Superfoods: Do we really need them?

In this day and age everyone is trying to find a balance in their lives especially with their food and most of them might have heard about this term. Superfood as such is no official category of food, but some of the regular food items have been named this because they contain massive amounts of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. There is no definitive criteria of classifying a food item as superfood. But in general most of the superfoods are plant based and some are fish and dairy based ones. In this article we will try to find out whether you really need them or is it just as said by Despina Hyde, a registered dietician with the weight management program at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, a marketing tool.

In general antioxidants are good for the body as they stabilise the oxidative metabolism which contributes in maintaining cellular integrity. There are also studies that indicate that consuming enough antioxidants can help with the following diseases:

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Arthritis
  • Stroke
  • Immune deficieny
  • Parkison’s disease
  • Emphysema

But these are not miracle food items that can cure diseases. Although because of their nutrient rich profile they help in deceasing certain effects but they are no replacement to regular medications for diseases. Including superfoods as part of daily nutritional intake is great but only when consuming a healthy, balanced diet overall. Eat a “super diet” rather than to concentrate on individual foods.

Some Superfoods

  1. Berries

Various berries are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. They may also help in reducing risks of various conditions like digestive problems, heart disease and immune disorders. Making them a part of your meals might be a good idea as their health benefits are as versatile as their culinary application.

Some example of berries are:

  • Raspberries
  • Cranberries
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Blackberries

2. Dark Green leafy Vegetables (DGLV’s)

These are a powerhouse of nutrients and are rich in iron, folic acid, calcium, zinc, magnesium, vitamin c, fibre etc. They are shown to reduce the risk of heart diseases and type 2 diabetes. They also have compounds called carotenoids, which are known for their anti-inflammatory properties which may help with certain types of caner risks.

Some DGLV’s

  • Collard greens
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard

3. Green Tea

Packed with antioxidant properties, it is one of the healthiest beverages that one can consume. One of the most prevalent antioxidants in green tea is the catechin epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG. EGCG likely helps in protection against chronic diseases. Research also indicates that caffeine and catechin might also help in weight loss in some people, but more research is needed to establish this.

4. Seeds and Nuts

These are packed with fibre, protein and good fats. Some of them also have anti-inflammatory compounds which may help in choric diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart diseases.

Some common ones are:

  • Walnuts
  • Pistachios
  • Almonds
  • Peanuts
  • Macademia nuts
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Flaxseed

5. Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate contains high amount of flavonoids. Flavonoids have been shown to have antioxidant activity which prevent coronary heart disease and certain types of cancer, and boost the immune system. But keep in mind that chocolate may have added ingredients, such as added sugar, that might negate these benefits

6. Kefir

Credit: healthline.com

It is a fermented beverage that is made from milk and usually contains protein, calcium, B vitamins, potassium and probiotics. It is similar to yogurt but it’s a little thinner in consistency and contains more probiotics than yogurt. It can be made with cow’s milk or coconut milk or rice milk etc. In general it can be tolerated by people with lactose intolerance as it is fermented by bacteria.

7. Garlic

Yes you read that right it’s garlic. It’s closely related to shallots and onion. It is rich in manganese, vitamin C, vitamin B6, selenium and fiber. Research shows that garlic may be effective in decreasing cholesterol and blood pressure, as well helping immune function.

8. Avocado

This helps in reducing blood cholesterol levels and alleviating arthritis symptoms.It contains high amounts of monounsaturated fats that helps to improve good cholesterol levels. It is also dense with vitamins E and B6, which helps in red blood cell formation, helping protect body tissues from free radicals or oxidants, producing glycogen (an energy source for your body) and promoting skin health. It can also help body to absorb carotenoids which may help in reducing cancer risk.

9. Olive oil

Made from olive tress and is rich in MUFA’s and polyphenolic compounds. May reduce inflammation and risk of certain illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. Also contains Bit K and E, which protect against cellular damage.

10. Turmeric (Curcumin)

This is one spice that’s used most in Indian cooking. Studies show that it may be effective in treating and preventing chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Also it helps in would healing and pain management. Because of poor absorption by body it’s generally consumed with other fats or spices such as black pepper.

11. Seaweed

Seaweed packs multiple nutrients, including vitamin K, folate, iodine and fiber. These ocean vegetables are a source of unique bioactive compounds — not typically present in land-vegetables — which may have antioxidant effects.

12. Salmon

Salmon is one healthy fish, isn’t it? It contains healthy fats, protein, B vitamins, potassium and selenium. It is also a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids which helps in reducing inflammation. A potential harm in eating salmon is that it might be contaminated with heavy metals and other pollutants.

13. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are one of the most underrated food items. As the nutrient content differs depending on the type of mushrooms, it contain vitamin A, potassium, fiber, and several antioxidants not present in most other foods. nother useful feature of mushrooms is that agricultural waste products are usually used to grow them. This makes mushrooms a sustainable component of a healthy food system.

Bottom Line

Scientists claim that superfood is nothing but a marketing tool with no proof from scientific studies. In one instance that showed the same is with macadamia nuts after a careful statement by FDA that consuming 1.5 ounces of macadamia nuts per day as part of a low-fat and low-cholesterol diet could potentially “reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.” It wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, but the macadamia nut industry took that to the press and consumers went, well, nuts.

Another instance many “super-juices” squeezed from acai berry, noni fruit and pomegranate can also include large amounts of added sugar.

Because superfood is not a scientific term it is being marketed by companies to sell massive amounts of products. Although a lot of foods that are being called as superfoods are actually healthy for the body if they are part of a healthy diet and not with a diet containing a lot of pizzas and French fries! Research has shown that an ideal diet is one that is largely plant-based, with a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthful animal products. Superfoods might be a good entry into healthy eating, and understanding the nutritional value of the food you eat can be enlightening, but there are lots of healthy foods out there to explore, even if no one is calling them “super.”

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