Superfoods – All You Need to Know About Them. Health Benefits, Facts And Risks

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Superfoods are not only associated with a healthy lifestyle, but also with high-quality, unique, and expensive products. These are foods that, even in small amounts, have a scientifically proven positive effect on the body. On the list of superfoods are foods with the maximum level of vitamins, minerals and other substances useful for our body. Which superfoods are best for our health and how can we implement them in our diet? Here are the most important facts about the most popular superfoods.

In this article you will learn:

  • What is a superfood and what conditions should a product meet in order to qualify as a superfood?
  • What’s in superfoods and what are the benefits of consuming them
  • The most popular superfoods (of course)
  • How to start introducing superfoods in your diet

=> Do you know that we compare different products that you can find in Coles or Woolworths? See which one you should buy or avoid:

What is a superfood?

A superfood is an unprocessed food product of natural origin. On the list of superfoods we can find mainly plant based products, but some fish and dairy products can also fall in this group. Some superfoods can be cooked and processed, but most of them are best eaten raw as they retain their highest nutritional density in this form.

According to scientists from Harvard University, the term “superfood” was introduced by the American United Fruit Company at the beginning of the 20th century. It was combined with a massive marketing campaign to promote the consumption of bananas. The advertisements of the brand promoting bananas encouraged Americans to introduce bananas to their diet, as they are tasty, cheap and very nutritious.

With time, the term started to be used in other marketing campaigns promoting various products that were not always plant-based. There was even a Canadian advert in 1949 that was using the word “superfood” to promote sweet rolls.

After a longer break, the word “superfood” was used again in the journal Nature Nutrition by Aaron Moss, who stated:

“People have a huge choice when it comes to how to nourish their body, but some foods are so nutritious they can be described as superfoods.”

And that was the beginning of the “superfoods” trend. Media and marketers have used this term to promote their products and increase nutritional awareness among society.

Some research shows that adding the term “superfood” to a product’s description, packaging, or advertisement can increase the interest of a potential customer. We are simply willing to pay more for a higher quality and healthier product.

avocado superfood

What conditions should a product meet in order to qualify as a superfood?

There is no official definition of superfood, but we can use this term to describe products that contain at least one or more ingredients that are especially beneficial for health and wellness. There are two main conditions that the product has to meet in order to gain the glorious “superfood” title:

  • Packed with health. The product has to be rich in vitamins, minerals, Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and fibre. It should also have high levels of nutrients in even a small amount of the product.
  • Confirmed by scientists. Beneficial health properties of the product should be confirmed by some scientific research. If there is a lack of research confirming the valuable properties of a product, it cannot be included in the superfood group.

The list of superfoods is very long and includes many vegetables and fruits, sea fish rich in fatty acids from the Omega 3 family, nuts, and seeds. It seems the list is endless.

What’s in superfoods?

As explained earlier, when we talk about superfoods we are referring to foods with a very high nutritional value. So what can we find in most “superfoods”?

Vitamins

These are needed more than any other nutrients for the proper functioning of our organism. The human body – with some exceptions – is not able to produce vitamins itself, so they must be provided in the foods we eat.

Antioxidants

These are natural substances that are known for slowing down the aging process of the body. They are also thought to protect against cancer, which is why antioxidants are one of the most important components of the anti-cancer diet. Vitamins C, E, A, flavonoids and carotenoids contained in fruits and vegetables of intense colour have high antioxidant properties.

Minerals

These are divided into two groups: macronutrients and micronutrients. This division is related to the body’s need for these compounds. The daily requirement for macronutrients is over 100 mg, while for micronutrients, i.e. the so-called trace elements, it does not exceed 100 mg. The macronutrients include: calcium, magnesium, chlorine, potassium, phosphorus and sodium. Whereas the trace elements are: iron (read more about iron in your diet), copper, zinc, iodine, manganese, molybdenum, fluorine, selenium and chromium.

