There has been some controversy over the term “super foods” in recent months, as some nutritionists and health advisers have warned that this term is misleading the public into believing that good health is attainable simply by adding a few different ingredients to their diets.
As we know, this is certainly not true. However, if a well balanced diet includes some of these foods on a regular basis, then there is a greater chance of better health in the longer term. Super foods are of course not new.
Some would say that it is just another marketing slogan to make something that people have been consuming for centuries suddenly look more appealing. The chances are that you have a good supply already in your kitchen cupboards or fridge.
Nutritionally Dense Food
“Super food” is simply food that is nutritionally dense, high in fibre and contains properties that improve health / fight disease, which are relatively rare.
Most super foods do not require processing or refining (although tomatoes break this rule, as their benefits are greatly improved by cooking – more lycopene is released).
Berries are a good example, especially darker, smaller berries such as blueberries and strawberries. As well as the quality vitamins found in berries, one unexpected benefit that scientific research found was that berries help prevent a decline in learning ability that is usually associated with ageing.
The chemical responsible for blueberries’ superpower is anthocyanin, which gives blueberries their colour and is the source of their antioxidants. Blueberries, according to the USDA Human Research Centre, are the best source of antioxidants. Antioxidants aid the body in fighting cancer., by attacking free radicals.
Other Super Foods and their properties:
Avocados, like olive oil, have healthy monounsaturated fat which helps to lower “bad” cholesterol levels (LDL) while raising the “good” ones (HDL).
Avocados are also great to combine with other foods as its properties help the body absorb nutrients from other nutrient-dense foods (like lycopene found in tomatoes, for example).
Beans really are good for your heart, thanks to the high amounts of betaine found in them. Betaine permits water retention in cells, thus protecting from the effects of dehydration. Beans also have high amounts of lutein, which helps in protecting your eyes from the damaging effects of sunlight.
Dark Chocolate can help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow. The special power dark chocolate has lies in its flavonoids, a type of anti-oxidant. Even though flavonoids are found in apples, green tea, onions and peanuts, research indicates that dark chocolate has the highest level of flavonoids.
Oats are a great source of vitamins and minerals, have a low glycemic index level, are high in fibre, low in sugar and have been proven to reduce blood cholesterol levels. Porridge for breakfast is an excellent way to start the, especially if sweetened with honey instead of refined sugar.
Tomatoes are one of the most underrated foods available. They contain large amounts of beta-carotene, which both strengthens the immune system and helps maintain healthy skin and tissue lining. They are full of antioxidant flavonoids and vitamin E, both of which are essential for a healthy heart.
Raw tomatoes are also an excellent source of vitamin C. However, their most important property is lycopene.
The Lycopene Molecule
Tests have shown that a single lycopene molecule can neutralise 13 free radicals. Tomatoes have been found to be excellent at reducing the development of prostate and breast cancer.
What makes them so good though, is that cooking actually increases their health benefits. So tomato sauce is healthier than raw tomatoes in some respects, which makes bolognaise an incredibly healthy meal when cooked with onions, garlic and carrots.
Tomatoes are one of the main reasons why the Mediterranean diet is so healthy. Other foods that can be classed as super foods include pomegranates, pumpkin seeds, green tea, goji berries and beetroot.
A Word of Caution About Super Foods
None of these foods will save your life. None of them will counteract a very unhealthy lifestyle. Balance is key.
And all of these foods should be eaten in moderation on a regular basis – one health binge each week will not compensate for a unhealthy diet and lack of exercise for the rest of the week!