Putting the 'Super' in Superfoods

It’s no wonder there is so much confusion surrounding this well-touted marketing term.  What are super-foods really?

As I’ve gone further and further into researching the trend, it’s been interesting to see the hype and money used to promote different food groups. I wonder who is actually making the money and who are reaping the nutritional benefits.  Whilst there is no official definition of what makes a food a ‘super-food’, there is general consensus that it must contain high levels of nutrients and must be rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants….but what the heck does that mean?

ANTI-OXIDANTS...AUNTY WHO?

Antioxidants are known for their ability to fight against the harmful oxidative effect of free radicals, hence their name anti-oxidants.  Oxidative free radicals are all around us.  We have oxidative stress when we walk, talk, eat and drink.  These little buggers are what ages us, decreases the collagen in our skin and bodies thereby making us look and feel old, they damage our DNA and contribute to the development of heart disease, cancer and dementia.  So if we believe what’s in the literature and advertisements I can whip up a cocktail of super-foods to counter all these things. A piece of broccoli for dinner, a handful of blueberries, two cartwheels in an anti-clockwise direction and douse all greens with as much extra, extra double virgin olive oil as is possible…and can I have extra virgins with that please?

No, this is obviously not going to provide you with the well-rounded ‘super’ diet that you or I need to go about our normal life let alone turn us into a more fabulous version of Mr Incredible or Popeye.  Becoming too fixated on any food group is where I believe the problems occur and especially those not grown locally as many foods become alarmingly less ‘super’ when they’re frozen, crushed, mashed and processed, let alone poor storage and handling hygiene.

Here are some foods that are at the top of the list, some I hope will be a pleasant surprise as one doesn’t need to spend a lot or any more to have a full well rounded super diet.  The foods have been chosen as you will see on their merit of…….cost, high anti-oxidants, taste, phytochemicals, ease of use, satiating, and some other health benefits.  Thing to take note of are that many foods that are otherwise very good for you often have their nutritional value lowered as a result of us mixing in inferior products, poor production, heat, cold, and many other things.  Moving foods can decrease their amazingness.

OATS

Not only are these cheap, readily available and easy to use but they also contain large amounts of both soluble (good for feeling full) and insoluble (good for reducing cholesterol) fibre.  Along with this high levels of beta-glucan which as considerable evidence would suggest can also assist to lower high levels of cholesterol including some blood thinning qualities it’s no wonder oats are a great way to kick-start your day.

BEANS

With their low GI (glycaemic index – the speed at which you get the sugar spike following food), high levels of vitamins and trace minerals, ability to significantly reduce your LDL cholesterol as well as improving your bowel health, beans are a great morning or lunchtime snack to keep you focused and satiated throughout the day.

SALMON, SARDINES & MACKEREL

Salmon, sardines, mackerel and other fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce heart disease and stroke through reduction in triglyceride levels studies have shown.  Whilst there is some controversy around the amount of some heavy metals such as mercury in many fish the benefits sure do outweigh the negatives.

GINGER

What a great root! Ginger has a long history in many ancient cultures for having medicinal qualities that can help with reflux, bloating, fatigue, malaise, rheumatism and much more.  Whilst recent studies have only shown that it can help to protect against some types of cancer (especially bowel) and boosting our immunity it is good to note that all things in moderation as there are many cases of people becoming unwell from too much.

BROCCOLI & TOMATO

The health-promoting properties of broccoli are attributed to its isothiocyanates compounds, which are thought to have potent disease and cancer prevention capabilities.  One of the interesting things about many vegetables, including broccoli and tomato, is that they’re better for you together than eaten alone with these two magnifying their anti-cancer properties.  This is due to many foods aiding the absorption and digestion of others such as vitamin C containing foods increasing the absorption of iron.

avocado1.jpeg

AVOCADO

Avocado added to most salads is delicious and nutritious helping to increase absorption of many foods as well. Be sure to eat as many of your vegetables including your broccoli and other leafy greens like kale, spinach, cabbage and other dark vegetables raw occasionally as cooking or steaming can destroy many of their super qualities, though as we see with tomato its anti-cancer anti-oxidant qualities of lycopene levels are heightened with cooking though this also ruins much of its vitamin C.

SWEET POTATO & SQUASH

Sweet potato and squash are great due to their high levels of fiber, vitamin A and they’re so naturally delicious that they can be eaten without any sweeteners.

YOGHURT

Yoghurt is a great source of calcium, protein, vitamin B12 and riboflavin along with providing many pro-biotics that help with your gut.  Why not combine this with some blueberries (which always seem to rate incredibly high in their ‘super’ content though only more accessible than actually better than many other berries), which are high in phytochemicals and great for brain function and decreasing neuro-degeneration and Alzheimer’s Disease.