Matcha, quinoa, kale, kombucha, chia, turmeric. These spotlighted superfoods have all had their moment of glory over the past few years. And just when you've got your head around one ingredient, another one bursts onto the scene.
They're touted as helping cell recovery, decreasing toxicity, improving brain function and weight loss and plenty of other health benefits. But what is a superfood and how do they work? What benefits do they have and how do you use them?
While food trends come and go, the bottom line is that you can never go wrong with a balanced diet of whole fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. But if you're trying to incorporate more superfoods into your diet, it can become a little confusing.
So what defines a superfood?
Generally speaking, superfoods are any food that's especially healthy for you, and there are lots of them. There's no formal checklist. But nutritionists generally agree that foods need to pass three main criteria before being elevated to superfood status.
Here’s how to tell if you’ve got a true superfood on your plate:
- All superfoods are a whole (unprocessed) foods with a high nutritional density.
- They're excellent sources of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants, and
- They're high in fibre and low in sodium
- Açaí Berries: Pronounced 'a-saa-he' (or like Asahi beer, if you prefer. These dark purple berries are harvested from palm trees native to South America. In Australia, we usually find açaí as a powder, puree or dried whole fruit and you'll commonly find them added into in smoothies or in healthy breakfast bowls at trendy cafes. They’re full of fibre, antioxidants, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Almonds: Yes, we know you love them. This versatile little guy not only tastes great, they’re also packed with protein, fibre, vitamin E and magnesium. Enjoy them raw for the highest nutritional benefit.
- Apples: Every variety of apple contains high levels of antioxidants quercetin and catechin as well as polyphenols, and fibre. Regrettably, they're also high on the dirty dozen list (for the high concentration of pesticides needed to grow them). So organic apples are
- Avocado: If you love them, great! If you don't, try to. Because these guys are packed full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats as well as fibre and more potassium than a banana.
- Blueberries: and all their berry friends are loaded with the antioxidant anthocyanins and phytochemicals. They're high in fibre, vitamin C, copper, manganese and folate.
- Broccoli: This cruciferous (extra points for saying that properly at a dinner party) classic is high in vitamins A, C, and K, and folic acid. And the less you cook it, the better. Try some Brocolli rice (like cauliflower rice) that's been quickly blanched.
- Beans: As well as being full of fibre, they're also a great source of protein, antioxidants, and iron.
- Chia Seeds: While tiny, chia seeds pack a real nutritional punch. These little seeds are packed with healthy omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, fibre, iron, and calcium. Omega-3 helps raise HDL cholesterol, the 'good' cholesterol that helps protects against heart attack and stroke.
- Dark Chocolate: Thanks to its super-high level of antioxidants, this little treat can be considered a superfood as long as you choose the high cacao (70% plus) - low sugar content to get the health benefits.
- Eggs: One of the few non-plant-based foods to qualify. They're a real powerhouse, full of protein, selenium, vitamin D, B6, B12 and minerals such as zinc, copper and iron. As if that's not enough, you'll get all nine essential amino acids your body needs (but can't make). But be kind to the little ladies though and choose cage-free.
- Linseed: Also known as flaxseeds, this small but mighty seed is high in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, fibre, and antioxidants. Just sprinkle them over your cereals, add them to smoothies or include them in your baked goods.
- Green Tea: Green teas are all loaded with polyphenols, a potent antioxidant, as well as alkaloids and L-theanine. Green matcha tea, a powdered tea, is even more beneficial because you consume the leaf itself, not just the brew.
- Hemp Seeds: Don't worry, you won't get high, but the protein, healthy Omega-3 fats, amino acids, vitamin E, and minerals packed inside these will help you feel great. Use them much the same way as you do linseeds to boost the nutritional value of all sorts of dishes.
- Kale: I read a food article about five years ago where the author pleaded for this ingredient to go out of fashion. I disagree. Love it or hate it, kale is definitely good for you. Aside from high levels of fibre, potassium, vitamins, antioxidants and phytochemicals like chlorophyll all come loaded in this leafy green.
- Mushrooms: Loaded with fibre, potassium, iron, and B vitamins, and virtually fat and cholesterol-free, this newer addition to the superfood group earn their place on the list. Riboflavin is excellent for red blood cells. So, raw in salads or cooked through dishes, do your health a favour and get friendly with the mushroom.
- Oats: Whether you like to eat them as a hot porridge on a cold winter's morning, add them into baked goods or add them into summer smoothies, these whole grains add a heft of fibre, magnesium, potassium, and phytonutrients to your diet.
Pumpkin: This tasty winter vegetable is packed with natural sugars, fibre and vitamins A and C. But don't let the creamy taste fool you, it's also low in fat.
- Quinoa: 'Keen-Wah' is the protein-packed grain you've not stopped hearing about the last ten years. Cook it like rice and use it like of rice. It's mild nutty flavour delivers more fibre, potassium, iron, and antioxidants than rice. Plus all nine essential amino acids your body can't make, but needs to function optimally.
- Salmon: The potent levels of lean protein, healthy omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, and B vitamins packed into salmon earns it a place alongside its mostly vegetal colleagues on the list. But consider the difference between fresh and farmed Australian salmon.
- Seaweed: Fibre, antioxidants, polyphenols, riboflavin, thiamin, iodine (which supports thyroid function and which the body can't produce on its own), B vitamins and copper. All these make seaweed a king/queen in the superfood world. But if you can't stand the idea of the raw stuff in the form of a seaweed salad, get your hands on some dry or powdered versions.
- Spinach: Popeye ate it for good reason. It's the original 'superfood'. Fibre and phytonutrients aside, it's rich in iron, folate and vitamins A, C and K as well as a great source of calcium.
- Sweet Potatoes: Swap white potatoes with these guys and you'll get a significant increase in potassium, fibre, vitamin C and B6, manganese, and copper. Not to mention an increase in taste!
- Tomatoes: Bursting with the antioxidant lycopene (this one helps your prostate, gents), as well as fibre, vitamin C, and potassium and folate.
- Walnuts: High in antioxidants and alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid that helps lower the risk of heart disease).
- Wheat Germ: Nutritionally speaking, this is the best part of wheat. But it’s removed during the processing of wheat products. It's full of fiber, folate and other B vitamins, vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids. Use it just as you would use linseed and hempseed.