“Superfoods” are hot right now – but what are they, and why are they good for you and your children? Dietitian Angela Phillips explains.
You may have heard foods like salmon, chia seeds, goji berries, blueberries, kale, and spinach identified as “superfoods”. What elevates a food to superfood status is that it contains a high level of something that has the ability to maximise health and wellbeing through reducing the risk of major chronic diseases, helping build a strong immune system, and/or protecting the body against the effects of ageing. Superfoods also tend to be high in antioxidants. When our body breaks down food to be used, it creates toxins in the process. Antioxidants “clean up” these toxins to prevent them causing damage or ageing. Antioxidants are often what provide the food with their colour, so eating foods in a range of colours gives us a range of antioxidants.
Here are some superfoods you may already have in your family’s diet – and why you should keep eating them.
Blueberries and other berries are packed with antioxidants and have been shown to strengthen the immune system and possibly assist with improved memory.
Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables include pumpkin, carrot, orange kumara, red capsicum, rockmelon, paw paw, papaya, pineapple, apricot, and mango. They’re rich in vitamin A and carotenoids, which are important for a strong immune system and healthy skin and eyes.
Green leafy vegetables include mixed salad greens, rocket, parsley, baby spinach, Asian greens, and silverbeet. Rich in certain phytochemicals and high in folate, green leafy vegetables assist in healthy cell development.
Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and cabbage. They are loaded with sulforaphane, a phytochemical that protects our body against environmental pollutants (and free radicals) before they attack healthy cells.
Other strong coloured fruit and vegetables which you should include in your family’s diet weekly include asparagus, beetroot, red cabbage, tomatoes, avocado, dates, figs, prunes and kiwifruit. The richer the
colour, the greater the nutrients and protective properties. Avocados are also rich in vitamin E, which is essential for healthy, glowing skin.
Fresh herbs and spices including ginger, garlic, turmeric, oregano, mint, basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, onions, chives, leek, parsley, coriander, dill, fennel, cumin and caraway seeds. Fresh herbs have more potent health benefits than the dried varieties. Garlic has also been shown to inhibit the growth of many bacteria, viruses, moulds, and yeasts, including Candida. Turmeric assists in reducing inflammation.
Nuts: Include a handful daily. Eating any nuts regularly (preferably unsalted) is linked with a 30-50% reduced risk of heart disease. Some nuts are particularly high in certain nutrients, such as walnuts being a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, and Brazil nuts being rich in selenium, which is important for a healthy immune system. All nuts are a good source of vitamin E, which is essential for healthy skin.
Legumes including baked beans, lentils, red kidney beans, 3 bean mix, chickpeas, cannelloni beans, borlotti beans, and soybeans. Rich in protein, iron, zinc, soluble fibre, potassium and with a low glycaemic index, a diet
rich in legumes has been linked with living a longer, healthier life.
Fish should be included in two main meals per week (or four lighter meals such as a sandwich for lunch). Fish is well known for its heart health properties. Some fish high in omega 3 fatty acids may also help with inflammatory bowel disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, depression and psoriasis. Fish high in omega 3 fatty acids include salmon, fresh tuna, trout, herrings, sardines, and mackerel.
How to become a superfoods superhero
The first step for ensuring a superfood-rich diet is to ensure you are getting plenty of variety with everyday nutritious foods. Here are some ways to make it easy.
Add some nutrient-packed foods to your favourite recipes:
- Spinach, lentils, or a layer of mashed pumpkin in lasagna
- Nuts and herbs in salad
- Chopped tomatoes and parsley in scrambled eggs
- Berries and oats in your smoothie
Include a variety of colours in each meal, such as yellow capsicum, tomato, spinach, mushrooms, and eggplant.
Use fruit and vegetables regularly as snacks:
- Hummus and vegetable sticks
- Tomato and cottage cheese on wholegrain crackers
- Fruit salad
- Sliced apple with peanut butter
Include fish in meals two to three times a week:
- Tuna and salad wholegrain wrap
- Pan-fried fish with quinoa salad
- Sardines on rye toast
SUPERFOODS SAMPLE MEAL PLAN
Natural muesli (packed with nuts and seeds), berries and yoghurt, OR kale, blueberry, and banana smoothie with LSA (ground linseed, sunflower seeds and almond seeds), OR kiwifruit and blueberries on porridge
Handful of mixed, unsalted nuts OR hummus and vegetable sticks
Salad made with canned three-bean mix (rinsed), mixed salad greens, red capsicum, cucumber, avocado, tomato and fresh basil, dress with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and freshly ground black pepper OR Brown rice salad with tuna, cherry tomatoes, pumpkin seeds and spinach leaves OR salmon toasted sandwich served with vegetable sticks
Fresh fruit salad OR salmon and capers on cucumber slices
Stir fry vegetables (broccoli, carrot, mushrooms, onion, turmeric and garlic) and baked salmon fillet with thyme and lemon on a bed of brown rice OR roast vegetable salad made with roasted beetroot, carrot, capsicum, mushroom, carrots, onion, pumpkin stir through chickpeas, feta and sesame seeds OR shepherd’s pie with added mushrooms, carrots, onion, capsicum, and sprinkle pumpkin seeds on top.
What about wine and chocolate?
It is nice to think that chocolate and red wine may provide some health benefits when we consume them; however, they really should be consumed more for enjoyment than health, as there are far more nutritious food options to use to pack antioxidants into your day
– perhaps stick with green tea or a berry smoothie.
Angela is a dietitian specialising in paediatrics, food intolerances, and weight management. Her practice, FoodSavvy(foodsavvy.co.nz), is based in Wellington and Nelson.