by Liberty Stembridge, Health Columnist
Published in Health on 3rd December, 2018
Superfoods have gained massive popularity of late, with new companies popping up offering various different blend of algae, mushrooms, blueberries and more. Some think it's a crazy fad, some swear by them, but before you can decide for yourself, you'll need to know what they are and how to use them.
The term "superfood" is more of a marketing tactic than a genuine description. Superfoods are generally plant based foods that are thought to be nutritionally dense - meaning that they contain a lot of nutrients at higher than normal quantities. They vary from living organisms to the common blueberry, so there is no set food group for superfoods, and no real way to categorize them. They often gain their status from having a few properties that make them especially desirable, such as antioxidants.
Studies looking into the legitimacy of so-called "superfoods" has shown that they do often contain higher than average levels of certain nutrients, minerals etc, or have properties that are hard to find elsewhere, such as B12. This means that superfoods can be very beneficial to incorporate into your daily life to give you a targeted nutritional boost in certain areas. It is important to note however, that no research states that superfoods are better than any other foods, merely that incorporating them into your diet can provide certain benefits.
While many of these superfoods will provide you with extra nutrients, antioxidants etc, they will not necessarily cure you of any diseases or make you super healthy and should be treated as more of a supplement to your diet, much like a vitamin pill. Our bodies are very complicated, and it's not as simple as being able to consume one superfood and get a "boost" of nutrients. Instead, vitamins, minerals, hormones and a million other factors all interact to keep your body functioning, so it's important to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism when looking into the qualities of any given superfood.
As mentioned, superfoods aren't really super-foods, they are just edible goods that contain varying levels of nutrients and can be beneficial to include in your diet, depending on how healthy your diet was to begin with. The key is to always treat superfoods as a supplement rather than as a replacement. A diet full of fruit, veg and grains will already provide you with a good starting point from which you can add extras like superfoods to boost specific areas. Many people like to include superfoods as toppings or put them in smoothies as an added extra, rather than as a replacement for anything else.
Like the sound of superfoods? Here are a few popular options to try.
Quinoa (pronounced kee-nuah) is a little seed that looks very similar to grains such as couscous and boasts some impressive nutritional qualities. It has a slightly nutty flavour and hidden inside all nine of the essential amino acids that our bodies can't produce themselves, plus a bunch of protein. Approximately 8 grams of protein for every 1 cup of quinoa.
Spirulina might sound like a leafy vegetable but it is actually an organism that thrives in water, a type of cyanobacteria often referred to as blue-green algae and gained fame when NASA started experimenting to see if it could be used to feed astronauts in space due to its high nutrient density. It contains incredible amounts of protein, B's 1, 2 & 3, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, Manganese and even more. Gram for gram, spirulina may be one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. It also boasts powerful antioxidant properties and may reduce high blood pressure. Pretty impressive for a tiny water-loving algae.
Blueberries have long been one of the most well-known and well-loved superfoods. Their bountiful, tasty and beautiful to decorate with. Not only that but they're packed full of fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants. They make a great addition to any breakfast, smoothie or dessert and can be found in most places.
Kale can be tough to love but once you do, it will reward you. In terms of nutrition, it blows all the other leafy greens out of the park. It's a fantastic source of fiber, calcium and iron and provides far more antioxidants than most other fruits and veggies. It can be easily grown in the garden or found at the local farmers market and cooked, boiled, steamed, roasted or left as is.
Chia might not look that appetizing, but it's steadily growing in popularity. It's a little seed that swells to create a goopy frogspawn like texture when in liquid, and although this might sound disgusting, it creates surprisingly delicious puddings and can even be used as an egg replacer in vegan cooking. Chia seeds have been found to contain the most essential fatty acids of any known plant and are full of iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium, making them a healthy, low-calorie and incredibly beneficial addition to your breakfast smoothie.
Green tea has been known and loved as a health food for literally centuries. Touted as a natural remedy for all sorts of ailments from the common cold to cancer, green tea has now been found to be full of antioxidants called polyphenols (which are supposed to have cancer-fighting properties). It's also known to help you lose weight and improve brain function - what's not to love?
If you haven't seen a picture of a bright yellow turmeric latte pop up on your instagram feed yet, well done. They're gaining in popularity, and it's not hard to see why. This bright yellow root plant can be crushed into a powder that is completely packed full of manganese and iron as well as being an excellent source of fiber, potassium and magnesium. Turmerics real claim to fame however is curcumin, a compound found within turmeric that has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can be incredibly beneficial to anyone dealing with a chronic illness, injury or infection.
Are superfoods worth it? Well, it depends on your point of view. If you're looking for some fun ways to spice up your cooking and pack in a few more nutrients, superfoods might be the thing for you, but they are by no means necessary.