Superfoods, or being a superfood, is a simple marketing term. Like so many other terms, this one too has been coined by our beloved marketers. So, what are superfoods I hear you ask? Well, it means that the food offers the greatest nutritional benefits with low calories. For all you vegans out there, you’ll be happy to hear that most superfoods are plant-based.
Plant-based superfoods have a few things in common. They
- are raw
- provide a high amount of antioxidants
- provide trace amounts of minerals and vitamins
Thus, superfoods may help reduce the risk of heart disease and strengthen your immune system. They make you feel good about yourself and help you burn more calories by improving your metabolism. Each superfood (or group of superfoods) has its own characteristics and offers varying health benefits.
But, there is no legal or technical definition of the term superfood. Anything that fits the above description can be called as such. Always do your own research about superfood claims.
A current Google search on “superfoods” yields close to 350 million results. To separate hype from truth consider looking at scientific evidence rather than media claims.
Eat it raw – not processed
For superfoods to retain their nutritional benefits it is best to consume them raw. Or buy them in a state where they have been processed the least. This applies to superfoods that are plant-based.
Processed superfood does not contain all the nutritional benefits it used to have. It can also have many added harmful ingredients.
A product called “Super-juice”, per example, may contain acai berries and blackberries but also added sugar. The berries themselves might be very healthy but the sugar is ruining the health effect.
Foods are also processed to make them more enjoyable. Take oats, for example. They are very nutritious, high in fibre and antioxidants. Rolled oats have a glycemic index of about 51. As soon as those same oats turn into instant porridge oats they reach a glycemic index of about 79 or higher.
This means they lose their ability to be digested over time. Instant porridge oats will hit your bloodstream faster spiking your blood sugar levels. The result is the promotion of diabetes and obesity. Quite the opposite reason of why you are eating oats in the first place.
Your diet as a whole
One single superfood cannot save your diet or your life. If your diet consists of fried food, starchy carbs and processed ready meals a few blueberries mixed in will not turn the tide for you.
Your diet as a whole is several times more important than one single superfood. If you consume a well-balanced diet and work out several times a week it doesn’t matter which specific superfoods are part of your diet.
The first level of your diet evolution should be to make sure you are eating five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Ideally across the whole colour range. Also, chuck out any fried or processed food.
Once you achieve that and make it part of your routine you can move on to the second level. Mix in some fruits and veggies which have superfood status. Plus, make sure to introduce some oily fish as a healthy protein and omega-3 source.
If you need some ideas for superfoods that you should include in your diet here is a superfoods list hat you don’t want to miss out on.
9 superfoods that should be part of your diet
1.) Acai berries
Acai is probably the most famous of all superfoods next to goji berries. But have you ever seen whole acai berries for sale in the supermarket? I bet you haven’t. The reason behind this is the labour intensive process to make acai powder or mousse.
Acai berries grow in the Amazon rain forest in Brazil. The process from harvest to product needs to be very quick. This as the decaying process of the fruit starts 24 hours after they are harvested from the palm tree.
From one acai berry, you are only eating the skin or about 10% to 20% of the berry. The rest of the berry is the seed which can be used as burning material for other processes.
What makes acai berries so healthy is its antioxidant content. In addition, they contain trace minerals like potassium, calcium, vitamin A and essential fats. But acai berries are low in sugar. The existing studies show that acai may improve cholesterol levels and may reduce the risk of cancer.
Even though the pomegranate fruit looks a bit like an apple, it is technically a berry. The skin is thick and you can’t eat it. Well, you can but I wouldn’t try. The hundreds of seeds inside the fruit can though.
But the seeds themselves are not what you are after. You’re after the red and sweet flesh that covers each seed, called the aril. The red flesh covering the seeds is what makes the pomegranate so healthy.
They pack an impressive nutrient profile including
- 30% of your recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin C
- 36% of RDI in vitamin K
- 12% of RDI in potassium.
There are also many studies confirming the benefits of pomegranates. Which makes them earn their superfood status. The website GreenMedInfor put together a database of 352 studies on pomegranates as of the time of writing this blog post. Most of the studies are positive on pomegranates health benefits.
Such benefits include
- a preventive role in obesity
- anti-inflammatory properties
- enhancement in immunity
- slowing the growth of prostate cancer cells
Beets are a nutritional powerhouse. Their taste might count towards the acquired ones. But there is no denying that beetroots have excellent health benefits.
Whenever you cook with beetroots and they still have their greens on them don’t throw them in the bin. You can eat those greens as well. They are rich in calcium, vitamins A and C. You can cook them as you would any other leafy greens like spinach or chard.
Beetroots contain various healthy nutrients:
- folate (folic acid)
- vitamin C
Even though I’m mentioning cacao here don’t go and get yourself some Cadbury chocolate thinking that it’s healthy. There is very little healthy stuff in a normal bar of milk chocolate. Let’s clarify the difference between cacao and cocoa first.
Both of them come from the same plant, but it’s the processing that makes the difference. Cocoa is processed with a chemical roasting method called “Dutch processing”.
But this process destroys around 60% to 90% of the original antioxidants. In contrast, cacao is either sun-dried or roasted under low heat to keep most of the nutrients.
