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Updated 05 July 2013

Top 10 super foods

We're all entitled to having likes and dislikes when it comes to food. But which foods should we all make a point of including in our diets, because they're simply magic?

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We're all entitled to having our particular likes and dislikes when it comes to the food we eat. But which foods should we all make a point of including in our diets, because they're simply magic?

Take a look at our list of top 10 super foods – and find out why you just can't afford to go without them. The good news is that some of your favourites probably made the list:

1. Tuna
Tuna, and other fatty, dark-skinned fish, came out tops.

Fatty fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which help to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Research suggests that the omega-3s can also play a role in preventing conditions like hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, depression, dry eye syndrome, and possibly cancer. These are all diseases that affect a staggering number of people across the globe.

Make a plan to eat fatty fish at least two to three times a week. Just make sure you lay off on the batter and added fat.

2. Eggs
A single egg is packed with goodness. And while eggs do contain cholesterol, the effect is not as detrimental as scientists once believed.

For as little as 75 calories, an egg provides 12% of the daily recommended value for protein, as well as a wide variety of other nutrients such as vitamin A, B6, B12, D, folate, iron, phosphorous and zinc.

On top of this, the humble egg is now also categorised as a "functional food", i.e. a food that provides health benefits beyond its basic nutritional benefits.

The key is the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, found in egg yolks. These substances collect in parts of the eye and have been shown to play a role in promoting vision and preventing some common causes of blindness.

A word of warning though: make sure your cholesterol levels are normal before you start including more eggs in your diet. You may be suffering from high cholesterol without knowing it.

However, if your cholesterol levels have been tested and are normal, two or three eggs per week could boost your health. Just remember to opt for poached, boiled or scrambled eggs instead of fried ones.

(Keep an eye out for pasteurised eggs. These eggs, which are now available at Checkers and Checkers Hyper stores in Gauteng and the Western Cape, are safe to use if you're pregnant or immune compromised.)

3. Beans
Baked beans, black beans, lima beans, kidney beans. Eating plenty of beans can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke and help prevent cancer, researchers say.

This is mostly due to the fact that beans are a rich source of antioxidants. A variety of veggies, fruits, legumes and nuts recently battled it out for the top spot on a new list of the 20 most antioxidant-rich foods. The small red bean came out tops, and red kidney beans and pinto beans weren't far behind.

A serving (one-third cup of cooked beans) contains about 80 calories (336kJ), little fat, no cholesterol, and plenty of complex carbohydrates. These legumes also provide a good source of B vitamins, potassium and fibre.

Legumes make a great side dish and can also be used as a substitute for meat as it's inexpensive. While legumes don't contain complete proteins such as meat, you could supplement your diet by eating grain or dairy products along with legumes. This is particularly useful in the diet of the vegetarian.

4. Cocoa
Here's a bit of good news for chocoholics: the delicious treat could lower your risk for heart disease and hypertension.

It looks like cocoa exerts its positive effect mainly in three ways: firstly, by keeping the endothelium (the layer of cells that lines the heart and blood vessels) healthy, thereby reducing the risk of heart attacks; secondly, by lowering blood pressure, which is also related to heart disease; and thirdly, by modulating platelet function in a similar way as aspirin does.

However, the key ingredients in cocoa, what scientists call flavanols, are only present in dark chocolate.

Although more research needs to be done, it's probably safe to say that a small helping (10 g) of good-quality chocolate every day could do no harm – if the chocolate is of the darker variety, and if it forms part of an energy-controlled diet.

5. Brazil nuts
Due to Brazil nuts' high selenium content, these nuts can be seen as a "complete" protein source.

This means that, unlike the proteins in most plant products, Brazil nuts' proteins contain all the necessary amino acids to foster optimal growth in humans in the same way as proteins from animal products do. But even animal products, like chicken and beef, don't contain as much selenium as Brazil nuts do.

Selenium is also a powerful antioxidant, which protects against harmful free radicals that may cause heart disease and cancer. Selenium is also important for healthy immunity. And Brazil nuts are also a very good source of zinc (essential to digestion and metabolism).

Eight medium Brazil nuts count as one serving (30 g). Since these nuts are high in fat, they shouldn't be included in the diet more than three times per week. These nuts should also replace other fats in the diet and shouldn't just be added.

Note, however, that, because of its high saturated fat content, Brazil nuts could be a dangerous addition to your diet if you are at risk of heart disease. Rather opt for nuts with less fat, like almonds, if this is the case.

6. Garlic
Garlic is not only a great way to add a little kick to a pasta dish; it also offers tremendous health benefits because of its high antioxidant content.

Research has shown that garlic could help prevent heart disease, hypertension and cancer, and can possibly improve lung function. Garlic is also a great way to boost one's immunity – especially in wintertime.

Include a clove or two of garlic in your diet every day. Just make sure that the garlic isn't overcooked. And steer clear of garlic if you're on anti-coagulant medication.

7. Yoghurt
Yoghurt not only contains bone-building calcium, but is also a great source of probiotics.

Probiotics are microbial foods or supplements that can be used to change or improve the intestinal bacterial balance to boost the health of the host. Probioics thwart the overgrowth of harmful bacteria by competing for attachment sites and nutrients in the gastrointestinal tract.

Include a tub of fat-free or low-fat yoghurt in your diet every day – just make sure the label states "live AB cultures".

8. Citrus
You probably know that citrus fruits are a fantastic source of vitamin C, but did you know that oranges, naartjies, lemons and grapefruit are all also rich in antioxidants?

Citrus contains zeaxathin (like eggs) that maintains healthy vision. These fruits are rich in flavanones that play a role in preventing cancer. Citrus fruits also contain caffeic acid that may reduce the risk of heart disease and eye disease.

A variety of delicious citrus fruits are available in South Africa. Depending on the season, try to include citrus fruits in your diet as often as possible.

9. Bananas
Research has shown that high-potassium foods, of which the banana is a prime example, may lower the risk of stroke.

Potassium also plays a vital role in the functioning of the muscles, heart and nerves. It ensures that the body’s fluid levels remain balanced and that the body is neither too alkaline nor too acidic. It also prevents calcium from being lost in the urine.

Eating bananas before bedtime can also make for a good night's sleep, as bananas help to increase serotonin levels. To top these benefits, bananas help to maintain bowel health and are good energy-boosting snacks.

10. Cranberries
Cranberries are packed with proanthocyanidins that have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, and improve urinary tract health. New research shows that cranberry juice may also work against gastrointestinal viruses.

Drink 300 ml cranberry juice every day to reap the benefits.

(Carine van Rooyen, Health24, updated April 2011)

 
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