Since the beginning of the 20th century the field of nutrition has discovered specific vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that qualify certain foods as better than others. Here’s why:
Though there’s still no firm consensus on the exact definition of a super food, nutritionists generally agree that foods with higher than usual antioxidant, fiber or essential fatty acid content can be called super foods. To fully understand what makes a food super, let’s look at each of these components separately.
First, antioxidants, which literally means against oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical reaction with oxygen that can produce free radicals. It is responsible for processes that show signs of deterioration like metal rusting or an apple turning brown after being cut. In our bodies, oxidation can make certain compounds like “bad” LDL cholesterol more volatile and liable to stick to the walls of our arteries.
Antioxidants like vitamins A, C, E, the trace mineral selenium, and numerous plant pigments stop oxidation by neutralizing free radical oxygen electrons before they react with other molecules, thus slowing the process of aging and degeneration. Fruits and vegetables are exceptionally high in antioxidants which is why they are often called superfoods. Getting the recommended 7-10 servings a day may seem like alot so mixing a combination of fruits and leafy greens into a smoothie is a great way to include these superfoods!
A high fibre content is another criterion that qualifies a food as super. Fibre adds bulk to our diets without adding extra calories because it passes through the body undigested. There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. In our intestinal tracts, soluble fibres, such as prebiotic inulin, form a viscous gel that probiotic gut bacteria can ferment and feed off.
In addition to supporting healthy digestive flora, soluble fibre also binds to excess cholesterol so that it can be removed as waste. Insoluble fibre, are roughage, promotes regularity, or “waist management”, if you will. Some good sources of fiber include beans, brown rice, whole grains, popcorn, oatmeal, baked potato with skin, and crunchy vegetables.
The final class of nutrients that adds to a food’s functionality are essential fatty acids like omega-6 linoleic acid and omega-3 linolenic acid. These fats become incorporated into all our cell membranes affecting their permeability and rigidity. They also combat inflammation by encouraging synthesis of anti-inflammatory prostaglandin hormones. Hence, foods with essential fats, like salmon and flaxseed, are known for fighting heart disease and some cancers. If you find getting your omegas in to be a challenge, I suggest a high quality fish oil to fill in any nutritional gaps.
My top 5 Superfoods:
Blueberries: They have the highest antioxidant capacity, making them highly protective for the cardiovascular system. They contain pterostilbene, which lowers cholesterol, and anthocyanins, which improve vision and brain function and guard against macular degeneration. The ellagic acid in them has anti-cancer activity.
Kale: It contains organosulfur comlb for cancer prevention, improves detoxification and reduces cataracts due to the lutein and zeaxanthin, plus it’s a great antioxidant with fiber, calcium, and cardiovascular protection.
Broccoli: Broccoli contains numerous agents such as sulforaphane and the indoles (indole-3-carbinole and DIM) that are protective against prostate, gastric, skin and breast cancer. The flavonoids reduce cardiovascular disease and blood pressure. Broccoli contains comlb that are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant and support the immune system and eyes.
Walnuts: Walnuts have the highest amount of Omega 3 fats of any other nuts. Walnuts also aid in growth, reproduction and brain functioning. Make sure that the walnuts are raw with white flesh and are kept in the refrigerator until consumption.
Kiwifruit: Very high in vitamin C and vitamin E, Kiwis help to boost your immune system and protect your DNA integrity.