Raw and unsweetened cacao has about 40 times more antioxidants than blueberries. It’s a plant-based source of magnesium, calcium and iron. 100% cacao promotes a healthy heart, helps to prevent cancer and supports with digestion and weight loss.
While it boasts a lot of health benefits, raw cacao still has a lot of calories due to its fat content. For the ultimate combo though, try mixing cacao and acai for an ultra healthy superfoods powder.
5.) Oily fish
Oily fish has superfood status due to its high content of omega-3 fatty acids. The category includes salmon, mackerel, trout, and sardines.
They are also high in
- vitamin A
- vitamin D
Benefits of oily fish are so plentiful even the NHS is recommending you eat fish twice a week and one of them should be oily.
Benefits of oily fish include
- reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
- lower blood pressure
- anti-inflammatory properties
Omega-3 fatty acids are also good for your skin-supporting sebum regulation as well as possible wrinkle and acne reduction. It doesn’t have to be salmon all the time. Tinned mackerel and sardines are a cheap way to fill up the larder and get your omega-3 fatty acids.
6.) Yoghurt and Kefir
In simple terms, kefir is a fermented milk product bursting in probiotics. It is made by adding kefir grains (fermentation starter) to milk. You can either buy kefir in the supermarket or make it yourself.
Just get yourself some kefir grains and add them to any milk of your choice. Making it at home means you know what’s in it and you can flavour it according to your taste.
Yoghurt, on the other hand, is a cultured milk product. It also includes probiotics, but not as many as kefir. Kefir has a slightly sour taste and not everybody likes that. They prefer yoghurt instead. If you can opt for Greek yoghurt instead of the normal one as Greek yoghurt contains more protein.
Apart from improving your digestive system, both kefir and yoghurt
- provide calcium for your bones
- boost metabolism
- aid muscle growth
7.) Olive Oil
Olive oil is part of the reason why the Mediterranean diet is so healthy. It is the primary source of healthy fats in that diet. Olive oil consists mostly of unsaturated fats and provides vitamin E, vitamin K and lots of antioxidants.
But not every olive oil is the same, especially when you look a the oils on the shelf of a supermarket. For you to enjoy the most health benefits, you’d want to go for Greek extra virgin olive oil. Yes, it’s pricey. But you get what you pay for.
So what does extra virgin mean? An oil being virgin or extra virgin represents the refinement stage the oil is coming from. An extra virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing and is of the highest quality. It has very low acidity and superior taste. This type of oil should only be used for cold consumption in dips, dressings or marinades.
The second pressing yields virgin olive oil. It still has decent taste but its acidity is a bit higher. Regular olive oil has a blander taste and has been chemically refined to neutralise its acidity. This one is more of all-purpose cooking oil.
One of the reasons why olive is so healthy is its anti-inflammatory effect. This effect results from the oil’s high antioxidant count. Research has shown that it works like ibuprofen. Olive oil also keeps the heart healthy as it reduces cardiovascular risk. Its healthy fats can promote good cholesterol and keep blood pressure low.
Nuts are high in fat and calories but pack a punch of fibre and protein. Besides, the fat from nuts is mainly unsaturated and of the healthy type of fat. They are easy to travel with and are the perfect snack for in-between with some fruit. Nuts also include a number of vitamins and minerals like magnesium and vitamin E.
Which nuts you should include in your diet depends on your taste buds and what you want to get out of them in terms of fat, protein and carbs. All nuts have a slightly different macro composition.
Almonds rank higher on the protein side and have equal carbs. The fat content is not as high as within other nuts. In contrast, macadamia nuts have a higher fat content but rank lower on protein and carbs.
Hazelnuts a very similar to almonds apart from a lower fat content and different taste. No matter which ones you choose, don’t go overboard with them due to their high-calorie count.
There have been several studies showing nut consumption to prolong your life. They achieve this by preventing some chronic diseases like
- cardiovascular diseases
- high blood pressure
- keeping cholesterol levels low
Nuts have even been linked to lowering the risk of cancer.
Blueberries seem to make an appearance in every second breakfast these days. Be it with yoghurt, sprinkled over granola or with porridge. What you get to buy in grocery stores is also referred to as American blueberries. They are big-ish in size and have white flesh with brown seeds.
In European forests, you can find another variety of this berry, called bilberry or European blueberry. They look almost the same than their American cousins. But are smaller in size and have a darker appearance.
They also have a deep purple coloured flesh. When you eat them, they stain everything, from your tongue to your teeth (and maybe your white shirt).
Both varieties are high in antioxidants, fibre, vitamin C, vitamin K and manganese. Blueberries are about 85% of water. They are linked to delays in mental ageing and may improve your memory. Like many other foods with high antioxidants, blueberries can reduce cardiovascular risk factors and lower your blood pressure.
Above superfoods should be part of your diet but not be your whole diet. A well-balanced diet is better than eating too much of one thing. Keep an eye on your portion size as well. Just because the above foods are labelled superfoods you shouldn’t have buckets of them. They can still be detrimental for your waistline when consumed in bigger quantities.
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