Who’d have guessed?
We would all love to believe that eating an odd-sounding berry will eradicate cellulite or that drinking water from a tree is the elixir to long life. In reality, it’s about creating balance across our lifestyle – taking enough exercise, not drinking too much, not smoking, and eating a healthy balanced diet. There are no short cuts.
However, scientific research does indicate that certain nutrients can help alleviate, avoid or heal ailments and serious illnesses; and some individual foods have such an exceptional concentration of nutrients that we cannot deny their potential benefits to our health. Step forward ‘the superfood’.
These super-packages of nutrient-dense goodness have been heralded as our ammunition and armour against everyday complaints and serious life-threatening conditions: reducing the risk of cancers and heart disease; reducing cholesterol and blood pressure; relieving colds, migraines and gut problems.
Whilst a superfood can enhance and benefit your health, it is important to remember that no amount of berries or broccoli can undo harm from an unhealthy lifestyle, obesity, smoking or excessive alcohol consumption.
Over the last few years, different superfoods have been having their moment. Last year, it was all about mashed avocado on toast; the year before, we couldn’t get enough of chia seeds; and kale is so 2013. This year, the darling of the food world is black pudding. Once only deemed fit for the edge of an English fry-up, it has now been elevated to the ultimate superfood of 2016.
We have put together a list of 15 of the hottest superfoods trending for 2016.
A little grisly if you consider it, a blood sausage is made from dried pork blood, pork fat and oatmeal contained in a sausage skin; but delicious when you eat it. Usually found tucked on the edge of a fried English breakfast, black pudding is a surprising choice – yet its high concentration of iron makes it ideal for anaemics and for women who are deficient in this nutrient.
It is also high in protein and in minerals zinc, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
The honest mushroom has been elevated, due to its high nutritional content in comparison with other vegetables – even the ancient Egyptians believed mushrooms brought long life. Rich in the antioxidant l-ergothioneine, a handful of white button mushrooms has twelve times the antioxidant of wheatgerm and four times that of chicken liver. Combating inflammation, protecting against free radicals and supporting a healthy heart are all benefits of antioxidants.
Other mushroom varieties, such as reishi, maitake and shiitake, contain anti-viral compounds and have been reported to boost the immune system, as well as having a beneficial effect on cancer.
An excellent source of vitamin D, it is rich in vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6, folic acid and minerals potassium, copper, phosphorus and iron.
Avocado is one of only a few oils made from flesh pulp, rather than seeds. Avocado oil was originally made for cosmetics and can be applied to the skin and hair for external benefits – but the high smoke point of the oil has seen it increasingly used in cooking. Its ability to remain stable at higher temperatures, during cooking, makes it a more healthy choice for frying.
High in oleic acid and vitamin E, and similar to olive oil, the fats in avocado oil can make you feel more quickly satisfied when eating and feeling fuller for longer – good for weight control.
Avocados are, in themselves, a superfood – so the oil is beneficial for heart and digestive health, reduction of inflammation, and protects against free radicals. Used externally, avocado oil can accelerate wound healing.
One of the fastest-growing plants in the world, kelp is an ancient algae and type of seaweed which grows in an underwater forest and can only be supported in nutrient-rich water.
It is used to treat thyroid problems, with its concentration of iodine (a healthy thyroid is essential in combating fatigue and regulating metabolism, whilst aiding weight control). Rich in antioxidants, it is also an inflammation-busting superfood.
Kelp has the highest natural concentration of calcium – ten times that of milk. It is rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, C, D, E, folic acid and minerals zinc, iodine, magnesium, iron, potassium and copper.
Kelp does absorb toxic, heavy metals from polluted seawater, so only consume from a reliable clean source. A high intake of iodine can cause hyperthyroidism.
The maqui berry, also known as a Chilean wineberry, grows wild and uncultivated in Chile and parts of Argentina, trouncing all other berries in its concentration of nutrients and ‘superpower’.
The dark purple coloured maqui ‘superberry’ possesses the highest levels of the antioxidant anthocyanin in any fruit or berry. This delivers many beneficial effects on cardiovascular health, inflammation, protection against free radicals and the ageing process. It has also been shown to inhibit colon cancer.
It is high in vitamins A and C and minerals calcium, iron and potassium.
A brightly coloured fruit from Peru and Equador, lucuma tastes like maple syrup combined with sweet potato. Mostly shipped as a dried powder, lucuma can be used as a sweetener to liven-up smoothies and porridge, and is also a useful sugar alternative for diabetics.
Research has shown that oil from the fruit is anti-inflammatory and therefore promotes wound healing and tissue regeneration with anti-ageing properties for the skin.
It is rich in beta carotene, vitamin B3 and minerals potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc.
An ancient grain originating from Japanese rice, black rice is sometimes known as forbidden rice or longevity rice. A gene mutation is the reason for its black colour and the dark pigment of the hull is where the highest levels (in any foodstuff) of the antioxidant anthocyanin are found. Even higher in antioxidants than blueberries, it is an effective superfood against inflammation.
