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Superfoods – myth or magic?
So is there really such a thing as a superfood? Why should one food be considered any better than another? With so many articles telling us the latest berry to be discovered in a far off land is the new superfood it all gets rather confusing. But do we really need to eat all these strange and wonderful foods to make us happy, healthy and beautiful?
There is no official definition of a superfood and consequently no formal list of foods which qualify for superfood status. Foods which regularly receive praise for their health-giving qualities include beans, blueberries, soya, broccoli, turkey, avocado, pumpkin, oats, spinach, green tea, tomatoes, eggs, walnuts and yoghurt – but the list is almost endless!
More recently we’ve been encouraged to feast on pomegranates, wheat grass and goji berries to get our fill of goodness. What links all these foods is that they are extremely nutrient dense and have been shown in studies to help combat or prevent disease in some way.
There is no doubt that a diet crammed full of all these foods will also be jam-packed with goodness, but is this the only way to keep healthy and bursting with energy? And what’s wrong with the humble apple or bunch of grapes?
The answer is that there is nothing wrong with any natural, fresh foods and while eating all these so called superfoods won’t do you any harm there are also plenty of ways to ensure you are getting the maximum amount of nourishment from your food – whether it has been labelled as a superfood or not.
How to make all your foods ‘Super’…
Natural: Make sure all the food you eat is natural and unprocessed. Learn a few basic recipes from fresh tomato sauce for pasta to simple salads and soups and you’ll find plenty of ways to squeeze lots of different fruits and vegetables into your diet. Not only will the food be fresh and full of goodness, but it will also be free from all the additives, preservatives, salt and sugar that are added to ready meals and processed foods.
Seasonal: Do you remember the excitement of satsumas coming into season in the winter when you were little? Or going strawberry picking in the summer holidays? As we’ve become more demanding about what we want on our supermarket shelves, we’ve forgotten how to eat with the seasons. When berries and summer fruits are sparse during the colder winter months look out for root vegetables and winter greens like kale and purple sprouting broccoli. Check out www.eattheseasons.co.uk for what’s in season right now if you’re short of inspiration.
Fresh: Did you know that the nutrients in fresh fruit and vegetables start degrading as soon as they have been picked? Therefore the longer your store your foods the fewer vitamins, minerals and antioxidants they will contain. It is thought that levels can drop by up to 50% over just a few days. The only exception to this is the banana, which is an unusual fruit as it comes complete with its own handy packaging. Bananas are actually picked while they’re still green and allowed to ripen off the tree, meaning they are usually at the perfect ripeness when you get your hands on them! If you do need to store fruit or vegetables the healthiest way of doing so is to freeze them as this preserves all the nutrients and goodness.
Local: Goji berries, pomegranates, mangoes and kiwi fruits are all fantastic foods and packed full of nutrients, but the reason they are so lovely and bright is that they have grown in tropical climates where they are able to ripen naturally in the never ending sunshine. Sadly the British climate isn’t so conducive to growing all these exotic fruits, so the downside to filling our supermarket trolley up with them is that we’re also increasing our carbon footprint.
Not only is this bad for our conscience, but it’s not great for the poor fruit either, as it has to endure a long journey and may take weeks to reach our kitchens after it has been picked, packed and transported. Instead try to make sure the majority of foods you eat are British, saving the long-distance foods for special occasions and treats.
Varied: There are literally thousands of different nutrients, each possessing their own qualities and health benefits. Many foods contain specific health-giving properties, but to get maximum benefit it is essential to have a varied and diverse diet to ensure you are getting plenty of each nutrient, especially the essential vitamins and minerals. A good way to ensure you are not missing out on any nutrients is to make sure you include all the colours of the rainbow in your diet.
Raw: It’s not just what we eat that is important, but also how we prepare it. Everyone can remember those horrible, limp vegetables at school which had been boiled for hours and drained of all their colour and nutrients. As an alternative why not steam them, make a stir-fry or add them to casseroles and soups. Even better why not tuck into them raw? Most vegetables are delicious washed, peeled and chopped up as a quick snack, especially if you dip them into some hummous!
The most important thing to remember is to have variety and moderation in all we eat – that way we will get plenty of different vitamins and minerals and reap the benefits of a whole host of different foods rather then being limited to just a few.
Claire Dunt, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine
Claire Dunt founded Food Mentor in 2006 after gaining her Nutritional Therapist’s Diploma from the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, and an FdSc in Nutritional Science from the University of Bedfordshire. Claire also holds a BA Hons degree in Sport Science from the University of Durham and is a member of the British Association of Nutritional Therapists.
Claire’s passion for Nutritional Therapy and Sports Nutrition can be directly traced to personal experience: She has played lacrosse for British Universities, England U21s and Senior England B. She has also directly benefited from Nutritional Therapy which has helped her end a life-long battle with eczema.
For those of us who can’t resist eating between meals, here’s our guide to how to do it healthily : Healthy snacking