What exactly are Superfoods?

The word “superfood” is seemingly used everywhere nowadays and is commonplace in media, diet and food books, as well as frequenting our screens on the television. The public’s interest in food and diet has grown in recent years, as we become more aware of what we are eating and what is actually in our food. The term “superfood”, has therefore gained much attention over the last few years, as awareness of foods and their benefits increases amongst the consumer.


In fact the word ‘superfoods’ is so common place these days that it seems to have lost a lot of its meaning and is perhaps losing the impact it once had. Despite this being a word that most of us are familiar with, do we really know what the term means? Very often, the word superfood is used to describe foods wrongly, with no scientific backing at all and is used just because it sounds good. However there are certain foods, which deservedly belong to this category, so let’s take a look and see what all the superfood hype is about.

What’s so super about superfoods?

When we hear and see this term, it’s easy to think that anything it is used to describe is automatically special and ‘super’ in some way. Although that certainly can be the case, very often the word is used too freely and unnecessarily by companies, who often employ it as a clever marketing tool to entice customers. It’s therefore very hard to see exactly, which foods really do have ‘super’ status and which don’t. It is important to remember that the word ‘superfood’ is a non-medical term and in fact, it does not actually have an official definition, although it is generally considered that a food deemed to have superfood status is one which is considered especially beneficial for health and wellbeing. Some caution therefore needs to be taken when determining whether a food actually does have ‘super’ status. To truly warrant super status, a food should contain specific phytonutrients and other compounds that are purported to have health benefits.

Superfoods vs. Functional Foods

We know through ongoing research, that healthy eating and a good diet impacts significantly on chronic diseases such as cancers, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, in a very positive way. We are also learning that some foods give specific health benefits and protective properties above and beyond others. These foods are known as functional foods and although there is much overlap here with the term superfoods, foods specifically classed as functional foods tend to have more science and research to back up their health claims.  This is why foods defined as functional foods should take priority over those just termed as a superfood, as it is functional foods that are now seen as vital for optimum health and disease prevention, as these foods have a positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition.

So let’s take a look at five foods that really do put the ‘super’ into superfood as well as the ‘func’ into functional, and eat them happy in the knowledge that they have true benefits to health.

Artichokes 

The globe artichoke is one of the world’s most ancient plants, originating in the Mediterranean, it is one of the oldest cultivated vegetables. It is a  member of the  thistle family whose leaves, fruits and roots have been used for hundreds of years for their medicinal properties, but it is the leaves of the artichoke that have the most powerful medicinal properties.

Artichokes are very high in phytonutrients and it is these phytonutrients that have a positive effect on human health and help prevent disease. The specific phytonutrients present in artichoke are cynarin, gallic acid, rutin and quercetin. Artichokes are also very high in antioxidants and is actually in the top four of all vegetables for the highest antioxidant content. The phytonutrient cynarin has been shown to stimulate bile production, which is needed to break down the fats that we eat and help remove toxins from the body. Artichoke leaf extract has shown positive effects on treating symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), including reducing dyspepsia and bowel irregularities. Cynarin has also shown positive effects on        lowering  cholesterol levels. The flavonoid, silymarin, is also present in   artichoke, which has been shown to be a powerful liver protectant and with today’s over consumption of alcohol in society, this could prove useful to many! Research also suggests that gallic acid, rutin and quercetin may have a place in the fight against cancer as they have shown to induce death of cancer cells, specifically in breast and prostate cancer and leukaemia.

Blueberries

Blueberries are native to North America and today 90% of the worlds blueberries are still grown in America. It wasn’t until 1916 that the first commercial blueberries were cultivated, but far earlier than that Native Americans had realised the health benefits of blueberries and used them medicinally.  Blueberries are often declared the second most popular berry after strawberries and are growing in popularity due to the growing body of evidence showing their health benefits. In fact blueberries have one of the highest antioxidant levels of all fruits, vegetables and spices.

