We’ve all heard about superfoods, but what exactly are they, and what does it mean to be a superfood? When I use the word “superfood”, I mean a nutrient rich food that is considered particularly good for your health. There is no one magical food that provides all of the nutrients we need, and to be honest I think a lot of the hype about superfoods is a marketing technique to sell us foods at inflated prices. That being said, there are certain foods that are extremely nutrient dense that, when included in a balanced whole food plant based diet, should be health promoting. I’ve set out below an overview of a few examples of superfoods and the benefits of including them in your diet!
Avocados contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, and are packed full of fibre and healthy fats (they are technically a fruit and it is unusual for fruits to contain a lot of fat). They are quite calorific, but when included as part of a healthy, balanced diet they might help protect against heart disease and lower blood pressure due to their monounsaturated fat content. Avocados are also a good source of vitamin E, which is an antioxidant.
Beans are high in fibre, low in fat and are a great source of plant based protein! They also contain complex carbohydrates which provide the body with the fuel it needs for physical activity. Some of the reported health benefits of beans include improved digestion, promoting heart health and regulating blood sugar.
Berries are a really great addition to a healthy, balanced diet. One of the reasons they are so good for you is that they are packed full of phytonutrients which are believed to have antioxidant and anti--inflammatory properties. Research has suggested that berries may also contain properties that help fight certain types of cancer, help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and promote heart health. Bonus points, they are delicious!
Cruciferous vegetables include foods such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, mustard greens, rocket (arugula) and watercress. Cruciferous vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals such as folate and vitamin K, as well as being rich in phytonutrients. Cruciferous vegetables also are high in fibre and low in calories, which will help you feel full without overeating.
Dark green leafy vegetables
There is some overlap here with some of the cruciferous vegetables, but dark green leafy vegetables are another group that can be classed as superfoods. They are a really great source of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Additionally, compounds found in dark green leafy vegetables act as antioxidants in the body.
Flaxseeds are packed full of nutrients are an excellent source of omega-3 essential fatty acids and antioxidants, as well as fibre, vitamin B1, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, and selenium. Flaxseeds contain more lignans, a type of antioxidant found in some types of fibre, than any other type of food. Research has shown that lignans, as well as omega-3 essential fatty acids, may help reduce inflammation which is associated with various health issues.
All nuts have different nutrition profiles, but in general they are packed full of protein, fibre and essential fats. Examples include almonds (which are a source of calcium), brazil nuts (which are an excellent source of selenium), cashew nuts (which are a source of iron and zinc) and hazelnuts (which are a good source of folate).
Sweet potatoes are another great source of fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Additionally, sweet potatoes are high in antioxidants that protect your body from free radicals (especially orange and purple sweet potatoes). The fibre in sweet potatoes contributes to good gut health, and can increase your health promoting good gut bacteria.
The above foods are just a few examples of “superfoods” and can all be considered to be beneficial as part of a healthy diet. The danger with superfoods is that they are marketed in a way that makes us believe that we need to eat LOADS of only one type of food and that will be good for us – that is misleading. The key is to eat a variety of whole plant foods. The superfood industry would also like you to buy expensive extracts from superfoods, but personally I try to stick to whole foods as much as possible!
Note: None of the above is intended to be a substitute for medical advice.