What are superfoods and what makes them so special?
We’ve all got our own ideas of what a superfood is – many would argue that chocolate, for example, is a ‘super’ food, thanks to its delicious, morish flavour.
But superfoods did not get their name because of the way they taste (although they do taste delicious!) but because of their very high nutritional density that enables them to deliver substantial amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, while containing very few calories.1
Why do we need superfoods?
Thanks to their high concentrations of vitamins and minerals, eating a diet rich in superfoods can help us to fight off illnesses and keep us healthier. Superfoods have been shown to promote heart health and weight loss as well as increase energy levels and reduce the effects of aging.2
A healthy diet relies upon variety – no single food can give you all the nutrients your body needs, so while superfoods are fantastic for your health, it’s important to add them to a balanced diet containing plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, legumes and nuts, while avoiding refined sugar and processed foods.
What are the different types of superfoods?
There are so many different types of superfoods, which can easily be eaten as part of your diet to enhance a healthy eating regime. From the everyday foods you see on your supermarket shelves, to the more exotic and unusual sounding, there are many ways that you can enhance your diet with the following superfoods.
Raw cacao. Good news! While chocolate itself is not a superfood, the dried seeds it is made from are! Raw cacao seeds contain one of the highest natural sources of magnesium and are also packed full of calcium, zinc, copper and selenium. In fact, raw cacao contains more antioxidants per gram than blueberries and goji berries! Raw cacao is high in flavanols – plant compounds associated with antioxidant activity. The flavanols in cacao are thought to help improve circulation to the heart2 which may help to lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation. As cacao contains a small amount of caffeine, as well as theobromine – a compound known to have a mild energising effect – it may also be good for improving your energy levels.
Berries. Berries are a fantastic addition to your diet thanks to their high concentration of vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries and Goji berries are all associated in studies3 with a reduced risk of inflammatory conditions such as heart disease. The best part? They taste delicious! Berries are an easy addition to your diet and can be added to yoghurt, smoothies or cereals, or simply eaten with a snack. If they’re not in season, it’s just as healthy to buy them frozen.
Yoghurt. An excellent source of calcium and protein, yoghurt is also packed with live cultures known as probiotics. Probiotics are ‘good’ or ‘friendly bacteria that work to protect you against the other, more harmful bacteria that also live inside your body. Yogurt can be eaten on its own – or with some berries to combine another superfood! You can also use it in place of sour cream or in dips or sauces. Be sure to choose yoghurts that contain live active cultures.
Reishi Mushrooms. These rare mushrooms grow at the base of deciduous trees and have been gaining a lot of attention recently thanks to their range of purported health benefits. Studies have shown that these mushrooms contain high levels of the Polysaccharides and Triterpenes, the active components proven to strengthen our immune system.4 Studies have also highlighted anti-inflammatory benefits that have helped with allergic reactions linked to asthma and contact dermatitis.5
Leafy greens. Packed full of fibre, dark, leafy greens are also a fantastic source of vitamins A and C, as well as calcium and other nutrients including iron, magnesium, zinc and folate. Kale, collard greens, swiss chard, spinach and turnip green have all been shown in studies6 as having the potential to reduce the risk of some chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. You may love these vegetables on their own, but you could also try adding them to soups and salads, curries, stir fries and even smoothies!
Quinoa. This super grain is easier to source now thanks to its increase in popularity, which has seen it hit supermarket and health food store shelves. There are more than 120 different varieties of quinoa, but the most popular by far is simple white quinoa, which has a mild flavour. It’s high in antioxidants, copper, fibre, iron, magnesium and zinc and can be used in place of rice. You can also add it to salads, make burger patties with it or use it to bulk out soups and stews.
Preserving nutrients to keep superfoods super!
The superfoods listed are all fresh, which means they will spoil if not eaten relatively quickly. Some superfoods may not be local to us, so how can we still benefit from them? Thanks to the process of freeze drying, we can still enjoy these superfoods and benefit from all the goodness they offer! Freeze drying preserves food by removing around 98% of its natural water content, which stops it spoiling, but preserves most of its colour, flavour and most importantly, its nutritional value. Studies have shown that this type of dehydration method is the best to preserve nutritional qualities when compared to other dehydration methods, especially when operated under vacuum.7
Versatile and easy to consume
Perhaps the best thing about superfoods is just how easy they are for us to consume. Many people enjoy their natural flavours and are happy to just eat them on their own, by snacking on a handful of berries, for example. If you prefer to be a bit more adventurous, you can add them to your meals in the form of soups and salads, or in smoothies.
Remember that the key is to get a good balance of superfoods so that you are putting a wide range of nutrients in your body. Get creative with your flavours and enjoy bringing a new and healthy dimension to your meals.
- Shiina Y et al. Acute effect of oral flavonoid-rich dark chocolate intake on coronary circulation, as compared with non-flavonoid white chocolate, by transthoracic Doppler echocardiography in healthy adults. Int J Cardiol. 2009 Jan 24;131(3):424-9.
- Stavinoha, W.B., 1990. Study of the anti-exploration of Ganoderma lucidum. Presented at the Third Academic Joint Conference, pp: 201-208. times.