Healthy fats

These are a great source of energy and enable the transport of vitamins A, D, E and K. Healthy fats are also needed for the production of various enzymes and hormones, and are key to many metabolic changes. They also support the immune system and allow the brain to function properly. Healthy fats can also protect us from the cold.

Proteins

These are the building material of our organism. Protein accounts for about 20% of human body weight, mainly in the muscular system. Protein performs many important functions that ensure the proper condition and functioning of our organism. The right amount of protein intake affects muscle development and regeneration of damaged tissues. It is very important to take the right amount of protein in your daily diet, because deficiency can lead to the deterioration of organs.

Dietary fibre

This is a very important food ingredient that helps with our metabolism. Fibre stimulates intestinal peristalsis, which leads to more frequent and regular bowel movements. It also reduces the absorption of cholesterol, which can prevent cardiovascular disease. Fibre lowers blood glucose levels and gives a feeling of fullness for a long time, making it a good element of a slimming diet.

=> Read our full article about diet and fibre.

Superfoods that contain high levels of these ingredients have a significant impact on our health and can protect the body against various diseases.

healthy bowl

Benefits of consuming superfoods

We may be living for longer and longer these days, but the number of people suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer or osteoporosis is constantly growing in developed countries. A lot of the time, these issues are the result of a poor diet full of highly processed food. You can find out more about the impacts of eating too much junk food here.

Because of the popularity of processed foods in our society, we need to introduce superfoods to our diet to give ourselves a real “nutritional boost”. The nutritional content of superfoods can help to repair the poor condition of our cardiovascular, bone and immune systems.

Many dieticians consider a healthy diet to be not just food but medicine. Adding superfoods to our diet can help provide our body with important nutrients, keep us at a healthy weight, and prevent many diseases.

As well as having great nutritional value, superfoods provide many more benefits. They are also very tasty and can perfectly satisfy the appetite, increase our vitality, give energy and rejuvenate. On top of that, they help to cleanse and alkalise the body and even increase or sexual potential.

raspberry breakfast

The most popular superfoods

As we said earlier, the list of superfoods is extremely long. We could even say it’s never ending. Here’s a list of the most popular superfoods you should definitely add to your everyday meals:

Acai berries

These fruits, grown in the Amazon, closely resemble blueberries. In the last 5 years they have gained large popularity amongst health-conscious people in Australia. Acai berries have been an important part of the diet of the Amazon tribes for centuries. They are rich in easily digestible proteins, vitamins (E, C, B group), minerals (phosphorus, calcium, potassium) and fatty acids (omega-6 and omega-9). They not only provide us with enormous amounts of energy and support digestion, but also help us lose weight.
Acai berries are full of antioxidants that rejuvenate and cleanse the body, and can also prevent cardiovascular and cancer diseases. You can eat them fresh, but they are mostly found in the form of juice, superfoods powder, or puree added to the famous Acai bowl.

Goji berries

These are found in Asia and known for their characteristic taste. Goji berries are a good source of valuable protein (containing 18 amino acids), minerals (phosphorus, iron, calcium, copper, zinc, selenium), Vitamins (C, B1, B2, B6 and E), unsaturated fatty acids (responsible for the production of hormones, proper functioning of the brain and nervous system), and antioxidants.
The secret ingredient of Goji berries is the bioactive polysaccharide LBP complex, responsible for stimulating the immune system. It has antioxidant and anti-cancer properties. You can eat Goji berries dried, in the form of powder added to superfoods smoothies, or as a juice.

Flaxseed

This extremely popular superfood is a rich source of unsaturated fatty acids. Flaxseeds lower the level of “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. They are the richest source of lignans, which has a beneficial effect on the functioning of the intestines and prevents cancer, heart disease, and inflammation. Flaxseed also lowers blood sugar levels and is rich in fibre, with 3 g of dietary fibre in one tablespoon. It’s also a good source of calcium, with 400 mg per glass.
To make sure your body absorbs the highest amount of fatty acids and lignans, you should grind flaxseed just before consuming them. The ground seeds can then be added to smoothies, salads, soups, and baked goods. You can also eat the seeds whole, add them to breakfast cereals or bread, or mix with boiling water and add to fruit.