Black rice contains a higher level of fibre than any other rice (30 times more than white) and the highest level of protein in rice. Rich in vitamins B1 and B2, folic acid and minerals iron, zinc, calcium, phosphorus, it also contains the amino acids lysine, tryptophan.
With a high fibre content and anti-inflammatory properties, its wide-ranging health benefits include supporting a healthy heart and cardiovascular system, lowering cholesterol, detoxifying the body and supporting digestive health. An all-round super choice.
A traditional Korean fermented vegetable, eaten daily as a side dish, Kimchi is made from a wide variety of vegetables and seasonings (with 300 variations) but usually includes napa cabbage, radish, garlic, salt, scallions and red chilli flakes. The lacto-fermentation process (similar to sauerkraut) develops lactic acid bacteria, which is beneficial to digestive health.
Kimchi can prevent the growth of candida and yeast infections and also helps to cure gastritis and peptic ulcers caused by Helicobacter pylori bacteria.
The many benefits – such as boosting the immune system, increased energy and reducing risk of cancer – means the Korean population are real advocates of kimchi being a superfood. Note that kimchi should be eaten in small amounts to begin with, as large amounts can cause digestive problems in some individuals.
It is high in vitamins C and A, antioxidants, vitamins A, B1, B2 and minerals calcium and iron.
Freekeh, sometimes called farik, is an ancient, early thirteenth century grain from Arabian cuisine –a versatile ingredient which soaks up flavours. Made from wheat harvested early, whilst the grain is still soft, the chaff is burnt and rubbed away (‘farik’ means rubbed) giving it a smoky flavour. The grain is similar to a cracked bulgur wheat.
Freekeh is higher in protein and fibre than quinoa, making it an ideal grain to maintain blood sugar levels, and to assist in weight loss, by feeling fuller for longer. Fibre also supports digestive health. Freekeh is reported to be beneficial to heart health and the lowering of cholesterol. The only downside to this grain is that it is not gluten-free.
It is rich in B vitamins 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6, folic acid and minerals calcium, manganese, phosphorus, iron, magnesium and zinc.
Bone broth is made from the slow cooking of animal bones – usually chicken or beef – until the collagen and nutrients are released from the bone marrow. Bone broth is an age-old remedy for treating flu and restoring health after illness and can be traced back to the Stone Age.
Rich in collagen, chondroitin sulphate and glucosamine, broth can provide healing not only for the joints, but also leaky gut syndrome and digestive health.
It is also rich in amino acids proline, glycine, arginine and glutamine; and in minerals calcium, silicon, sulphur, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium. Bone broth is beneficial against inflammation and for lowering cholesterol.
A traditional beverage only harvested by hand in northern hemisphere countries and northern China, the clear water sap from birch trees is collected between winter and early spring and has a sweet and silky taste. Birch water’s main claims are the benefits of the detoxifying and diuresis properties that eliminate toxins, uric acid and cholesterol, as well as the support of liver and kidney function.
It offers an alternative to coconut water as a super hydrator, due to its electrolyte content.
Also known as turtle bean, the black bean is a legume widely used in Latin American cuisine.
The Food Guide for the Brazilian Population recommends that beans be consumed every day, due to research indicating a lower risk of several types of cancer, especially colon.
The black bean is high in antioxidants, supporting heart health and combating inflammation. The high fibre content supports digestive health and sustained blood sugar levels. It is rich in minerals, calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron but anyone prone to gout should note that black beans contain purines.
Teff is a very small, ancient grain (similar to millet and quinoa) which is indigenous to Ethiopia. High in calcium, iron and protein, with all eight amino acids, teff is an ideal food for vegetarians. Also high in resistant starch and fibre, it ensures the slow release of energy and sustains blood sugar levels. Ethiopian long-distance runners attribute their energy and health to teff.
An all-round superfood, teff supports a healthy heart and its fibre content is good for digestive health. Being naturally gluten-free makes it suitable for coeliacs.
It is rich in vitamin C and minerals phosphorus, magnesium, aluminium, iron, copper, zinc, boron and barium.
Maca is a plant from the cruciferous (broccoli) family and indigenous to Peru. Traditionally used by Incan warriors before battle, to make them strong, maca is thought to stimulate libido and energy, hence known as ‘nature’s viagra’. The root is mostly supplied in powdered form and is consumed more for its energy boost, rather than a flagging sex drive. The stamina-enhancing properties make this a popular supplement with gym-goers.
Maca is also taken by women for its hormone-balancing properties and also its benefits to PMS and menopausal symptoms. Note that maca in high doses can cause hormone imbalance and increase anxiety.
It is rich in vitamins B1, B2, C, E and minerals calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and amino acids.
Sweet potato flour
The sweet potato is dried and milled to create a high-quality flour that retains its sweet flavour. Naturally gluten-free, it is an ideal alternative for coealiacs to use when making baked goods.
Sweet potatoes are high in fibre, which supports digestive health; and the sustained release of energy regulates blood sugar levels.
It is high in vitamins A and C and minerals iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese and potassium.