Give your diet a boost with these nutrient-dense superfoods…
The term superfood has been under scrutiny in recent years, with many arguing that there’s no such thing as a superfood. It’s true that it was a term cleverly coined by marketers to promote certain ingredients in products – but there are foods that are packed with nutrients such as antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, which can be beneficial to health.
“A ‘superfood’ is a food which naturally contains high amounts of beneficial nutrients. It tends to be plant foods which qualify for this – foods high in phytonutrients (plant nutrients), especially antioxidants,” comments nutritionist Rose Holmes, education and training manager at Rio Health. “Superfoods should be nutrient-dense and offer benefits, which may include: helping to counter oxidative stress, reduce inflammation, support the immune system, boost energy and support liver health and detoxification.”
If you choose to consume these nutrient-dense foods, which are rich in what the body needs to maintain health, in preference of processed foods, they can shift the balance and naturally boost micronutrient content of the diet. It’s key to remember that superfoods certainly aren’t new, it’s only the term that is – but there are foods which are rich in nutrients and provide high levels of antioxidants.
“Superfoods are foods that are exceptionally nutrient dense, meaning they provide a high concentration of vitamins and minerals, as well as a variety of plant chemicals, per gram,” agrees nutritional therapist Ellie Isom, clinical nutrition advisor at BioCare. “Because of that, they are considered to have multiple health benefits. This term is often used for trendy and ‘exotic’ foods like açai berry or baobab fruit, however, these foods are often expensive – so let’s not forget about every day, nutritious foods that are easy to source, local and much more affordable.”
Eat the Rainbow
Experts often advise us to eat the rainbow, in other words, to pack our diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in a range of colours. These all offer different health benefits, so by eating different colours we are absorbing a range of different vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
Isom highlights that it’s important to eat brightly coloured fruit and veg: “Bright and colourful fruit and vegetables are the foods predominantly considered as ‘super’. The colours within these foods are the beneficial components, as well as their vitamin and mineral content. These include different plant pigments such as flavonoids found in rosehip, bilberry and other berries, carotenoids found in foods such as carrots and sweet potatoes, as well as rutin and hesperidin that are naturally found in citrus fruit. These nutrients are antioxidant molecules that can prevent damage to cells and tissues and reduce inflammation.”
Opt for brightly coloured berries such as blueberries, strawberries and cherries, as well as fruits such as oranges, pineapple, watermelon, citrus fruits and grapes. Nutrient-dense vegetables include carrots, spinach, broccoli, kale, asparagus, red peppers and asparagus.
Essential Fatty Acids
All fats have important roles in the body. The most important fats are those that the body cannot make, which we need to source through our diet. We need both groups of essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6, to survive.
“Certain foods, like avocadoes, contain fats such as omega-6, and salmon which contains omega-3. These fats are ‘essential’, meaning the body cannot create them itself. These types of fat can have vast benefits to our health, such as reducing inflammation, and supporting cognitive functioning and cardiovascular health,” comments Isom.
Our bodies need essential fatty acids to function properly. Good food sources include oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring and sardines, as well as nuts and seeds, such as flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts. Plant oils are also rich in omega-3 and omega-6, including seaweed oil, flaxseed oil, olive oil and soybean oil.
As already highlighted, berries are packed with health boosting nutrients. An important group which you may not immediately think of when considering brightly coloured fruits are the dark-skinned berries.
“There are a very important group of superfoods, as they are very rich in anthocyanidins,” advises Holmes. “Choose blueberries, cranberries, blackcurrants, acai and camu-camu – which is the richest source of vitamin C of all fruit.”
Her two top picks are camu-camu and acai, the more unusual two suggested. Here she explains why: “Camu-camu is the large berry of myricaria dubia from the Amazon rainforest basin and is exceedingly high in vitamin C as well as being rich in anthocyanidins, catechins, ellagic acid and rutin; these phytonutrients work synergistically with vitamin C and optimise absorption. Camu-camu is also rich in carotenoids including lutein, beta-carotene and zeaxanthin.
“As a food source of vitamin C, the superfood camu-camu is gentle on the stomach, highly bioavailable and optimally absorbed. Superfoods, like camu-camu, contain not only vitamins and minerals but also a range of phytonutrients to synergistically enhance bioavailability.
“A fruit like açaí (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) is vitamin-rich, with high levels of anthocyanin, a flavonoid with antioxidant effect, also found in pomegranates and blueberries. The polyphenol and anthocyanidin content and antioxidant properties of these foods may account for their inclusion in healthy ageing protocols.”
For an added boost, you can add some superfood powders to your diet. These are rich in nutrients and are an extremely easy way to ensure your consumption of essential vitamins and minerals.
“These include ingredients such as cacao, maca, lucuma and turmeric, which contain high levels of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals,” comments Isom. Others include spirulina, wheatgrass, moringa, acai, hemp and baobab.
Maca powder is amazing at balancing hormones which helps relieve symptoms of PMS and menopause. It contains significant amounts of amino acids, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, zinc, magnesium, iron, as well as vitamins B1, B2, B12, C and E. The main ingredient found in maca is manganese, which gives this root its ‘super’ powers. Manganese assists the body in forming connective tissues, bones, blood clots and sex hormones. It also aids metabolism, calcium absorption, and normal brain and nerve function.
Spirulina is a blue-green algae that’s high in antioxidants, beta-carotene and essential fatty acids omega 3 and 6, and contains vitamins B, D, K, E, chromium, copper, iodine, magnesium, potassium and zinc. Spirulina is also one of the leading sources of gamma-linolenic acid, one of the most powerful anti-inflammatory agents in nature.
These nutrient-dense powders can be used in baking, added to smoothies or fruit juices, or used in hot drinks.
People are often surprised when they learn that there are health benefits to drinking tea. Certain types of tea contain substances which are linked to a lower risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
“Teas are one of the simplest superfoods—requiring just the herb or fruit tea and hot water,” comments Holmes. “Polyphenol-rich teas like yerba maté make great superfoods. Green tea is a well-known polyphenol-rich superfood, yerba maté, however, contains more polyphenols than green tea. Antioxidant-rich yerba maté also contains vitamins, minerals and amino acids, and is a source of mateine (similar to caffeine but with more even effect).”
The most popular health-boosting tea is green tea, which is packed with B vitamins, folate, manganese, magnesium, potassium and antioxidants. The catechin polyphenols found in both green tea and yerba maté have potent antioxidant activity, protecting cells from free radical damage and supporting the body’s own antioxidant defence systems.
Holmes also recommends green matcha tea: “It’s alkalising, energising and rejuvenating. Rich in EGCG (a powerful catechin and polyphenol), matcha provides potent antioxidants to help strengthen the immune system by protecting against free radicals. Matcha is also rich in chlorophyll for helping to alkalise and detox the blood and L-theanine to help improve cognition and mood while reducing physical and mental stress.”
To support your health further, opt for a spoonful of manuka honey daily. Rich in methlyglyoxal (MGO), it has unique antibacterial benefits which can help to support the immune system and reduce inflammation.
Tree of Life’s Manuka Honey Range