The term 'Superfoods' refers to a group of nutrient-rich foods considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being. Although there is no legal or medical definition for Superfoods, these foods are nutrient powerhouses with an unusually high content of antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients.
These are my favourite:
Bee Pollen - considered an alkaline food, bee pollen is rich in protein (about 40%), containing all the essential amino acids. It is also rich in minerals - calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, sulphur, and silica, plus the energizingB vitamins and the potent antioxidant vitamin C. It is rich in phytonutrients such as flavonoids, phytosterols, carotenoids, as well as lecithin. I often use it to increase energy and stamina, for immune support, muscle growth and, because it is so high in antioxidants, to help with wrinkles!
Honey - good Manuka honey (SP factor +15) or raw honey are rich in digestive-supporting enzymes. Honey is a great healing food - antimicrobial and antiviral plus a useful natural sweetener (use in small amounts!).
Chia seeds - prized for their really high omega-3 content, chia seeds are beneficial for brain function, lowering inflammation, cardiovascular health and, for a healthy-looking skin. Chia seeds are also rich in antioxidants and contain high amounts of soluble fibre, making them highly beneficial for digestive health, easing constipation.
Chia seeds are rich in calcium and, as little as one once of chia seeds contains 4 g protein and 11g fibre.
Maca - Maca is sold in dried powdered form and it is rich in a complex array of phytonutrients and antioxidants. It is often used as an immunostimulant, to stop bone mineral loss, enhance memory and assist with menstrual problems due to its hormone balancing properties and it is also considered to help increase stamina and appetite.
Maca works as an adaptogen, which means that it has the ability to help the body adjust to stress, build up resistance to disease and support immunity. It is also useful for athletes or anyone struggling with low energy.
Maca is well supplied with vitamins and minerals, including calcium, magnesium and iron, vitamin C and energising B vitamins.
Supergreen powders - e.g. spirulina, chlorella, wheat grass and barely grass, are great protein rich foods, good for cleansing and detoxifying. These superfoods are rich in phytochemicals, minerals such as zinc, selenium, magnesium, amino acids, and enzymes amongst many more! They are a good source of chlorophyll, carotenoids, lycopene and lutein, and contain anti-inflammatory properties and liver protective properties.
Sea vegetables - seaweeds are alkalizing foods that contain abundant amounts of minerals, including iodine, which is key for proper thyroid function. Sea vegetables contain lignan phytonutrients that have phytoestrogenic activity, oestrogen-like compounds that can act as estrogens when the body stores of this hormone are low (like in menopause). Additionally, they also provide benefits when oestrogen levels are high (as in PMS) since they can weakly bind oestrogen receptors, interfering with the binding of the endogenous hormones and minimising its effects. Sea vegetables also contain antioxidants and chlorophyll. My favorites include: nori, kelp, wakame, arame, dulse and kombu.
Coconut - coconut water is rich in beneficial electrolytes - useful for athletes and for restoring fluid balance in the body. The flesh from young coconuts can be used to make coconut milk. Coconut butter (oil) contains anti-fungal properties and is preferentially used by the liver as an energy source.
The type of fats found in coconut oil, belong to a type of fatty acids called Medium Chain Fatty Acids. These fatty acids are used to make Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT) which can be easily absorbed by the body with very little processing. Because they are much easier to absorb and digest, they can provide some digestive benefits and they can be used as a quick energy source.
Raw cacao - raw, nutrient-rich unsweetened cacao powder and cacao nibs, are high in flavonols, a potent antioxidant. Raw cacao is also an excellent source of minerals such as magnesium, iron, chromium, manganese, zinc and copper. It is one of the richest sources of the mineral magnesium, which helps the muscles to relax and relieves stress.
Cacao also contains the amino acid tryptophan, which enhances relaxation and promotes better sleep.
Matcha Green Tea - Green tea is rich in the potent antioxidant polyphenol called epigallocatechin-3-gallate, EGCG (aka as catechins or flavonoids) which is believed to confer green tea most of its beneficial attributes. Matcha green tea, is the finely ground green tea leaves, resulting in a concentrated form of it, believed to contain 137 times the antioxidants of regular green tea. As such, its benefits are vast, including protecting the skin from oxidative damage if drunk regularly.
