by: Cynthia Sass | September 25, 2012

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The term “superfood” doesn’t have a formal definition, but it’s generally used to describe a food with nutrients or natural compounds that go to work in your body to optimize health or prevent disease. The truth is nearly every plant-based food on the planet can be categorized as “super,” from fruits and veggies to whole grains, beans, nuts, herbs and spices. And with each new study we learn more about exactly how natural foods serve as preventative medicine. Here are three currently at the top of my must-eat list, and the science behind how they work.

SEAWEED: Protects Your Heart and Waistline
A report in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reviewed almost 100 previous studies and concluded that some seaweed proteins are as effective as blood-pressure medications. And in animal research, a component in brown seaweed has been shown to help rats burn fat. Seaweed is a rich source of iodine—one of the few sources of this mineral. That’s key because too little iodine can trigger thyroid disease and weight gain, and seaweed’s natural magnesium can improve sleep, which is also tied to weight control.

EAT MORE: Make a side of seaweed salad a staple in every sushi order; start your day with a seaweed omelet, or for a portable option look for dried seaweed snacks.

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CUPUAÇU: Fights Aging and Boosts Energy
Tagged as the next antioxidant powerhouse, this distinctly flavored fruit related to cacao grows in the Amazon, where locals use it to strengthen immunity and relieve pain. Its juice tastes like pear and banana with a hint of chocolate, and like its cocoa cousin it contains natural stimulants to boost energy and mental alertness.

EAT MORE: Whip the freeze-dried powder or juice into a smoothie, or make cupuacu pops by freezing the juice in molds with chunky bits of fresh tropical fruit.

MISO: Protects the Prostate, Breasts and Lungs
This soy paste originated in Japan, where men have a much lower incidence of prostate cancer. Among Japanese women one study found that those who consumed three or more bowls of miso soup daily had a 40 percent lower risk of breast cancer compared to those who consumed just one.

EAT MORE: Smear organic miso paste on tuna steak; or to make a quick soup, dissolve two teaspoons into boiling water and add sliced veggies and greens.

Cynthia Sass is the author of Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds, and Lose Inches. The nutrition consultant to Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays and the National Hockey League’s New York Rangers, she works with a wide range of athletes, including tennis players, as a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics.

Originally published in the April 2012 issue of TENNIS.

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