‘Superfoods’ are all the rage these days and are a great way to improve your health. I am often asked which superfoods should be included in our diets. There are so many different superfoods available these days that it can be hard to keep up with which are good for you and which might actually just be a waste of your money. So what is a ‘superfood’ ? I like to think of a superfood as a food that contains powerful health improving actions that go far above what we find in our standard fruit and vegetables. These foods often contain compounds that fight cancer, reduce oxidative damage, boost our immune system, balance hormones or improve our energy levels. Some are simple foods that we can use in our meal preparation daily (like kale, chia seeds, flaxseeds, ginger, blueberries). Others are supplement based superfoods that come usually come in concentrated powder form to add into foods (such as cacao, acai or spirulina). Superfoods have the ability to turn an everyday meal, juice or smoothie with basic ingredients into a nutrient dense, anti-oxidant packed concoction that will give your health a boost. Here is a selection of my favourites ones that have been scientifically proven to improve our health
Cacao is chocolate in its raw form and can be purchased as cacao beans, nibs or powder. It has a bitter taste, but adds a lovely chocolate flavour when added to foods like smoothies or desserts. Cacao contains high levels of antioxidants, such as resveratrol and polyphenols. In fact, it has many more types of antioxidents than green tea, red wine or blueberries. The levels are much higher than what you would find in chocolate, even dark chocolate, as they are often degraded by the heating process. There is also the added benefit of avoiding all the unhealthy ingredients found in chocolate like sugar, dairy and fats. Its high levels of vitamin C, magnesium and chromium that make it a nutrient rich snack and it can help blood sugar regulation. This makes it the perfect choice when you feel like something sweet and want to avoid the naughty alternatives.
Chia seeds are originally found in South America and have been used as early as 3500BC by the Aztecs. They contain a high amount of healthy oils (with up to 64% omega-3 fatty acids) and have 23% protein. Chia contain 6 times more calcium per weight volume than milk. They are also high in B vitamins, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, boron and copper. They contain a range of antioxidants such as quercetain and flavonol glycosides. They are almost tasteless and can be added to a variety of different meals. Ground or whole chia seeds can be sprinkled into yoghurt, cereals, muesli, smoothies or even into salads.
Kale is from the brassica family of vegetable, like broccoli and brussel sprouts. It is one of the healthiest vegetables around containing antioxidents, omega-3 fats, fibre, vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K and higher levels of protein than other green vegetables. In fact, per calorie Kale has more iron than red meat, more calcium than milk and 10 times more vitamin C than spinach! Kale has cancer fighting properties and improves liver detoxification. It really is the healthiest green superfood. Use kale as a base for your green smoothies or throw it into your juice. Try kale chips or throw it into a stir fry.
Flaxseeds (or linseeds) are a super high source of omega-3 fatty acids. This omega-3 makes flaxseed a powerful anti-inflammatory, good for heart health, brain health and can keep the skin looking subtle and nourished. They are full of fibre and the good fats combined with the fibre make them great for keeping bowel movements regular. Flaxseeds are best consumed once the seed has been either grinded or milled into a meal to ensure their health benefits reach our system (or add them into the blender with your smoothie). This is because our digestive systems lack the enzymes needed to break down whole seeds. They will pass right through the body unless mechanically broken down.
Ginger has many health properties. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory and useful in conditions such as arthritis or inflammatory bowel diseases. It aids nausea, settles the stomach and improves digestion. It improves circulation and clears the sinuses. It has also been found to have anti-cancer properties. On top of all of this, it tastes yummy!
Purple is a colour that represents high levels of antioxidents, and blueberries would have to be one of the highest. Anthocyanins are the name of these amazing antioxidents found in purple berries. They are also high in vitamin A and C and therefore support our immune system and skin health. Frozen blueberries will retain their nutrient profile as they are frozen fresh and are not left sitting on a supermarket shelf for weeks to ripen, leading to nutrient loss. Organic is best as blueberries are quite susceptible to pesticide residue. Throw into your smoothies for an antioxidant boost. Add into muesli or yoghurt. Use them to cook sweet treats such as muffins or simply enjoy them as a snack.
Cinnamon has some amazing health benefits and tastes great! It stabilizes blood sugar levels and reduces sugar cravings. It improves circulation, stimulates digestion and has been scientifically proven to reduce cholesterol. It adds a sweet and delicious flavour to your meals and will keep you satisfied and balanced until your next meal. Use it when you want to sweeten a dish without needing sugar.
Acai is a South American berry with one of the highest antioxidant values of all fruits and berries, therefore protecting us against free radical damage, inflammation, toxicity and cancers. This comes from its bright purple pigment. On top of this, it is a good source of plant sterols (that can balance cholesterol levels), good fats and fibre. Healthy Acai forms can be purchased as a berry puree, or freeze dried powder. Add either of these into smoothies or make your own ‘Acai breakfast bowl’.
Spirulina is a type of algae. It has a host of health benefits, such as boosting immunity, improving energy levels, stimulating metabolism and suppressing appetite for weight loss. It is a high source of vegetarian proteins and has an alkalizing effect on the body. While it is available in capsule form, adding the powder to a fresh juice or green smoothie is an easy way to detox and alkalise.
Chlorella is another type of algae that comes with a high nutritional profile. As it is a single celled algae and is considered a ‘complete’ source of nutrition that can be thought of as an alternative to a multivitamin. It is rich in many vitamins such as A, B’s, C and E. Like other dark greens, it is high in magnesium and contains chloryphyll which promotes alkalinity. It is amazing as part of a detoxification regime as it can bind to toxins like chemicals and heavy metals and pull them out of the body. It gives a great energy boost and the powder can be added into green smoothies or juices.