Chia seeds

These are the seeds of Spanish sage, originating in South America. Chia seeds contain 34% good fats, 20% proteins and 25% dietary fibre. They also contain more Omega-3 fatty acids than salmon. On top of that, chia seeds are rich in antioxidants, as well as vitamins E and B1, iron, zinc, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus.
Thanks to high amounts of fibre, chia seeds support digestive processes and regulate blood sugar levels. The latest research shows that they can even reduce the risk of developing cervical and breast cancer. These properties are due to the presence of the ALA acid, which causes the death of cells responsible for the development of these tumours. In addition, chia seeds contribute to the reduction of “bad” cholesterol in the blood while also increasing levels of “good” cholesterol.

=> Here is a separate article about chia seeds only!

Quinoa

This is one of the most popular superfoods, added to salads in Australia and all over the world. Quinoa comes from South America and is a great, healthy replacement for rice. It contains large amounts of iron, magnesium, calcium, zinc, phosphorus, B vitamins, and folic acid. Quinoa is also a good source of carbohydrates, valuable vegetable protein, and other substances recommended for disease prevention. People who suffer from heart and circulatory system diseases should include quinoa in their diet.

Quinoa has many valuable nutrients, with low calorific value at the same time. This makes it a perfect complement to the diet of vegans and vegetarians. You can also introduce quinoa to your children’s diet as it has a positive effect on their growth. What’s more important, quinoa has no gluten, making it a great choice for people with allergies and food intolerances.

Coconut water

This is a drink that is obtained from young coconuts and extremely rich in valuable nutrients. During World War II, coconut water was used as a substitute for a drip, because it is a great source of potassium, magnesium and sodium, and its structure resembles plasma (the level of electrolytes almost corresponds to their concentration in human plasma). Before a coconut is opened (if it has not spoiled), the water inside is sterile. This superfood water contains elements such as potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and calcium. It is also a source of vitamins, mainly from group B (B1, B2, B3, B5 and B6) and vitamin C.
Drinking coconut water can be beneficial for our circulatory system. The ingredients within can lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. It also can help break down kidney stones and fight digestive problems. Coconut water also has a strong antibacterial, antiviral, antiallergic and antifungal effect.

Coconut water is an excellent isotonic drink which supports metabolism and hydrates the human body up to ten times better than isotonic drinks. Coconut water is definitely on the list of popular superfoods in Australia, as it is served in many healthy shops and can be found on many supermarket shelves.

coconut and beach

Kale

One of the most popular vegetables in medieval Europe has now returned as one of the most popular superfoods in Australia and all over the world. One glass of kale can provide 90% of the daily requirement of vitamin C, 100 percent of vitamin A and 450-600% of vitamin K. Kale is also a rich source of valuable ingredients like protein, fibre, calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc and magnesium.

Additionally, kale’s green leaves also contain antioxidants such as chlorophyll, lutein or sulforaphane, which eliminate substances that damage DNA and cause cancer from the body. They have been scientifically proven to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Kale is often used in superfoods salad, however you can also add it to healthy smoothies or bake it into crispy kale chips.

Cocoa beans

This superfood which is loved by everyone is also full of flavonoids – substances with antioxidant properties. Cocoa beans have a particularly beneficial effect on the circulatory system, supporting the regulation of blood pressure by regulating the tension of blood vessel walls. They have properties similar to acetylsalicylic acid – inhibiting the clumping of platelets and preventing the formation of clots.
You can add cocoa beans in a form of powder to superfoods smoothies, cereal, chia puddings etc. Cocoa beans are also added to chocolate, however, most chocolates contain high amounts of sugar which doesn’t make them as healthy as cocoa powder or 100% dark chocolate.

