What is a Superfood?

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What is a Superfood?

Photo / SuppliedPhoto / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

Confused by all the conflicting advice out there about what to eat? We're here to help. ABC Nutrition owner and well-respected dietitian, Angela Berrill is passionate about health
and nutrition, and believes in finding ways for people to enjoy food while also nurturing their bodies.

With January now behind us, most of us would have seen headlines about which superfoods we should be eating in 2018. From super-berries like goji and maqui to super-powders such as matcha or turmeric, there always seems to be something new we should be eating with extra 'special' nutrition super-powers.

The official definition of a superfood is "a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being. In reality, most whole foods are nutrient rich and beneficial for our health. For example, while there is no doubting that kale is good for us, it is a vegetable after all, it's perhaps not as super as many of us have been ledto believe over recent years.

While kale has a high antioxidant activity, it ranks well down the list, at number 15, when looking at the nutrient density scores. In fact, standard Romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce and spinach all ranked higher when it comes to nutrient density, with watercress and Chinese cabbage taking out the first and second places respectively. Read on for more information.

Super-berries

Exotic berries such as the goji, acai and maqui have been appearing in smoothie bowls the world over. Touted to have powerful antioxidant properties which can boost metabolism and fight disease and premature ageing, the claims are often over exaggerated at best.

It also pays to remember, that these so-called super-berries in fact share similar antioxidant properties to many of our more commonly known berries, such as the blue or blackberry. All berries (whether they be acai or blue) can be an antioxidant-packed and healthful addition to your diet, however they are no silver bullet.

Fermented foods

Fermented foods, such as kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh or kombucha have been
around for thousands of years. They are easily digested by the body and can help to increase the number of good bacteria (also known as probiotics) in your gut. These beneficial bacteria have been shown to not only help support digestive health, but the immune system as well.

However, if the thought of having fermented cabbage, soy or black tea is enough to make your stomach churn, a good probiotic yoghurt or
fermented milk drink will also do the trick. It does pay to check the salt and sugar contents of some fermented foods though, as they can sometimes be higher than you'd expect.

Super-powders

Super-powders, such as matcha, turmeric or sumac, can contain powerful antioxidants or
compounds (such as curcumin in turmeric) which many claim will help to prevent or even reverse various health complaints. However, as with many so-called superfoods, often there are many limitations in the research underpinning these claims.

There is also the question of how much of these ingredients we need to have each day in order to see any benefit. While some of the research does look promising, there needs to be many more high-quality studies before we can go claiming these super-powders have super-powers.

Superfood or superfad?

The implication that eating a specific food, is going to prevent you from getting cancer or heart disease is just plain wrong and even potentially dangerous. The reality is that for optimal health we need to be eating a variety of nutritious whole and less-processed foods, with plenty of non-starchy vegetables and fruit. A poor diet is still going to be a poor diet, regardless of how much turmeric, goji berry or fermented foods you add to it.
While superfoods can be a healthful addition to a healthy eating pattern, it is your whole diet which is going to support your health, rather than any specific food – super or otherwise.

3 ways with super blueberries

Make the most of blueberries being in season and have these little beauties whenever you are after a tasty treat.

By themselves: pack them into lunchboxes or grab a handful as a snack, any time is a good time to enjoy these summer fruits.
Add to your favourite smoothie: fresh or frozen blueberries can help to bump up the antioxidant content of your favourite smoothie.
Serve fresh alongside unsweetened probiotic yoghurt: not only do you get a powerful punch of antioxidants but you also get the benefits of adding good bacteria to your gut.

Superfood swaps

Superfoods can often come with a hefty price tag. Here are some simple swaps that are just as nutritious and yet not as hard on the pocket.

Kale: switch to spinach, Romaine or leaf lettuce, Chinese cabbage, watercress.
Goji/Acai/Maqui berries: switch to all berries, including blueberries, boysenberries, strawberries or blackberries.
Kimchi/kombucha/sauerkraut: switch to probiotic yoghurt
Matcha: switch to green tea. While Matcha has a higher amount of antioxidants due to it undergoing less-processing than green-tea, evidence still supports the health benefits of drinking regular green tea.
Quinoa: switch to lentils or brown rice.

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