It seems as if every fruit, vegetable, nut or seed is dubbed a so-called ‘superfood’ these days – even foods that we’ve typically enjoyed in the UK for centuries, such as broccoli, honey and chocolate. Indeed, it wasn’t so long ago that kale was considered suitable only for cattle, whilst today the potent supergreen is revered by international celebrities, including Gywneth Paltrow and Beyoncé, and considered an essential ingredient in some of our nation’s poshest restaurants. But are superfoods really so very super? And, what can you gain, if anything, by adding a few, carefully chosen superfoods to your daily diet?
What makes a superfood ‘super’?
It’s difficult to precisely pinpoint what makes a superfood ‘super’, particularly when there’s no official definition. The term was developed more than twenty years ago to ‘loosely’ describe a broad spectrum of foods that are generally agreed to be:
- Pure & Natural – they come direct from Mother Nature, often from some of the most unspoilt corners of our planet, and have been processed to an absolute minimum.
- Rich in valuable nutrients – superfoods contain a higher than average concentration of nutrients that are known to be beneficial for our health, including protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and essential fatty acids.
- Free from artificial additives – they’re typically free from any nasties, such as colourings, flavourings, preservatives, fillers, pesticides and other chemicals.
- Low in calories – superfoods contain zero refined sugars or processed fats, leaving them pleasingly low in calories.
- Big on flavour – thanks to their pure quality, superfoods tend to boast a remarkably intense flavour that simply cannot be beaten.
Superfoods are so diverse that they’re often broken down into the following key categories for convenience:
Superfoods made from raw cacao, such as organic cacao powder, organic cacao nibs and organic cacao butter.
Superfoods extracted from seaweed and algae, including organic spirulina powder, organic chlorella powder and organic kelp powder.
3) Roots, grasses and vegetables
This category includes supergreens like kale, broccoli, spinach, organic wheatgrass powder and organic barley grass powder, which all boast an abundance of the green plant pigment, chlorophyll, as well as adaptogenic root extracts, such as organic maca powder.
From every-day fruits, such as bananas and dried apricots, to more exotic-sounding berries, like organic goji berries and organic Incan berries.
5) Vegetable Fats
Healthy, unprocessed vegetable fats that are low in harmful trans fats, such as organic coconut oil and cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil.
6) Nuts and Seeds
This category of superfood incorporates a wide variety of superfoods from crunchy organic almonds and organic cashew nuts, to organic hemp seeds and organic chia seeds.
7) Bee Products
Made by busy bees, these superfoods include bee pollen, raw honey and bee propolis.
8) Medicinal Mushrooms & Super Herbs
A unique superfood class that embraces medicinal mushrooms, such as chaga mushroom extract powder, in addition to herbal extracts, such as Brazilian ginseng powder and organic guarana powder.
Highly concentrated superfood supplements, such as antioxidant complexes, protein powders that are especially popular with athletes, and probiotics.
10) Superfood snacks
Wholesome snacks that either contain or are largely made from superfoods, such as raw chocolate, kale chips and energy bars.
Superfoods – are they the real deal?
There’s still a great deal of scepticism when it comes to superfoods – which is perhaps not surprising when so many are marketed as a ‘miracle’ cure that can single-handedly prevent many of the health problems associated with our modern lifestyle. According to Alison Hornby, dietician and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association (BDA), “No food, including those labelled ‘superfoods’, can compensate for unhealthy eating.” It’s obvious that if we continue to consume a diet high in fatty, sugar-laden convenience foods, indulge in copious amounts of alcohol and chain smoke our way throug a day that contains very little in the form of physical exercise, then no one food in isolation, no matter how ‘super’, can prevent the onset of chronic conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
The answer lies in taking a holistic approach to nutrition – enjoying wholesome and varied fare, which of course means including a modest selection of superfoods. Providing we don’t view them as a quick fix, superfoods can make an extremely valuable contribution to our health and wellbeing. We’ve already seen that they’re rich in beneficial nutrients and are therefore by their very nature, good for us, even if they don’t quite live up to all the hype. UK registered dietician, Penny Kris-Therton, supports this idea, claiming that, “most are very healthy.” Carefully chosen and enjoyed in the right quantities, superfoods not only form a integral part of a healthy eating regime; they also offer a range of extensively researched health benefits, including strengthened immunity, increased energy, weight loss, disease prevention and much, much more.
So, are superfoods the real deal? Well, that rather depends on what you expect from them! Whilst superfoods are no silver bullet, they certainly do make a positive contribution to a healthier lifestyle.
10 superfood essentials guaranteed to kick-start your healthy diet
Rather than go wild by trying incorporate an unrealistic number of unfamiliar superfoods into your existing diet all at once, why not kick-start your healthy eating programme by beginning with some of these tried and trusted superfood staples below?
Coconut oil contains healthy saturated fats and makes a yummy alternative to processed vegetable oils that are worryingly high in trans fats. Use in place of cooking oil, stir into smoothies, shakes and protein drinks, or add to raw chocolate, cakes and desserts.
Kale is not only cheap when in season; it’s also loaded with vitamins, calcium and iron. Try raw in green juice and smoothies for maximum effect!
Organic chia seeds are rich in protein, fibre, essential fatty acids, antioxidants, calcium and iron. In fact they contain three times as much iron as spinach! With a flavour that’s similar to poppy seeds, chia seeds are the perfect addition to raw bread.
Organic mulberries are an excellent source of anthyocanins and resveratrol – a natural phenol that’s also found in grapes and blueberries. They boast an intensely sweet, honey-like flavour and make a delicious, yet sensible snack between meals.
Organic almonds are high in vegetable protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals and healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, such as oleic and palmitoleic acid. Known to lower cholesterol levels, almonds are a wise alternative to crisps and other fattening snacks.
Matcha green tea powder is a special variety of green tea that’s brimming with beneficial nutrients, including antioxidants, dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and chlorophyll. A gentle aid to detox and weight loss, matcha green tea powder is an ideal replacement for your usual cuppa.
Organic stevia sweetener is an entirely natural sweetener that contains zero sugar or carbs and benefits from a glycaemic index rating of 0. Intensely sweet and with no perceptible aftertaste, organic stevia sweetener is the obvious choice for diabetics, as well as those who are watching their weight.
According to a 2011 study by the British Thyroid Association, the UK is now iodine-deficient, and a lack of iodine can lead to hypothyroidism. Organic kelp powder is made from the seaweed known as kelp – it contains the highest amount of iodine of any food on the planet and is therefore a must in the modern kitchen. Try stirring this exceptionally versatile superfood directly into smoothies, shakes and juices, or use to enhance rawfood soups, sauces and salads.
Believe it or not chocolate is a genuine superfood! Raw chocolate that is. Indeed, raw chocolate is made from pure, raw cacao, which contains a variety of important nutrients, including fibre, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. Unlike ordinary chocolate, it contains no refined sugars or fattening dairy products and won’t leave you piling on unwelcome pounds!
Despite the fact that excessive salt consumption can lead to health complications, such as high blood pressure, it still remains an essential part of your daily diet. Himalayan pink salt is pure, unrefined and contains up to 84 different minerals and trace elements (especially iron and magnesium), making it an indispensible item on your superfood shopping list.
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