Superfoods - Hype or Hope?
First of all, just to be clear. There is no standard criteria or legal definitions to classify any food as a superfood. However, most foods that people are touting as a 'superfood' are plant-based.
What Qualifies a Food as a Superfood?Superfoods are foods that have a very high nutritional density. This means that they provide a substantial amount of nutrients and contain very few calories.
They also are found to have a high volume of antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins.
Naturally occurring in certain foods, antioxidants help neutralize free radicals in our bodies. Free radicals are natural byproducts of energy production that can wreak havoc on the body.
Antioxidant molecules decrease or reverse the effects of free radicals, and have been linked to the following health problems:
Superfoods are not cure-all. Including superfoods as part of your daily nutritional intake is great but only when consuming a healthy, balanced diet. Eat a “super diet” rather than to concentrate on individual foods.
Common SuperfoodsStudies have shown that superfoods high in antioxidants and flavonoids help prevent coronary heart disease and cancer, as well as improving immunity and decreasing inflammation. Many foods considered to be “superfoods” are rich in color, often indicating that they are rich in antioxidants.
Regularly eating fruits and vegetables also has strong associations with a lower risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions and overall mortality. Superfoods can also help maintain a healthy weight.
The nutrients superfoods contain can help promote a healthy complexion, nails, hair, and increase energy levels.
The higher levels of flavonoids in berries have been shown to lower the risk of a heart attack. A few commonly identified superfood berries include acai berries, blueberries, tart cherries, cranberries, goji berries, and raspberries.
Berries have the following benefits:
Acai berries: Small, dark purple berries grown in South America, containing 19 amino acids and many antioxidants.
Blueberries: Are high in fiber, manganese, and vitamin K.
Tart Cherries: Contain powerful antioxidants provide a variety of health benefits, including anti-inflammation, decreased cholesterol, decreased risk for hardened arteries (called atherosclerosis), which are risk factors for heart disease, pain relief and muscle recovery. Tart cherries and cherry anthocyanins have shown to provide decreased inflammation and inflammatory-related conditions like arthritis
Cranberries: Are high in a particular flavonoid that helps lower the risk of urinary tract infection.
Goji berries: A small red berry native to Asia, high in vitamin C and E, and also have many different types of flavonoids. Used frequently in Eastern medicine to help treat diabetes and high blood pressure and maintain eye, liver, and kidney health.
Raspberries: Vitamins C and E, selenium, beta carotene, lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin are all examples of antioxidants found in raspberries. Raspberries have been shown to improve brainpower, heart health, cancer prevention, diabetes management, digestion, and eye health.
Soybeans contain a high concentration of isoflavones, a type of phytochemical. Phytochemicals are compounds that occur naturally in plants.
Research has shown that isoflavones in soy help reduce the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol in the blood.
Soy may prevent age-related memory loss.
Soy isoflavones may reduce bone loss, increase bone mineral density during menopause, and help decrease menopausal symptoms.
Tea contains few calories, helps with hydration, and is a good source of antioxidants.
Catechins, a potent antioxidant are found primarily in green tea, have many beneficial anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties.
Green tea may also have an anti-arthritic effect by suppressing overall inflammation.
Leafy GreensSpinach, kale, Swiss chard, beet greens, and collard greens are superfood leafy greens. These "greens" are rich in vitamins A, C, E, and K, and many B vitamins.
Leafy greens contain an abundance of carotenoids, iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
For example, just one cup of kale provides 550 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin K, equivalent to over 680 percent of a person’s daily needs. Kale and other leafy greens are high in fiber and water content, helping to prevent constipation, promote regularity and a healthy digestive tract.
SalmonHigh in omega-3 fatty acid, salmon and other fatty fish, can decrease the risk of abnormal heartbeats, reduce cholesterol and slow the growth of arterial plaque.
Dark chocolate is high in flavonoids. Flavonoids demonstrate antioxidant activity, prevent coronary heart disease, certain types of cancer, and boost the immune system.
The component specifically responsible for these benefits is cacao powder, derive from cacao beans. Keep in mind that chocolate may have added ingredients, like sugar, that may negate these benefits.
Wine and GrapesResveratrol, the polyphenol found in wine that made it famously “heart healthy”, is present in the skins of red grapes.
Some studies have shown that resveratrol can protect against diabetic neuropathy and retinopathy. These are conditions caused by poorly controlled diabetes where vision is severely affected.
Research has also found resveratrol to be beneficial for treating Alzheimer’s disease, relieving hot flashes, mood swings associated with menopause, and improving blood glucose control. Studies are still ongoing, but it looks very promising.
Another flavonoid that occurs in grapes, Quercetin, is a natural anti-inflammatory. Studies on Quercetin appear to show it reducing the risk of atherosclerosis and protect against the damage caused by LDL cholesterol. It may also have effects that act against cancer.
Although wine does contain antioxidants, it is worth noting that eating grapes would provide the same benefit alongside additional fiber. If you do choose to drink wine, it is recommended that people limit alcoholic beverages to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
Other Superfoods Gaining Popularity:
Spirulina: Contains magnesium, supporting normal daily functions like muscle use and your heartbeat. It’s also responsible for producing protein and creating energy.
Blue-Green Algae: Is a good source of protein, and includes all the essential amino acids, making it a complete source of these important nutrients. Blue green algae may boost your immune system and have natural anti-viral properties. It may also help relieve fatigue and improve your tolerance of exercise. Blue green algae may also lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce blood pressure.
Garlic: Is used by people for the prevention of lung cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, stomach cancer, rectal cancer, and colon cancer. It has been shown to help with hip osteoarthritis, is a potentially powerful antibiotic and may protect your heart, by reducing high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Wheatgrass: Wheatgrass is low in calories but high in nutrients, including antioxidants such as glutathione, vitamin C, and vitamin E. Antioxidants fight free radicals in the body, reducing oxidative stress and protecting against health conditions like arthritis, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases.
Beets and Beet Juice: Are dense with nutrients, including potassium, betaine, magnesium, folate, and Vitamin C and a good dose of nitrates. Beets can also help reduce blood pressure and anemia, improve circulation and cognitive function. Studies have explored how beets may contribute to improved athletic performance by enhancing blood flow, which improves the delivery of fuel to muscles and the removal of byproducts such as lactic acid that can dull performance.
Turmeric: Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory properties, provides pain relief, treats inflammatory conditions, skin diseases, wounds, digestive ailments, and liver conditions.
Brazil Nuts: Are nutritional powerhouses, providing healthy fats, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. They're particularly high in selenium, a mineral with potent antioxidant properties. Eating Brazil nuts may reduce inflammation, support brain function, and improve your thyroid function and heart health
Barley: Is a low-glycemic grain, it is high in both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps the body metabolize fats, cholesterol and carbohydrates, and lowers blood cholesterol levels. Insoluble fiber—commonly called "roughage"—promotes a healthy digestive tract and reduces the risk of cancers affecting it (e.g., colon cancer).