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Super Foods

The term superfoods entered the language in the 1990s to denote foods packed with nutrients that supposedly have various health-giving properties. There are a wide range of foods that have been designated as superfoods, from the  exotic, such as alfa alfa, spirulina and wheatgrass, to some that are very basic such as broccoli, beans and beetroot. Here we will bring you the information to help you add these wonderfully diverse foods to your diet.

So what is a superfood?

There is no strict definition of a superfood - and no definitive list. New candidates are regularly put forward, usually supported by a load of marketing hype. Among the best known are oily fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, etc) for omega 3 fatty acids, blueberries for vitamin C, brazil nuts for selenium, carrots for beta-carotene, tomatoes for lycopene, olive oil for the anti-inflammatory compound oleocanthal, red wine for resveratrol and garlic.

Superfoods come with various health claims ranging from improving IQ to preventing cancer and heart disease, increasing sporting ability and enhancing appearance.Their benefits are often wildly overstated but there is little doubt that they are a worthwhile addition to any diet.

Ok so given that superfoods are not a panacea why don't we just take vitamin tablets and nutritional supplements instead?.....

Simply because eating is a pleasure as shown by the many popular cooking programmes on television whereas swallowing pills is not. Research done on vitamins over the years has also yielded confusing results with claims showing they protect against heart disease or cancer soon contradicted by new studies showing the opposite.

The argument for superfoods, which contain the vitamins in their raw unprocessed state, is that they are natural food sources, safe and easily absorbed. Calcium, for example, sold as calcium carbonate - chalk - is difficult to digest. In a glass of (low-fat) milk it is easily absorbed.

Does designating something as a superfood have an effect?

In simple terms this is a resounding yes albeit more from a marketing point of view. Sales of blueberries, for example, soared following claims that the fruit could help protect the body from a range of illnesses. Nutritionists say blueberries are bursting with vitamin C and offer one of the best sources of the antioxidant anthocyanin, believed to help keep the heart healthy and maintain youthful skin. In summer 2004, the US Department of Agriculture researchers revealed blueberries contained pterostilbene, which could be as effective as prescription drugs in helping lower cholesterol. Blackcurrant growers in the UK hit back with a campaign to promote the benefits of their "forgotten fruit", saying the berries contained more antioxidants than their foreign-grown rivals.

Which was the first superfood?

Hard to say as the term has been in widespread use only for a decade. But one vegetable with a claim to the title must be spinach. Sales peaked in the 1950s helped by the popularity of Popeye, the cartoon character who gulped down tins of the stuff to give him strength. A generation of children forced to eat it were turned off the dark green mush, some complaining they viewed it as a form of torture.

Half a century later, the leafy vegetable has shed its unlovely image to become one of Britain's trendiest foods. Sales soared 30 per cent last year after celebrity chefs and health gurus extolled its high vitamin and mineral content.

Which is the most widely used superfood?


Tea!!! It is drunk by millions, not because its healthy but because it is soothing, thirst-quenching and delicious. In recent years, research has shown it is high in antioxidants and may offer protection against cancer and heart disease. However, adding milk and, worse, sugar, may negate its health-giving benefits. For people who drink a lot of tea, the dash of milk in each cup adds up and can contribute significantly to the amount of fat in their diet increasing the risk of heart disease and cancelling the protective effect of the antioxidants.

Do scientists always get it right about superfoods?

No. One of the biggest upsets, scientifically speaking, occurred in 2006 when research published in the British Medical Journal suggested the advice to eat more oily fish to benefit the heart, which had been widely dispensed for 20 years, was wrong. A review of 89 studies of omega 3 fatty acids, the key constituent of fish oils thought to protect against heart disease, found no clear evidence they were of any help.

The claim that a diet high in fibre protects against bowel cancer, which has been made since the 1970s, was based on the observation that the cancer was almost unknown in Africa, where the staple diet is fibre-rich vegetables and grains. However, following various studies, these claims have proven to  rather inconclusive and researchers now think the presence of sugar in the gut, rather than the absence of fibre, may be the key factor.

Should we eat superfoods then?

Yes, by all means enjoy them, use them as part of a wonderfully diverse diet, but don't regard them as a panacea medicine.  The surest route to better health is to alter this balance gently. Up to one third of cancers and a high proportion of heart disease is thought to be associated with diet, and modifying the food we eat is one of the best defences against them. The standard advice is still the best - eat more fruit and vegetables, more starch and carbohydrate and less animal protein. Then try a square or two of chocolate - just for the pleasure it gives.

In summary what do superfoods provide?

They provide extra amounts of vitamins, minerals and fatty acids essential to growth and to the repair of DNA damage in the cells

They offer more protection against cancer, heart disease and chronic conditions, such as dementia, than ordinary foods

The nutrients they contain are easier to absorb than vitamin pills and nutritional supplements - as well as being tastier

however

Most superfoods contain the same nutrients as other foods,only they are in slightly higher quantities, so you need slightly less of them

If you eat a balanced diet you will get all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients you need to maintain your health

There is no point in increasing your intake of vitamins and minerals unless you are deficient - the body simply excretes the excess



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