Research shows that blueberries have excellent cardiovascular protective benefits
Blueberries.jpg

Packed full of phytonutrients, essential vitamins and minerals as well as fibre, this small berry packs a big medicinal punch. They are especially high in anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants, which give blueberries their deep purple colour and which are responsible for many of the health benefits associated with this berry. The great range of antioxidants found in blueberries, have been shown in research to have positive effects on almost every body system, which is unique! Antioxidants help protect the body from oxidative stress and free radical damage, which contributes to aging, inflammation and the development of cancer. Research shows that blueberries have excellent cardiovascular protective benefits as well showing great promise in reducing cognitive decline by being neuroprotective. As nerve cells are prone to oxygen damage and antioxidants are known to help prevent this, blueberries are certainly helpful for the nervous system! With blueberries being a low GI food and also high in fibre, they have also been shown to be helpful in controlling blood sugar levels in those with type 2 diabetes. Truly super!

Goats’ Milk

Delamere Dairy is certainly proud that goats’ milk has got functional food status and is commonly classed as a superfood too. Goats’ milk has been shown to have nutritional characteristics that are beneficial to human health, including having hypoallergenic properties, which makes it an ideal choice for those people who may be sensitive to certain allergens or intolerances.

Consumption of goats milk has also shown to be very beneficial in those people suffering iron deficiency anaemia as it helps improves the nutritional use of iron in the body and increases absorption of this mineral. It is therefore recommended that people suffering iron deficient anaemia may be helped by the consumption of goat milk.

Another reason that goats’ milk makes the functional food list, is that it contains a significant amount of Oligosaccharides, which helps to give it a very similar composition to human milk. Oligosaccharides are a type of carbohydrate that function as a prebiotic, which are compounds that help improve the gut flora (good bacteria). Healthy gut flora promotes healthy digestion and good gut health, which is very important to other aspects of health so the healthier your gut is, the healthier you are. Now that is super!

Sweet Potato

Along with Artichoke, this is one of the oldest vegetables known to man and if it wasn’t for Christopher Columbus the explorer, who bought them back to Europe from the Americas, we may have had to

wait longer to enjoy them.  These sweet, orange coloured potatoes have a high nutritional value and have shown to have medicinal properties useful for the fight against cancer, diabetes and inflammation. With a very high content of beta-carotene (which converts into Vitamin A in the body) and anthocyanins, this potato should be on everyone’s menu! Sweet potatoes are also high in a variety of key vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, manganese and copper and are an extremely good source of vitamin A. Sweet potato is a valuable source of dietary fibre too , essential for good bowel health.

Turmeric

A member of the ginger family, this powerful spice is definitely a winner when it comes to health benefits. The research is continuing to mount up on this little spice supporting its effectiveness in human health. From anti-inflammatory properties, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic and cholesterol lowering effects, to name but a few, it has also shown to have physiological action helpful in disease prevention too, including neurological and cardiovascular protective effects. It has already been used in China and India for centuries for its medicinal effects, so we are a little bit slow on catching onto this secret.

The main active ingredient of turmeric is called curcumin, which is the compound that has shown the majority of the effects mentioned above. It is also a powerful antioxidant and has shown to be helpful in those suffering with depression and low mood.

When it comes to diet, variety is key, but by incorporating foods that have true functional and superfood status, your diet can really positively impact your health, not only today, but in the future too!

  • Functional food & health, 2015. ACSMs Health & Fitness Journal
  • As a potential functional food: Goats’ Milk & Products, 2013. Journal of food and nutrition research
  • Goat milk in human nutrition, 2004. Small Ruminant Research
  • Hypo-allergenic and therapeutic significance of goat milk, 1994. Small Ruminant Research
  • Influence of goat milk on iron deficiency anaemia recovery, 2015. International Journal of Dairy Science
  • Sweet Potato - A Valuable Medicinal Food: A Review, 2013. Journal of Medicinal Food
  • Sweet potato: a review of its past, present, and future role in human nutrition, 2007. Advances in Food Nutrition Research
  • Curcumin, an Active Component of Turmeric (Curcuma longa), and Its Effects on Health, 2015. Critical Reviews in Food Science & Nutrition

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