Mushrooms - each type of mushroom possesses its own properties. In general, most mushrooms contain a substance that can stimulate/modulate the immune system called beta-glucans. In addition to their immune-supportive properties, mushrooms show additional benefits such as improving energy, endurance and vitality. Look for cordyceps, coriolus, maitake, reishi, shiitake and oyster mushrooms.
Pomegranate - This beautiful fruit bears delicious seeds and also offers an impressive and concentrated source of antioxidant phytochemicals, meaning they help protect cells from damage and may lower inflammation in the body. Pomegranates also provide vitamins B5 and C as well as potassium. Some studies suggest that the polyphenols in pomegranate juice may slow the progression of atherosclerosis and might reduce total cholesterol levels, making pomegranate a superfood with cardiovascular health benefits.
Smart Cook Tip: to seed a pomegranate, cut the crown off and sit the fruit firmly on its side. With the tip of your fingers, hold the fruit in place and slice it in half with a knife. Take one half of the fruit and place it upside down on the palm of your hand, place your hand on top of a large bowl and, start removing the pomegranate seeds by banging the thick skin of the fruit with the back of a wooden spoon. Pick the bits of skin that fall onto your until the skin is empty of seeds
I have included fermented (probiotic) foods in my own list of superfoods for the amazing health benefits they offer by supporting and boosting immune health. Consuming probiotic foods might also influence mood, skin health and weight.
Kefir - is rich in amino acids, enzymes, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and B vitamins. It contains several mayor strains of friendly bacteria which can dramatically improve digestive function and immunity. Kefir can be made with cow's milk, sheep's milk, soy milk, coconut or nut milk, and it is made at home using kefir "grains" - the mother culture (pictured right).
Smart cook tip: when making kefir and other fermented drinks, do not use metal equipment or utensils. Use wooden or plastic spoons, a plastic strainer and a glass bowl.
Unfiltered Apple cider vinegar (with mother) - made from the fermented juice of pressed organic apples through traditional fermentation processes, this pungent, acidic vinegar contains minerals such as potassium, phosphorous, magnesium and calcium. It is lovely on steamed vegetables and in fresh salads.
Eggs- Eggs are an important source of phospholipids and vitamin D and they are a very good source of high-quality protein.
Eggs are a good source of the amino acid glutamine, the most abundant amino acid in the body, which is especially important in serving as a source of fuel for cells lining the intestines and for the proper functioning of white blood cells.
Some people consider the egg to be nearly a perfect food (myself included!)
Smart cook tip: not sure if your eggs are fresh? Fill up a bowl of salted cool water and gently add an egg. If it sinks, it's fresh; if it floats, it's not!
Turmeric - Turmeric is a concentrated source of the unique phytonutrient curcumin, which has incredibly powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It's anti-inflammatory potency is comparable to that of prescription and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines. In addition to its role as a potent anti-inflammatory, curcumin has been shown beneficial for optimizing liver detoxification, promoting heart and joint health, amongst many more. Turmeric is also rich in minerals such as vitamin B6, iron and manganese.
Garlic - the beneficial effects of garlic are quite extensive and many of its therapeutic effects are thought to be due to its volatile factors, which are composed of sulfur-containing compounds. Clinical studies have shown that garlic has the ability to decrease blood lipid levels, prevent clot formation, and lower blood pressure, making garlic beneficial for cardiovascular health.
Garlic also offers protection against some cancers and it has a potent antimicrobial activity. It is an excellent source of vitamin B6 and a very good source of vitamin C and the minerals manganese and selenium.
Smart cook tip: the protective effect of garlic can be blocked by heat. If you want to conserve it, crush garlic and allow it to stand for 10 minutes prior to cooking.
Ginger - it has a long tradition of being very effective in alleviating symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. Ginger is also regarded as an excellent substance that promotes the elimination of intestinal gas, and that soothes the intestinal tract.
Ginger also possesses numerous therapeutic properties, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and it has been used as an effective remedy to alleviate symptoms of motion sickness such as nausea and vomiting.
A lesser known benefit of ginger, is that it can help ease muscle soreness after exercise, as well as achy joints, and it may also relieve pain from menstrual cramps
Smart cook tip: use a spoon to quickly scrape off the papery skin of fresh ginger (if the skin is thin, you do not need to peel it) and grate it.