With many health enthusiasts continually looking for the next big trend in nutrition and diet, it’s not surprising that so-called 'superfoods' are getting a lot of attention.
While there doesn’t seem to be an official definition for superfoods, one nutrient commonly promoted as a key ingredient in these health foods is antioxidants, chemicals found in foods that help protect the body’s cells from the harmful effects of free radicals.
Free radicals can damage the DNA of cells, which could lead the way to diseases such as cancer and heart disease in the long run.
Read: The many wonders of Goji Berries
Superfoods are generally also particularly rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre – all of which play an essential role in keeping us healthy and free from disease.
Don’t go too far . . .
The best superfoods are the ones that have been right in front of our noses for decades, according to Prof Tim Crowe, an accredited practising dietician and Associate Professor in Nutrition in the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at Deakin University in Melbourne.
These are the “wide variety of plant-based foods that form the cornerstone of the diets of the world’s longest-lived and healthiest people,” Crowe explains.
These superfoods, which we should eat regularly, include:
• Cruciferous vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, kale)
• Mixed nuts (handful)
• Oats (1/2 cup, cooked)
• Green tea (two cups)
• Berries (1/2 cup mixed berries daily)
Crowe’s list is largely supported by the American Diabetes Association, which adds several more optimal superfoods such as:
• Any kind of bean (e.g. pinto and kidney beans)
• Dark green leafy vegetables (e.g. kale, collard greens and spinach)
• Fibre-rich citrus fruits, including lemons, grapefruit and oranges
• Berries, sweet potatoes and tomatoes
• Salmon and other fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids
• Nuts, whole-grain foods and fat-free yogurt and milk
Other potential superfoods
While the jury is still out on the exact health benefits of many foods currently marketed as superfoods (more research needs to be done), it’s worth taking note of the following healthy foods and extracts that are gaining popularity worldwide:
• Kale (rich in chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants)
• Brown rice protein (a healthy, hypoallergenic source of amino acids)
• Spirulina (nutrient-dense algae)
• Coconut oil (a good source of healthy fats)
• Chlorophyll (rich in vitamin and minerals)
• Chlorella (nutrient-dense algae)
• Chia (rich in protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals)
• Acai (rich in antioxidants and healthy fats)
• Maca (rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants)
• Coconut water (rich in electrolytes)
• Camu (rich in antioxidants)
• Cacao (rich in antioxidants and minerals)
• Wheatgrass (rich in fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals)
• Goji berries (rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants)
Read: The benefits of brown rice protein
It’s worth experimenting with the above foods and extracts. Most of them make great, delicious additions to smoothies and juices – a healthy way to start the day.
Tuck into ocean superfoods
We tend to forget about the host of nutrient-rich food sources found in the ocean. Seaweeds, for example, are packed with calcium, iodine and antioxidants.
If possible, buy brands that are certified organic. Because seaweeds absorb the properties of the water in which they grow, it’s best to ensure they’ve been sourced from unpolluted oceanic water.
While it may take some time to get accustomed to the taste, a little goes a long way. Some types of seaweed you could try include:
Wakame: This deep green seaweed is available in dehydrated or fresh forms. Hydrate it in water for a few minutes before adding it to stews, soups, stock, stir fries or savoury dishes.
Read: 'Eat your greens' the Green Smoothie way
Nori: If you like sushi, you’ll be familiar with this one. You can also make your own at home, but use the untoasted nori sheets to get the most nutritional benefit.
Kombu: The Japanese have used this mineral-loaded seaweed for centuries as a flavour enhancer. Boost the digestibility of beans by adding a strip of kombu while cooking. Another option is to add a strip of the seaweed while soaking bean sprouts to pack a powerful nutritious punch.
Arame: This black stringy seaweed will double in size and needs to be soaked for a few minutes before adding it to stir fries, soups, curries, salads and dishes containing grains.
Dulse: A red seaweed, dulse can be bought whole or in flake form. While the flakes can be added to any meal without soaking, it’s better to soak whole dulse before slicing it. Use as a flavourful seasoning on vegetables, soups and salads.
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Image: Large health food selection in white porcelain bowls from Shutterstock.