Feeling tired, rundown, or just generally blah—especially as the weather changes? This is the ideal time to revamp your diet and ward off winter sicknesses. You can revamp your regimen to include more fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and fish. Or get there faster, with superfoods that help increase immunity, boost energy and generally improve health and well-being. Added to smoothies, stirred into yogurt, or sprinkled on cereal, these booster foods can take you from run down to charged up. Eight of the greatest:
Chia seeds come from the Salvia hispanica, or chia plant, a member of the mint family. It’s native to Mexico and Guatemala, and legend says that the seeds were used by the Mayans as an energy supplement. Chia seeds are highly concentrated sources of alpha linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid, and they’re rich in fiber; one ounce of chia seed contains 10.7 grams of fiber, a third of the recommended daily amount. Chia seeds also contain more protein than any other seed, and fair amounts of calcium and iron. You’ll find them in whole and ground seed form. My favorites: Greens Plus Organic Chia Seeds, or Fun Fresh Foods Omega Chia Seed.
Flax seeds. Like chia seeds, flax seeds are high in ALA and fiber. Additionally, they contain lignans, phytoestrogens that help protect against breast, prostate, colon, and other cancers; enhance immune system functioning; and may prevent cardiovascular disease. Flax is available as whole seeds (grind them at home to boost digestion and increase availability of nutrients), ground seeds and oils. I like Barlean’s Highest Lignan Organic Flax Oil.
Fish oils. Sourced most commonly from cod and salmon, these powerful oils are rich in DHA(docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), omega-3 fatty acids that protect heart and brain health, boost immunity, improve joint function, and reduce inflammation. They’re available in flavored liquids which can be added to smoothies for a powerful boost. Or look for softgels and individual squeeze packs, especially good for kids and traveling. And make sure the fish oil you select has been tested for heavy metals, dioxins and PCBs.
Inulin is a fiber-like substance found in dandelion, Jerusalem artichoke, wheat, asparagus, jicama, burdock, chicory and a number of other foods. It’s similar to other forms of soluble fiber, and studies show inulin lowers total and LDL cholesterol and reduces the risk of colon cancer. It’s also considered a prebiotic, since it promotes the growth of probiotics, especially bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, in the gut. Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are one common type of inulin; it and other inulins are sold alone in powder form, to add to smoothies or green foods drinks. You’ll also find them in combination with other fibers as a fiber supplement, or combined with probiotics in powder or capsule form
Fiber. It’s crucial for health, but most people get about half of the recommended daily amount. Both forms of fiber—soluble and insoluble—are important, and each works differently. Soluble fiber absorbs water and transforms into a gel-like substance that binds with sugars, fats and cholesterol in the stomach and slows their absorption. Insoluble fiber doesn’t absorb water; it moves through the digestive largely intact, and provides bulk to increase bowel movements. A diet high in fiber reduces the risk of heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity and certain cancers; slows the absorption of sugar to improve blood glucose; lowers cholesterol; and enhances bowel regularity. If your diet is lacking in fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes, adding supplemental fiber can recharge your health, fast. It’s available in flavored or plain powdered form to add to your morning juice, almond milk or soy milk; look for a blend that contains both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Superfruits and berry concentrates. Superfruits and berries have more antioxidant potential than any other category of food, with enormous healing potential. Goji berries boost immunity and increase mental acuity and well-being; acai berries are anti-inflammatory effects and may protect against breast and colon cancer; maqui berries are rich in disease-preventive anthocyanins; cranberries protect against oral cancer; and blueberries have cancer-preventive, heart-protective and anti-inflammatory effects, and can prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Look for them dried or in powders, juices and purees.
Green foods. Algae and cereal grasses are concentrated sources of nutrition that can protect against cancer and heart disease, boost immunity and treat such disorders as fibromyalgia and colitis. They’re rich in chlorophyll, antioxidants and many vitamins and minerals. These powerful compounds are generally divided into four basic categories: spirulina, chlorella, blue-green algae (Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, or AFA) and cereal grasses such as wheat grass and barley grass; the nutrient profiles are similar, but in general, algae are potent immune-system activators. Green foods may also include dried and powdered kale, spinach or other greens. You’ll find all of these in powders that can be added to beverages or salad dressings, or combined with protein powders or berry concentrates. My all-time favorite: True Vitality green foods products; I love the wheatgrass and matcha green tea powders, and they make a delicious vegan protein powder that’s fortified with greens.