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Health magazines and websites often tout the benefits of a variety of “superfoods,” a popular label that suggests that these edibles are extra dense with nutrients and therefore have some manner of curative powers. The reality, however, isn’t quite so cut and dried.
While superfoods are generally very healthy, their benefits are considerably overstated in many cases. The American Heart Association points out that the term “superfood” is more marketing ploy than accurate nutrition term, but that doesn’t mean that foods singled out as being super aren’t super good for your health.
When consumed as part of an overall healthy diet, certain foods that pack a nutritional punch can contribute to positive differences in your mood, sleep and stress levels, which may be particularly beneficial for those in recovery. Here are four super nutritious foods to help improve your overall sense of health and well-being as you navigate recovery.
Blueberries, strawberries, cranberries and blackberries are among the top sources of antioxidants that can help fight damaging molecules known as free radicals, which are byproducts of the breakdown of food in the body and exposure to cigarette smoke, large amounts of alcohol and other chemicals.
Free radicals contribute to aging, cell damage and systemic dysfunction, according to Mayo Clinic, and antioxidants can help protect against this damage as well as help improve the function of your immune system. Other good sources of antioxidants include broccoli, peppers and sweet potatoes.
Oranges, grapefruit and other citrus fruits contain high levels of vitamin C, which help lower the body’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol. While you may feel inclined to reach for the doughnuts instead of the fruit bowl when you’re under stress, foods high in fat can leave you feeling lethargic and less equipped to cope with stress and other relapse triggers. A nutritious diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables can counter the effects of stress by boosting the immune system, stabilizing your mood and reducing blood pressure.
Other foods that help reduce stress hormone levels include fatty fish, nuts and seeds, all of which are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits and vegetables increase the production of serotonin and stabilize blood pressure to help combat the effects of stress.
Folate, an essential B-vitamin, may be beneficial for combating depression, according to a study published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience. The study noted that a folate deficiency contributes to depression, and scientists suspect that the reason is that folate deficiencies are associated with low levels of serotonin in the brain. Garbanzo beans, the main ingredient in hummus, are packed with folate to the tune of 282 micrograms per half-cup of cooked beans, which amounts to 70 percent of the RDA for folate.
Other foods that can help improve your mood include those high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for optimum brain function. And although it’s not exactly a food, coffee has been found to positively affect serotonin levels to combat depression. Studies show that women who drank two to three cups of coffee a day for ten years were 15 percent less likely to develop depression than women who didn’t drink coffee.
Adequate sleep is essential for good physical and mental health, and it’s especially important for those in recovery. According to the Cleveland Clinic, whole grains help boost serotonin levels, which are as important to sleep as they are to mood. Foods like brown rice, oatmeal and whole grain cereals are complex carbohydrates that can help relax you and promote higher-quality sleep.