(GIST OF SCIENCE REPORTER) Superfoods: How ‘Super’ Are They?
Superfoods: How ‘Super’ Are They?
- Scientifically speaking, there is no such food that qualifies to be termed as a ‘Superfood’. This term has been coined by the food marketing industry as a strategy to catch the attention of consumers.
- The food industry bestows the superfood label generally on nutritionally dense foods with a ‘supposed’ capacity to beneficially influence human health. Though a big list of foods is termed as super, it’s important to remember that there is no single superfood that holds the key to perfect health or to protect the human race from chronic diseases.
- Food items marketed as superfoods are mostly plant based but also include some fish and dairy. Superfoods are so labelled either because they are nutrient-rich, or because of high heart-healthy fats found in them (e.g., salmon, flaxseeds, olive and avocado) or because they are endowed with potent antioxidant phytochemicals (like berries, specific spices, green tea, dark chocolate, and exotic fruits such as pomegranate, kiwi, etc.) and thus contribute to human health and wellness.
1. Dark green leafy vegetables: Dark green leafy vegetables (DGLVs) such as Kale, Spinach, and Lettuce are an excellent source of micronutrients including folate, vitamin C, β-carotene, zinc, calcium, iron, and magnesium, and dietary fibre. Part of what makes DGLVs so super is their potential to reduce the risk of chronic illnesses including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer due to the presence of rich amounts of dietary fibre, micronutrients, and anti-inflammatory carotenoids.
2. Cruciferous vegetables: Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower are excellent sources of fibre, vitamins, and phytochemicals including indoles, thiocyanates, and nitriles, which may prevent against some types of cancer.
3. Berries: Berries such as Blueberries, Blackberries, Cranberries, Raspberries, and Strawberries are a nutritional powerhouse of vitamins, minerals, soluble dietary fibre and antioxidant phytochemicals. The strong antioxidant capacity of berries is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer and other inflammatory conditions. A high intake of phytochemicals known as flavonoids — which are found in these berries, especially blueberries — is known to reduce the risk of certain heart diseases.
4. Legumes and beans: Legumes or pulses are a class of food grains made up of beans including Kidney beans, soy, lentils, peas, peanuts, black gram, red gram, Bengal gram, Green gram. Legumes are particularly rich sources of protein, B-vitamins, various minerals and dietary fibre.
- Research indicates that they offer many health benefits including management of type 2 diabetes as well as reduced blood pressure and cholesterol. Eating beans and legumes regularly is also understood to promote healthy weight maintenance, due to their ability to provide a feeling of satiety.
5. Whole grain millets: The humble millets are the latest ‘superfood’ being promoted by our part of the world, and deservingly so, considering that they are highly nutritious and have several health benefits. Millets are a group of small seeded cereal grains; these are not stripped of their nutrient containing bran and germ during processing. While millets have nutritional benefits similar to beans, they don’t contain as much protein. Millets are rich in several B-vitamins (e.g., B3), minerals ─ calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. Finger millet (Ragi), for instance, has thrice the amount of calcium compared to milk. Similarly, pearl millet (Bajra) is known to be rich in iron and zinc. Their rich calcium and iron content makes them perfect health foods for children.
- Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) is a flowering herbaceous plant belonging to the amaranth family grown as a grain crop primarily for its edible seeds. Although quinoa is not a grain, it cooks up like one and is a remarkable source of protein, B-vitamins, vitamin E, minerals ─ iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium ─ dietary fibre and health beneficial antioxidants. Quinoa is gluten-free and high in good quality protein as it contains all nine essential amino acids.
6. Nuts and Seeds: Nuts and seeds are energy-rich and are abundant in protein, heart-healthy fats particularly monounsaturated fats, minerals, and dietary fibre. Common nuts include almonds, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which can protect against oxidative stress. Research indicates that eating nuts and seeds can have a protective effect against heart disease. Interestingly, even though nuts and seeds are calorically dense, some types of nuts support weight loss when included in a balanced diet.
7. Spices ─ Garlic, Ginger, Turmeric: Spices are consumed as food adjuncts to enhance the sensory quality of foods, the quantity and variety consumed in tropical countries being particularly extensive. Besides contributing to flavour, aroma and colour to our everyday diet, spices have also been long recognized to possess physiological effects supposed to be beneficial to human health. They act as a stimulus to the digestive system, relieve digestive disorders, and some spices are of antiseptic value.
