‘Superfood’ is a term often applied to nutrient-rich foods with a capacity to benefit overall health.
Originally coined by the food industry as a marketing term and used to influence food trends, the expression has become widely accepted and used to describe many foods that offer a large nutritional value in relatively small amounts.
There are no set criteria for what actually determines a superfood, though the majority contain key nutrients like antioxidants, healthy fats, fibre and a range of beneficial vitamins and minerals.
How can superfoods benefit my general health?
Superfoods offer a range of potential health benefits. Though each is different, most generally possess the following qualities:
- Superfoods pack a nutritional punch, containing high levels of nutrition in small amounts.
- Many superfoods provide nutrients that the body is not able to produce for itself (e.g. spinach and kale are great sources of vitamin C, which humans are unable to manufacture in the liver, unlike the majority of other animals. Vitamin C is needed to maintain a healthy immune system, along with strong teeth and bones.)
- Superfoods can add variety to your diet, which is helpful if it’s lacking in certain nutrients. In the UK, we can often struggle with eating enough fibre, choosing white varieties of potato, rice and past over their wholemeal and wholegrain counterparts. Adding superfoods like sweet potatoes, avocado, lentils and navy, pinto or black beans to our diets rebalances this lack of fibre and helps us to maintain a healthy gut and bowel.
- Adding more superfoods to our diets is a simple and easy way to mix things up a little as most are colourful, tasty, fresh and an escape from our dull, daily choices.
Specific health benefits from five great superfoods
Superfoods are packed with highly potent nutrients and are a fantastic addition to your diet in promoting general health and wellbeing.
Here, we outline the specific benefits of five popular superfoods, examining the ways in which they can help our bodies stay healthy.
Baobab contains almost seven times the vitamin C found in oranges, making it one of the richest sources available.
Baobab can also support healthy blood sugar levels and contains over 50 per cent fibre, helping to maintain good bowel and gut health.
Baobab powder can be added to your favourite smoothie or juice, mixed with milk or sprinkled on cereal and yoghurt.
Ashwagandha (also known as Indian ginseng, poison gooseberry or winter cherry) is a medicinal herb classed as an ‘adaptogen’ – meaning that it can help your body to combat stress.
Ashwagandha root, usually sold in powder form, is also thought to lower blood sugar levels in the body, boost brain function and help fight the symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s been used in both India and North Africa for these properties for over 2000 years.
Many of Ashwagandha’s health benefits can be attributed to its high concentration of withanolides, thought to fight inflammation and arrest the growth of some types of tumour.
Ashwagandha powder can be added to water, tea, smoothies or juices but should typically be avoided by pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Pure Ceylon Cinnamon powder (rather than the common cassio cinnamon generally found in supermarkets) has been used for thousands of years to support healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Cinnamon is also loaded with powerful antioxidants and is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Add Ceylon cinnamon powder to tea, coffee, hot milk, smoothies or sweet dishes.
Cacao powder offers a rich natural chocolate flavour without the sugars and chemicals found in processed chocolate. Long regarded as a superfood, cacao naturally contains chemicals produced by our brains when we’re happy and excited.
Cacao is also a rich source of iron and is stuffed with antioxidants that reduce inflammation in the body along with helping to protect heart health.
Cacao can be used as a baking ingredient, in place of traditional cocoa, or added to smoothies or warm milk for a soothing drink.
Turmeric has recently risen in popularity to become the highest regarded anti-inflammatory and antioxidant rich superfood.
Supported by a solid base of research, Turmeric is widely known to support healthy joints, a good digestive stystem, a clear complexion and overall good health.
Turmeric root powder can be added to any savoury dish , juice or smoothie, or why not make ‘golden milk’ by adding 1 tsp of Turmeric to 2 cups of your usual milk or milk substitute, along with ½ tsp of cinnamon, a pinch of black pepper, a small piece of ginger root, a pinch of cayenne pepper and 1 tsp of raw honey for a soothing, health-boosting bedtime drink.