Cocoa beans

Green tea

For centuries, green tea has been treated as a natural medicine, and this was confirmed by modern research. Green tea’s main active ingredients are catechins – compounds from the group of polyphenols. These substances are present in all types of tea, but green tea has the highest levels. Polyphenols have anti-cancer and antiatherosclerotic properties, and also counteract the degeneration of nerve cells (including Alzheimer’s disease).

Epidemiological studies have shown that people in countries that drink a lot of green tea are less likely to die from cancer and heart attacks. Some studies have also shown that green tea can speed up metabolism and regulate blood glucose levels, making it a great tool for weight loss and treating type 2 diabetes.

It has been found that drinking 5 cups of green tea a day reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Most polyphenols are released from the leaves during the first 2 minutes of brewing. Tea brewed briefly (about 2 minutes) has a stimulating effect, while longer (over 5 minutes) has a more calming and slightly sleepy result.

Remember that polyphenols found in green tea reduce the bioavailability of iron.

Aloe

Aloe has been appreciated for centuries, mostly as a natural skin care product. If you examine aloe vera in depth, you will find out that it contains over 75 medicinal compounds! These include antibiotic agents, enzymes, minerals, amino acids and steroids.
Aloe is also on a list of superfoods recommended for people with digestive problems. Aloe alkalises the digestive tract and therefore reduces acidification. It regulates the work of the stomach and effectively fights heartburn and soothes ulcers. Drinking aloe vera juice lowers blood sugar levels, which is why it is recommended for diabetics.

aloe

Spirulina

This is one of the many species of algae produced in marine farms, mainly in America and Asia. It is one of those superfoods that slowly gains its popularity over time. Spirulina contains 3900% more beta-carotene than carrots, 2300 % more iron than spinach, 375 percent more protein than tofu, 300 percent more calcium than milk. And that’s not all – 3 g of spirulina has the same nutritional value as five servings of fruit and vegetables. Spirulina’s very high chlorophyll content improves the composition of our blood. It perfectly alkalises and cleanses the body, and is recommended for vegetarians due to the high content of easily digestible protein and vitamin B12.

Spirulina can be a great supplement. It is available in the form of tablets or a powdered version. The powder can be dissolved in water or added to juices or smoothies.

Walnuts

We all know that eating nuts can be very beneficial for our health, but walnuts are the best in terms of nutritional value. They have the most omega-3 fatty acids – only three pieces are enough to cover the daily requirement. They are also rich in protein (4 g can be found in 7 nuts), fibre, folic acid, magnesium and phosphorus.

Walnuts contain antioxidants like selenium, polyphenols and vitamin E. Compared to other nuts, they have the highest antioxidant capacity. They also contain arginine, an amino acid that protects against blood clots.
Despite the high fat and caloric content, walnuts don’t make us fat. Research shows that people who eat walnuts regularly have a lower risk of weight gain. They most likely accelerate the burning of calories, and the combination of fibre, protein and fat reduces your appetite.

The best way is to eat walnuts shelled. Because of their high fat content, walnuts can go rancid quickly, so you should store them in the fridge. It’s best to buy the walnuts whole and open them just before eating. Walnuts are quite filling, so it’s worth adding a few to your porridge or create a superfoods salad with walnuts.

Ginger

This is known as the healthiest spice in the world and has a strong spot on superfoods list. Ginger has been cultivated in Asia for over 3,000 years. Numerous studies indicate that ginger has a general pro-health effect. Scientists and nutritionists are constantly pointing to new possibilities of using this plant in medicine. Regular consumption of ginger can bring many benefits and provide a natural remedy for some troublesome conditions.

It is rich in vitamins C, B6, A, E, K, folic acid and niacin, minerals – calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc as well as saturated and unsaturated fatty acids.

Studies around the world show that the use of ginger or ginger oil is as effective in relieving pain and inflammation as ibuprofen or mefenamic acid. The use of ginger is especially recommended for people suffering from joint diseases. The warming properties of ginger, combined with anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, are great for treating colds, flu and many other infections.
Ginger comes in various forms – fresh root, dried and or pickled. We can also use it as a powder added as a delicious spice to our meals or create a superfoods smoothie mixed with healthy fruits.

