The superpowers of superfoods!

2013November16_DietNutrition_ASuperfoods are those foods which are believed to be high in antioxidants, vitamins or other nutrients, bringing health benefits through a super-charged nutritional boost. However, while the term may be relatively new, many of these so-called superfoods have been around for centuries and are enjoying a new phase of popularity. What is perhaps most powerful about superfoods though is how the concept has sparked interest in nutrition and how it is linked to health rather than simply weight loss.

In recent years there’s been a real surge in popularity of smoothies and frozen fruit shakes and one vital ingredient is often the blueberry, one of the first foods really highlighted as delivering a powerful vitamin and antioxidant shield to the immune system. Since then independent delis, mainstream supermarkets and organic food producers have jumped on the superfood bandwagon and more foods than ever before are being praised for their nutritional super powers. Here are 10 foodie superstars:

  1. Goji berries – Chinese medicine has been using these berries for thousands of years but these days they are thrown onto salads or eaten like grapes throughout the West. They are purported in some quarters to help boost immunity, improve digestion and even have a positive impact on cardiovascular health. However, studies do show that there might be issues related to consumption and interference with certain medications, such as Warfarin.

  2. Wheatgrass – This may be an acquired taste but many people swear by the energizing effects of a shot of wheatgrass. This protein-rich, gluten free plant juice is packed with chlorophyll which some schools of thought believe has a curative effect, although studies are not conclusive. It is certainly a good source of vitamins.

  3. Chia – The Mayans knew a thing or two about civilization and it could be that they were ahead of their time in understanding the value of Chia too. The plant’s small brown seeds have expanded beyond the borders of Mexico and Guatemala and are being heralded as rich in omega-3 fatty acids, as well as protein. They can be easily added to a shake or eaten whole.

  4. Manuka honey – It’s been described as ‘liquid gold’ and this active New Zealand honey can not only be taken internally but applied to the skin topically too! The lack of pollution in the environment, as well as the bees taking pollen from manuka bushes, are believed to be partly responsible for some manuka honey having antibacterial properties. Although no medical claims can be made, honey has long been regarded as having positive nutritional value. Manuka honey followers state that its antibacterial activity is less prone to damage from heat and light than other types of honey.

  5. Spirulina – This blue-green algae was part of the diet of the Aztecs and its potential health benefits may be explored in the future, with NASA researching the plant’s super powers. Spirulina contains antioxidant phycocyanin and is one of the richest sources of vegetable protein. It is full of vitamins and minerals, as well as beta-carotene, which all help in protecting cells. Spirulina supporters report that the plant increases energy, improves the digestive system and helps fight free radicals.

While the focus on superfoods may create an interest in nutrition, there is also an argument that the costs of these foods can often outweigh their possible nutritional benefit, especially compared to the benefits of a balanced diet of leafy greens, fish and good sources of protein. The power of foods comes from having a varied, healthy diet. Check out Part 2 where we look at five more foods renowned for being superfoods.

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