The term superfood is often used to describe a food that is nutritionally dense (has a high number of vitamins, minerals, or other beneficial compounds per gram of weight). ‘Superfood’ is often used to describe foods that have special characteristics that set them apart from other foods. For example, one superfood might be considered a ‘fat-burner’ or to be particularly ‘energy-boosting’. Another reason for a food to be considered a superfood is that it contains high levels of antioxidants, which help to reverse and heal the damage caused by free radicals within the body. While often the term superfood is simply used to market a particular food that is going through a fashionable phase, there are undoubtedly foods that stand up to scrutiny for the health benefits they can offer.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common foods that have been hailed as a superfood and look at just why their popularity has endured beyond the changing fashions of the food and diet industries.
Which Superfood Will You Choose?
There are a number of berries that have been described as a superfood, including some of the more familiar varieties such as strawberries, raspberries, and cranberries. Some of the most popular ‘superfood’ berries are acai berries, which are a South American berry packed full of antioxidants and amino acids. Goji berries are a traditionally used Asian berry that have gained a dedicated following for their flavonoid content and the high levels of vitamins, especially vitamins C and E. Blueberries are a common berry that have gained a lot of attention in recent years for their vitamin and mineral content as well as being a good source of fiber. Berries are easy to add to many dishes and are generally sweet and delicious, making them an easy addition to any diet.
Oily fish is widely regarded as a superfood. Fish such as salmon are often found in the top lists of nutritionally dense foods. Fish contain high levels of vitamins and minerals, and oily fish are particularly good because they typically contain long-chain omega-3 fatty acids which are known to be beneficial for heart and brain health. Most people in the western world do not consume enough oily fish and are recommended to increase the amount of this superfood in their diets.
Tea is an excellent source of antioxidants, and so various varieties of tea have been celebrated as superfoods over the years. Green tea and white tea in particular are high in polyphenols which has a powerful antioxidant effect. L-theanine found in green tea may also have an anti-anxiety effect on the brain, helping to reduce the effects of stress. Tea also contains caffeine which has a stimulative effect, which may or may not be desirable. Choosing white tea which is naturally free from caffeine is a good way to get the benefits of this superfood without the boost.
Leafy green vegetables tend to be rich in vitamins and minerals. Some of these are richer than others, for example kale which has long been considered a superfood. Kale is extremely high in vitamins A, C and K. It is also rich in essential minerals such as manganese and potassium. Kale is also loaded with iron; it is an excellent source of iron for vegetarians. See Healthline for more about the health benefits of Kale.
Grapes might be known for their sweetness, and they are a good food for hydration, but they are also full of healthy nutrients. Rich in vitamins A, C, B6, B12 and K. They are rich in polyphenols, which have a powerful antioxidant effect. It is also important to account for the fruit sugar content that grapes deliver, but there are few if any sweet treats that pack such a powerful nutritional punch. Many people consider grapes a superfood despite their sugar content.
Made from blue-green algae, which is a type of cyanobacteria, spirulina can be added to food. It gained attention as a potential superfood when research suggested it could be a vital foodstuff to grow in space for astronaut nutrition. It is high in vitamins and minerals, contains potent antioxidants and can possibly even reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol levels. For more info on the benefits of spirulina, check out Healthline.
Garlic is a traditional remedy that has been used for immunity, to chase away coughs and colds and to boost strength. It has been linked to a strong immune system and is suprisingly rich in vitamins and minerals. It has been praised as a superfood due to the fact that it contains allicin. This compound can help reduce cholesterol and help the body to manage unhealthy fats. It is also allicin that causes garlic to have such a strong and recognizable odor.
Wheatgrass was one of the first foods to be labelled a superfood. It is usually blitzed into a juice or added to foods in powder form. It is very popular for smoothies and green juices. The benefits that have earned wheatgrass its reputation as a superfood include its nutritional profile; it is his in vitamins C, E and A. It is also rich in essential minerals and contains high levels of important amino acids. Chlorophyll (the substance that makes plants green) is known to have anti-inflammatory effects, so wheatgrass is considered a great all-round superfood.
Turmeric is a superfood often used as a remedy for arthritic conditions and chronic pain, as well as a cold remedy, in many Asian countries. It is increasingly being used in the West, not just to flavor and color food, but as a superfood. Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, and has been linked to heart health and reducing the risk of major diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s.
It may be the trending food of the decade, but the appeal of the avocado goes beyond fashions and foodie trends. Avocados are considered high in monounsaturated fatty acids (‘good fats’). This makes them a veggie superfood. They are packed with nutrients including vitamins A, B group, C, D, E and K. They are rich in magnesium and potassium and are a good source of fiber and folic acid. One of the reasons that avocado has been labelled as a superfood is the versatility it offers; it can be used on the skin and hair to condition, nourish and hydrate as well as eaten.
A Word of Warning
The term superfood is very attractive, and that’s because it is designed to be! Before you buy into the idea of a particular food being ‘super’, make sure it has the necessary nutritional credentials! No food on its own can offer you health and wellness. The key is a healthy balanced diet. It is absolutely possible to overdo a food obsession, so try not to pin all your hopes on one superfood or another. Always talk to a doctor or nutritionist before changing your diet or taking a supplement, even if it is a superfood!