Superfoods have no agreed-upon definition, but most nutritionists would describe a superfood as a food offering superior nutrition in its class.
Genuine superfoods have a high nutrient bang for their calorie buck. Not all so-called superfoods are actually super by this definition, and superfood trends tend to come and go, so it can be confusing as to what is worth trying.
Eating a balanced diet is one of the best things you can do for your heart health and overall wellbeing, but superfoods can have their place. Here are some you could try.
Beetroot is soaring up the popular food list, especially when it comes to sports performance. Rich in nitrates, beetroot and beetroot juice are studied for their effect on endurance exercise. The research is still inconclusive, with some studies suggesting a boost in performance while other studies show no effect.
Regardless, whole beetroots are a great source of dietary fibre, vitamins and antioxidants, and their vibrant colour can liven up even the most boring of dishes. They’re great roasted, baked, added to salads and blended into smoothies.
Blackcurrants are rich in polyphenols – chemicals that promote health within the body through anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Studies have also shown that blackcurrant intake can increase blood flow. Most studies have looked at blackcurrant extract (a supplement), but it’s always best to eat the whole food if you can.
Other berries are also rich in these compounds and are great to eat regularly.
Cold-pressed nut oils
These nuts oils are created via a process where no heat or solvents are used to extract the oil. Cashew, walnut, macadamia and other oils are available, but they all have a slightly varied make-up of different types of fats with varying levels of stability. For example, macadamia oil has more monounsaturated fats and is more stable than walnut oil.
In the end, it’s the variety of our diet that promotes good health, not one particular food or oil type. These specialty oils can be a great way to add flavour to your meal, but they don’t add any special health benefits beyond what we already know about consuming moderate amounts of healthy fats.
Again, the whole nut is the best for promoting health, as not only do you get the healthy oils, you also get fibre, a small amount of protein, and vitamins and minerals.
Watermelon seeds are rich in fat and protein and are classified as a seed oil, with the oil extracted and used for cooking in parts of Africa and the Middle East. In other parts of the world, they’re used as a condiment, garnish, thickener in soups or as a snack.
The protein quality overall is moderate – they can be a good source of protein, provided the deficit amino acids come from other foods. They also contain iron and zinc. However, overall, watermelon seeds are no more special than other seeds.
Algae is a single-celled organism that lives and grows in the water. It photosynthesises, meaning it creates energy using sunlight – this is one of the properties that makes it of interest to human health.
Marine algae also contains omega-3 fatty acids, and some companies use it to create omega-3 supplements. An omega-3 supplement can be beneficial with our current diets, but if your overall diet quality is poor, a supplement is not going to do much for your long-term health.
Ensure you’re consistently hitting a high amount of vegetables and whole plant foods each and every day, and if seafood is not your thing, perhaps an algae supplement can help. However, always see a qualified nutrition professional for individualised advice.
Offal, otherwise known as organ meats, refers to the internal organs and entrails of an animal that are used for food. When we eat ‘offal’, we’re eating the parts of the animal that aren’t the muscle.
Steak: muscle. Chop: muscle. Loin: muscle.
Heart: offal. Liver: offal. Tongue: offal. Spleen: offal.
In some countries, offal often goes to waste, but many cultures around the world consume the whole animal, which is both sustainable and nutritious. The nutritional composition of offal differs, but most offal products are a good source of protein, B vitamins, phosphorus and iron.
With offal being both cheap and nutrient dense, it could become much more popular in the years to come.
Turmeric is a bright yellow-orange spice commonly used in curries, and has become so popular that turmeric lattes, turmeric tonics and other concoctions are now available. It has been promoted as an alternative treatment for cancer, although the evidence is still inconclusive.
The main component of turmeric that has been studied is curcumin, with studies showing health benefits having been done in lab models. Turmeric is only 3 per cent curcumin, and due to curcumin’s poor bioavailability and short half-life, ie, it degrades quickly, the amount that we actually absorb when we eat turmeric (which is only a small amount) is almost negligible.
So while you can enjoy turmeric lattes and curries, be aware that they’re not saving you from poor health, particularly if the rest of your diet is poor.
You don’t need to eat superfoods to be healthy – a balanced diet rich in a variety of whole foods will do that. As always, if you have any concerns about your health or diet, speak to your doctor or other healthcare professional.
About the author
The Healthy Eating Hub
This article was written by an Accredited Practicing Dietitian from The Healthy Eating Hub. The Healthy Eating Hub is a team of university-qualified nutritionists and dietitians who are passionate about helping people develop long term healthy eating habits through offering evidence-based and practical nutrition advice that people can put into practice straight away.