Superfoods: Do you believe the hype?

Posted by on Nov 23, 2011 in Blog, Latest News, Nutrition Tips | 2 Comments
Superfoods: Do you believe the hype?

Acai berries, Goji berries, wheat grass, chia seeds, pomegranate juice …. There always seems to be a new ‘superfood’ being touted as being the key to better health, longer life, a cure for this and as essential for that! Should you believe the hype?

What is a superfood?

‘Superfood’ is not a scientifically defined term. There is no single food that is the key to long life, better heath or curing disease (…at least that has been discovered yet!) When I hear the word ‘superfood’ I think of a food that is:

  • Nutrient dense. That means it is rich in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, essential oils or fibre when compared to its overall energy content. I.e. you get bang for your buck in the nutrient stakes when you eat it.
  • A good source of a certain nutrient (e.g. Vitamin C, Iron, Omega 3 fatty acids) and helps to meet Recommended Dietary Intake levels that are set by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
  • Minimally processed.
  • Has good research supporting its role in producing health benefits.
  • Low in saturated fat, trans fat, salt, additives or sugar.
  • Easily available – i.e. Not ONLY available from a health food shop, online or through direct marketing, often at considerable expense.

But surely some foods are better than others?

Humans eat complex diets and we are exposed to multiple environmental factors that influence our health and wellbeing. Isolating the long term health effects of a single food is therefore quite a challenge! What we do know from research is that eating a varied and balanced diet is the best way to achieve good health. A balanced diet includes adequate vegetables, fruit, dietary fibre, lean protein and reduced saturated fat, salt and added sugar. Getting these basics right is the most important thing. However, if you are looking for some nutrient-rich foods that are perfectly healthy additions to a varied dietary intake then there is some research that supports the benefits of certain foods. So based on my criteria listed above here are some foods that are great additions to your intake. Better still, they are easy to source and won’t break the bank… (Please note the list is not exhaustive and is not presented in any particular order).

  • Fruit
    • Apples – rich in antioxidants(1) and a source of soluble dietary fibre (make sure you eat the skin too!)
    • Berries – excellent source of antioxidants(1), a source of Vitamin C and dietary fibre and low in calories(2).
    • Citrus – Rich source of Vitamin C(2) which is essential for collagen production in bones, joints and muscle as well as brain and nerve function.
    • Prunes – high content of antioxidants per serve(1) and can help keep your bowels regular due to their natural sorbitol content.

Quinoa, berries and nuts - a nutrient bomb!

  • Vegetables
    • Artichokes (globe) – have a high content of antioxidants per serve(1) and are tasty!
    • Broccoli (and other cruciferous vegetables) – antioxidant rich(1), these vegetables have been associated with better heart health and reduced total mortality(3).
    • Spinach and Kale (and other dark green leafy vegetables) – Green leafy vegetables are a great source of antioxidants(1), Vitamin C, folate and beta-carotene.
  • Nuts & Seeds
    • Chia seeds – chia seeds are a rich source of the plant version of omega 3 fatty acids and are also a good source of dietary fibre(4). (This is the one food included on the list that is still most readily available at specialty retailers… but that will change!)
    • Walnuts (and other nuts) – walnuts are packed full of antioxidants(5) and they contain heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids(2) and melatonin (an essential hormone for sleep(6)). Other nuts are also great choices and despite their high energy content are not associated with weight gain(7).
  • Grains
    • Oats – oats contain beta-glucan which has been shown to help reduce the level of ‘bad’ cholesterol in blood(8).
    • Quinoa – a seed masquerading as a grain, quinoa is naturally gluten free, has a nutty taste and is very versatile. It is unique as it has a relatively high quality protein profile for a vegetarian protein source(2).

Traditional rolled oats

  • Protein foods
    • Legumes – a good source of vegetarian protein, dietary fibre, antioxidants and prebiotics(9).
    • Oily fish – Include mackerel, salmon, tuna, herring, anchovies and sardines. Including two oily fish meals per week will provide adults with their requirements for Omega 3 fatty acids which is good for cardiovascular health(10) and may reduce age-related macular degeneration(11).
  • Herbs and spices
    • A concentrated source of antioxidants however we usually use them in relatively small amounts. In one report, clove was the richest source of antioxidants, then peppermint, allspice, oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary and saffron(5). Use in cooking instead of salt to add a flavour burst!
Fresh coriander

Fresh coriander

  • Drinks
    • Coffee – rich in antioxidants(1), coffee has been found to have several health benefits(12) but too much can be a problem as it also contains caffeine, a stimulant.
    • Tea (green and black) – lots of antioxidants(1) but is also a source of caffeine.
    • Red wine (only if you already drink alcohol) – good source in antioxidants(1). Note however that if you are not a drinker, the evidence does not support that you would be better off by starting to drink! All alcohol is a known cancer risk(9).
  • Occasional foods
    • Dark chocolate – I had to sneak this one in here! Packed with antioxidants(1) and (for me at least) the source of great pleasure but beware…too much can deliver a whollop of saturated fat and excessive calories.

Try to add some of these nutritious foods into your diet today! Stay tuned for my next blog for simple ideas on how to make these foods part of your regular diet (including the recipe for the delish quinoa berry breakfast in the picture above!)

 

 

This article is also on Surf Sister – check it out here

 

 

References

1.            Halvorsen BL, Carlsen MH, Phillips KM, et al. Content of redox-active compounds (ie, antioxidants) in foods consumed in the United States. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2006;84:95-135.

2.            U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (SR24). USDA; 2011 [updated 2011; cited 22 November 2011]; Available from: http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/.

3.            Zhang X, Su X-O, Xiang Y-B, et al. Cruciferous vegetable consumption is associated with a reduced risk of total and cardiovascular disease mortality. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2011;94(1):240-6.

4.            Chicco A, D’Alessandro M, Hein G, et al. Dietary chia seed (Salvia hispanica L.) rich in [alpha]-linolenic acid improves adiposity and normalises hypertriacylglycerolaemia and insulin resistance in dyslipaemic rats. The British Journal of Nutrition. 2009;101(1):41-50.

5.            Carlsen MH, Halvorsen BL, Holte K, et al. The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide. Nutrition Journal. 2010;9:3-.

6.            Reiter RJ, Manchester LC, Tan D-x. Melatonin in walnuts: Influence on levels of melatonin and total antioxidant capacity of blood. Nutrition. 2005;21(9):920-4.

7.            Martinez-Gonzalez MA, Bes-Rastrollo M. Nut consumption, weight gain and obesity: Epidemiological evidence. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases. 2011;21, Supplement 1(0):S40-S5.

8.            Othman RA, Moghadasian MH, Jones PJH. Cholesterol-lowering effects of oat ?-glucan. Nutrition Reviews. 2011;69(6):299-309.

9.            World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. Washington DC: AICR; 2007.

10.          Di Minno MND, Tremoli E, Tufano A, et al. Exploring newer cardioprotective strategies: ?-3 fatty acids in perspective. Thrombosis and Haemostasis. 2010;104(4):664-80.

11.          Ho L, van Leeuwen R, Witteman JCM, et al. Reducing the Genetic Risk of Age-Related Macular Degeneration With Dietary Antioxidants, Zinc, and {omega}-3 Fatty Acids: The Rotterdam Study. Arch Ophthalmol. 2011 June 1, 2011;129(6):758-66.

12.          Butt MS, Sultan MT. Coffee and its Consumption: Benefits and Risks. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2011 2011/11/21;51(4):363-73.

 

Print Friendly