The real superheroes
As the health industry continues to boom, there are more and more products claiming to make you healthier and it’s easy to be seduced into thinking that taking a daily ‘superfood’ will help to make you healthier. However if you are sedentary and consume a typical Western diet that is high in saturated fat and low in fibre and phytonutrients then a glass of wheatgrass a day will not protect you from cancer or cardiovascular problems.
There are many exotic foods that are touted as ‘super’ such as acai, maca, goji, moringa and baobab. However these are often shipped in from miles away leaving a carbon footprint and are often expensive. A much better alternative is to look closer to home at the many superfoods on our doorstep.
For me broccoli is a real superfood hero and should have a place on everyone’s plate whatever your age. It is part of the cruciferous family of vegetables, which includes brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and turnips and we should all be including more of this type of vegetable in our diet. The research shows that these vegetables increase the antioxidant defence mechanisms in our body as well as improving the body’s ability to detoxify and eliminate harmful chemicals and hormones.
Apples are high in fibre, potassium and vitamin C. In an analysis of more than eighty-five studies, apple consumption was shown to be consistently associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, asthma and type two diabetes compared to other fruits and vegetables. Apples are also very high in pectin, a soluble fibre that has been shown to help lower cholesterol as well as improve bowel function and has been shown to be useful in both cases of constipation and diarrhoea.
At the heart of a traditional Mediterranean diet is extra virgin olive oil, which is high in monounsaturated fats, vitamin E and powerful antioxidant phenolic phytonutrients. Olive oil is one of the few widely used culinary oils that contains about 75% of its fat in the form of oleic acid, which helps to balance our total cholesterol. Extra virgin olive oil has been shown to promote our heart health, helps to reduce our risk of certain cancers and enhance our cognitive function.
Garlic has been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes for centuries. In order to preserve the allinase enzyme cut and crush garlic and then leave a few minutes before cooking. Garlic has been shown to help reduce cholesterol, help to lower blood pressure and protect against gastric and colon cancers.
Blueberries have consistently been ranked among the top fruit and vegetables for antioxidant activity. They feature nutrients known as anthocyanidins, which help to protect against cellular damage caused by free radicals.
I don’t mean cocoa, where the beans have been processed at a high temperature, but cacao, which is packed in flavonoids that protect your cells from free radical damage. Cacao is rich in minerals such as magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, copper and manganese. For the biggest health benefits choose a raw cacao powder and use in small amounts in healthy treats or eat a small amount of good quality dark chocolate. Avoid chocolate bars made with hydrogenated fats and refined flours, which offer no health benefits and white chocolate, which has had the beneficial polyphenols removed.
While I have highlighted some of the more accessible ‘superfoods’, a really healthy diet should be all about variety. By eating lots of different types of fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds we can assure we are benefiting from all the different types of phytonutrients available to protect us.