Looking Back to Nature: The World's Original Superfoods
The term "superfood" is tossed around in the health food industry. Many of us may wonder what is considered a superfood and why it is essential to include these nutrient-rich ingredients in our meals. Even though there are no set criteria for what defines a superfood, they are packed full of nutrients that help our bodies thrive and be healthy.
Superfoods are jam-packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. When introduced as part of a balanced and varied diet, they can support your immune system to reduce the risk of diseases and generally improve the way you feel.
There is no number one superfood, so the best course of action is to focus on variety. Including a range of superfood ingredients into your daily routine will ensure you achieve the most significant benefits from the food you choose to put in your body.
What are Superfoods?
Superfoods tend to be plant-based, but some fish and dairy products fall within the nutritionally dense food category. For example, blueberries, kale, salmon, and spirulina all fall under the superfood label. Dieticians tend to agree that superfoods do not have their own food group. However, it is recognised that they are foods that have potential health benefits.
Consuming foods that are packed full of nutrients is a great idea. Superfoods tend to contain antioxidants, healthy fats, fibre and phytochemicals (the chemicals in plants that give them deep colours and smells). These elements provide a range of potential health benefits, including aiding digestion, strengthening the immune system, and even improving skin complexion.
There is no one superfood, and instead, dieticians recommend a varied diet that comprises a variety of nutritious foods in appropriate quantities. The range and mixture of healthy foods is the key to a good diet, which will support a positive lifestyle.
The Original Superfoods
The health food industry is coming up with new superfoods all the time, and some are proving very effective. However, if you prefer a natural route, there are plenty of fantastic superfoods which have been on the planet for thousands of years. Here are some of the top original superfoods you can add to your diet today:
This little blue fruit appears at the top of many superfood lists, and for a good reason. Blueberries are jam-packed with nutrients – in particular, phytochemicals known as flavonoids. A 2013 study found that flavonoids may reduce the risk of certain heart conditions in young women. It is worth stating that several of the beneficial nutritional properties found in blueberries can also be found in other kinds of berries – including cranberries and strawberries. The reason for blueberries popularity as a superfood to it being so frequently studied.
This blue-green alga is understood to be one of the oldest life forms on the planet. Research into the potentials of spirulina continues; however initial findings show that it contains many nutritional properties, including magnesium, protein and antioxidants. One of the most commonly available forms is spirulina powder – which can be easily added to food and drink. Spirulina is known to have a slightly bitter taste, so people often mix it with smoothies, yoghurt and juices to make it more palatable or purchase ready-made options of this superfood drink.
It is impossible to have a superfood list without including one of the darkest leafy greens. Kale is part of the cabbage-mustard family and is full of vitamins A, C, and K, along with plenty of fibre, calcium and other essential minerals. If you are not a fan of the fibrous texture of kale, the leaves can be soaked in hot water before blending into a delicious source. Otherwise, there are plenty of leafy green alternatives which include the same benefits – such as broccoli, spinach, cabbages and swiss chard.
Sweet Potatoes and Butternut Squash
These deliciously sweet vegetables have made it onto the superfood list due to their high nutritional properties. Both sweet potato and butternut squash contain antioxidants vitamins A and C, beta-carotene, fibre and much more. In addition, as these vegetables are naturally sweet, they rarely need butter, cream, or seasoning added, which makes them a great option when watching calorie intake.
Beans and Whole Grains
If you are looking for a low-fat protein option, then beans are your friend. Beans can be considered a superfood as they contain insoluble fibre, soluble fibre, lots of vitamins and even a few minerals. Whole grains should also be included in a balanced diet as they have the same benefits as beans but with the added addition of fibre and antioxidants. Be sure your grains are whole and not refined as they are not stripped of their nutrients.
Nuts and Seeds
A popular healthy snack often includes nuts and seeds as they contain high levels of minerals and healthy fats. However, it is worth remembering that you should consider the portion size when munching back nuts and seeds as they are calorie intensive. A seemingly innocent handful of nuts can contain more than 100 calories. If you are one for snacking, it may be best to stick to shelled nuts and seeds – the time it takes to crack open will slow down the quantity eaten.
For those who wish to include seafood in their diets, some fish that can be classed as a superfood include salmon, mackerel and sardines. They are fatty fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Some people are concerned about fish being contaminated with mercury, but the benefits of eating fish may far outweigh the risks. If there are worries about contaminants, it is best to avoid consuming fish that are high on the food chain – such as swordfish, king mackerel, and sharks.
Diet plays an essential role in keeping us healthy in our daily lives. However, too much focus on individual foods can lead to unhealthy eating. For example, eating unhealthy foods and then compensating with a "superfood" item is not a suitable course of action. Unfortunately, spirulina benefits will not counteract the damage done when eating a sugary chocolate bar every day.
It is not possible to undo the damage caused by unhealthy foods by eating a superfood – instead, the attention should be on breaking the routine of reaching for bad foods and replacing them with heather options. Of course, it does not mean we can not enjoy a treat from time to time, but we should aim to eat a healthier, balanced diet full of different fruits, vegetables and whole grains.