… though many foods could be described as super, it’s important to understand that there is no single food that holds the key to good health or disease prevention.”

However, veteran nutritionist and Director for Nutrition at Dana Farber Cancer Institute Katherine D. McManus explained in her Harvard Medical School article that “there are a few foods that can be singled out for special recognition. These ‘superfoods’ offer some very important nutrients that can power-pack your meals and snacks, and further enhance a healthy eating pattern.”

Most of us are already familiar with superfoods like garlic (which, aside from being absolutely delicious, has been proven “effective in reducing cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as supporting immune function”), kale (rich in vitamin C, iron, calcium, and has anti-inflammatory properties), and whole grains like quinoa and brown rice (rich in fiber, B vitamins, and helps in lowering cholesterol). But here are eight more scientifically proven superfoods and some tips on incorporating it into your holiday festivities and even your daily diet.

1. Tomatoes

Rich in vitamin C and cancer-fighting lycopene, these crimson fruits (yes, they’re not vegetables) are already a staple in most Filipino noche buena tables in the form of spaghetti sauce. But you can also switch it up a bit and use it in salads, stews, soup, or even appetizers like bruschetta, which also contains another superfood: olive oil!

According to Ms. McManus, “Lycopene becomes more available for your body to use when tomatoes are prepared and heated in a healthy fat such as olive oil”.

2. Olive oil

It’s a bit more expensive but a little olive oil still goes a long way, especially when it comes to nutrients. It’s an excellent source of polyphenolic compounds and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) – both of which help reduce the risk of heart diseases and diabetes. Olive oil is also rich in vitamins E and K, which “protect against cellular damage from oxidative stress.”

Chefs and nutritionists say you can substitute olive oil when a recipe calls for butter or margarine when it comes to savory dishes. It’s also a great way to add more flavor to your favorite salad dressing.

3. Fish

Believe it or not, but Ms. McManus – a Harvard-certified expert – says you can enjoy the health benefits of fish whether you buy it fresh, frozen, or even canned. So whichever form you find yourself buying this holiday season, fish will always be a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which help prevent heart diseases. Experts recommend easy-to-find fish like sardines, anchovies, mackerel, tuna (especially tuna steaks), and salmon (you deserve to splurge a little bit this Christmas anyway).

4. Seaweed

Together with fish, this one might just give you more reasons to enjoy sushi bake for the holidays. Seaweed is rich in vitamin K, folate (which is perfect for new moms), iodine, and fiber.  According to Ms. Hill, “these ocean vegetables are a source of unique bioactive compounds — not typically present in land-vegetables — which may have antioxidant effects. Some of these compounds may also reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.”

5. Sweet potato

If you’re already trying to lessen your carb intake and you’re praying for the strength to stick to your diet even during the holidays, sweet potato is a nutrient-rich option to replace rice or potatoes. It’s high in potassium fiber, vitamins A and C, as well as carotenoids (a type of cancer-fighting antioxidant). Contrary to popular belief, sweet potatoes won’t increase your blood sugar level. According to Ms. Hill, it “may actually improve blood sugar control in those with type 2 diabetes.”

6. Berries

Though a bit pricey here in the Philippines, experts like Ms. McManus say berries like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are “just as healthy [when you] buy them frozen” compared to fresh. It’s a great way to add some natural sweetness, acidity, and color to your drinks or desserts this yuletide season. Berries are bursting with antioxidants, which is “associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer and other inflammatory conditions… [and] may also be effective in treating various digestive and immune-related disorders when used alongside traditional medical therapies,” according to Ms. Hill.

7. Nuts and legumes

Nuts are not just an excellent provider of texture on a well-made cheese board. It’s also rich in plant protein and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which we mentioned earlier can help deter heart diseases. Though generally more expensive here in the Philippines, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, and pecans are superb additions to salads and even desserts or snacks (whether whole or in the form of nut butters). If you’re on a budget, legumes like peanuts are excellent substitutes. While nutritionists laud its MUFA contents, they also remind us that nuts are “calorically dense”, so it’s still best to consume it in moderation.

8. Yogurt

And what goes great with berries and nuts? Yogurt, of course! It’s an excellent source of calcium, protein, and probiotics or the “good bacteria”, which help our bodies fight off harmful bacteria.

However, nutritionists warn us about flavored yogurts, which usually contain a lot of added sugar. Ms. McManus suggests: “Buy plain yogurt and add your own fruit. Look for yogurts that have ‘live active cultures’ such as Lactobacillus, L. acidophilus, L. bulgaricus, and S. thermophilus.”

Having plain yogurt in your fridge also means you can use it for sweet dishes as well as savory ones. You can use it in place of mayonnaise or sour cream in dips, sauces, and stews. And after all that feasting on Christmas Eve, enjoy some yogurt with berries and nuts on Christmas morning to encourage healthy bowel movement and keep your gut in check.

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