Pomegranate

This fruit has been considered a symbol of longevity and fertility for centuries. Pomegranate seeds contain unsaturated fatty acids and a whole spectrum of nutrients – from polyphenols, through vitamins (including C, K, E, folate and beta-carotene) to steroid phytohormones.

Pomegranate has strong anti-inflammatory properties. This means it can help to reduce the risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and cardiovascular disease.

Studies have shown that pomegranate juice or pomegranate seed extract can inhibit the proliferation of prostate cancer cells. It also lowers blood pressure and speeds up metabolism.

You can eat pomegranate fresh on its own or add it to a superfoods salad. You can also make pomegranate juice or add it to a delicious superfoods smoothie. It’s worth drinking one glass of natural pomegranate juice (without adding sugar) everyday.

Pomegranate

Are superfoods just a marketing slogan?

We can’t underestimate the health benefits of eating superfoods, however since the term was coined it has become slightly overused with time. Each month we seem to hear about another new food that gained this glorious title. A lot of the time, the term superfood is used to promote exotic products.

This is the reason why superfoods are sometimes accompanied by doubts and criticism from doctors and scientists. The American Heart Association indicated that “superfood does not belong to a separate food group and no criteria have been defined for that term.”
In many cases, scientists see this term as problematic. This is because the name “superfood” can induce consumers to focus only on a few products instead of others which have similar properties but less promotion.

First of all, you should know that introducing superfoods to your diet can be beneficial for your health, but don’t believe all the marketing slogans. A lot of the time, there’s no specific data from scientific studies which follow the statements about the miraculous properties of certain foods. As well as that, some of the healthy properties of superfoods can disappear when they are processed.

It’s always important to follow a balanced diet. You shouldn’t eat only superfoods, and not all superfoods can even be consumed in large amounts. Coconut water and goji berries, for example, contain a lot of sugar. Variety is needed in a healthy diet so that the body can get all its necessary nutrients, some of which are found in many products that may not have gained the “superfood” title.

How to introduce superfoods to my diet?

Choosing healthy food can be a bit overwhelming sometimes, especially with such a long list of superfoods, some of which can be very expensive. Check out some ideas on how to add superfoods to your diet so you can enjoy their full benefits:

Follow the seasons

Some superfoods are grown in different parts of the world, and they can be seasonal. This means that their price can differ according to the time of year. Don’t overspend when the availability for the product is limited. You can eat it another time. There are plenty of seasonal foods available at the supermarket that may be as nutritious.

Know your product

Don’t believe all marketing slogans found on food packaging. Many times superfoods can lose their nutritious value as a result of food processing. Know which product is best eaten fresh, dried, or juiced. That way you won’t be wasting money on foods that have lost their benefits.

Don’t forget about regular veggies and fruits

Superfoods are great, however, they should only be part of a balanced diet. The fact that pomegranate is a “super” fruit doesn’t mean you should stop eating healthy apples or carrots. They still can be part of delicious, nutritious meals.

Colour your plate

When preparing a meal, try using fruits and vegetables in a few different colours. Foods with rich colours like kale, berries, beets are packed with antioxidants and other important nutrients that might be lacking in more bland looking foods.

Make sure you eat enough fruit and vegetables

Try adding them to each meal, including snacks. It doesn’t have to be a superfood, any veggie or fruit will do.

It’s (green) tea time!

Replace coffee or black tea with green or matcha tea. Try to drink it at least once a day.

Superfoods additions

Some superfoods can be great additions to meals. Just a sprinkle of chia seeds or cocoa powder added to cereal can add nutrition value to your brekkie. Mix some cinnamon powder and coconut water with bananas and create the perfect superfoods smoothie.

Summary

Superfoods are without a doubt a valuable addition to every diet, but they shouldn’t be the only foods you focus on in your diet. Remember to keep your daily diet varied and balanced. Superfoods will only be effective when they are consumed naturally. Be aware that artificially created preparation and extracts will be less absorbed by your body.

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