- Their attributes such as tonic, carminative, stomachic, diuretic, and anti-spasmodic – largely empirical, nevertheless efficacious – have earned them pharmacological applications in the indigenous systems of medicine in India and other countries. By making the food attractive and palatable, spices can reduce the need to use the less-healthy ingredients ─ salt, fat or sugar.
- Garlic: One of the spices often marketed as a superfood is Garlic, which is a good source of manganese, vitamin C, vitamin B6, selenium and fibre. Garlic is a common strong-smelling spice used for its medicinal benefits for centuries. It may be useful for supporting immune function and reducing the risk of heart disease by checking hypercholesterolemia and reducing blood pressure. Sulfur-containing compounds in garlic are also known to play a role in preventing certain types of cancer.
- Ginger: Ginger rhizomes are used both as a culinary flavour enhancer and for multiple medicinal effects. 6-Gingerol, the phytochemical present in ginger, possesses antioxidant properties that may be responsible for many of the reported health benefits associated with this spice. Ginger is also very effective for reducing pain from acute and chronic inflammatory conditions. It may also reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, dementia and certain cancers.
- Turmeric: Turmeric is a bright yellow spice known for its medicinal benefits. Curcumin is the active compound in turmeric. It has a potent antioxidant effect and is valued for its significant anti-inflammatory and cancer preventive influences. Studies show that curcumin may be effective in preventing and managing chronic diseases such as CVD and diabetes. It may also aid wound healing and pain reduction.
8. Fish: Salmon, sardines and mackerel are highly nutritious fatty fish packed with healthy fats, protein, B vitamins, potassium and selenium. These fish are also the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for a variety of health benefits, such as lowering the risks of heart disease, stroke, and inflammatory diseases.
9. Eggs: Whole eggs are rich in many nutrients including B-vitamins, choline, selenium, vitamin A, iron and phosphorus. They’re also loaded with high-quality protein. Eggs contain two unique antioxidants, zeaxanthin and lutein, which are known to protect vision and eye health. Research indicates that eating eggs regularly in moderation will not increase the risk of heart disease in spite of providing high dietary cholesterol. Eggs continue to be considered as one of the healthiest foods.
10. Yogurt: Yogurt is a lactic fermented beverage from milk that contains protein, calcium, B-vitamins, potassium and probiotic Lactic acid bacteria (good for gut health). Fermented, probiotic-rich foods like yoghurt have several associated health benefits, including blood cholesterol lowering, blood pressure controlling, digestive stimulant and anti-inflammatory effects.
11. Pomegranate: The ‘exotic fruit’ pomegranate is also included in the superfood list. Scientific studies, however, do not show that they are healthier than other exotic fruits. Pomegranate contains ellagitannins (similar to red raspberries), which have known anti-cancer properties.
12. Kiwifruit: Benefits of kiwifruit are similar to berries, melons, citrus fruit, apples and pears, all of which are high in vitamin C and rich in antioxidants. Kiwifruit is labelled a superfood perhaps because it contains a wider range of nutrients compared to some other fruits. It is suggested that the consumption of kiwifruit which also contains the hormone serotonin (helps induce and maintain sleep) might help people with sleep disorders.
13. Green Tea: Green tea is a lightly caffeinated beverage with a wide array of medicinal properties. Green tea is rich in polyphenolic compounds with excellent antioxidant capacity and with strong anti-inflammatory and cancer-preventive effects. One of the most prevalent antioxidants in green tea is the catechin Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG). EGCG is likely what gives green tea its apparent ability to protect against chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Research also indicates that the combination of catechins and caffeine in green tea may make it an effective tool for weight management.
14. Olive Oil: Olive oil is a vegetable oil extracted from the fruit of olive trees and forms one of the mainstays of the Mediterranean diet. Its high levels of Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFAs) and polyphenolic compounds are responsible for its health claims. The use of olive oil in our diet may reduce inflammation and the risk of certain illnesses such as heart disease. It also contains antioxidants such as vitamins E and K, which can protect against cellular damage from oxidative stress.
15. Avocado: Avocado is a highly nutritious fruit, rich in many nutrients, including healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. Similar to olive oil, avocado is high in Monounsaturated Fats (MUFAs), oleic acid being the most predominant MUFA, which is linked to reduced inflammation in the body. Eating avocado may reduce the risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome and certain types of cancer.
16. Indian gooseberry/Amla: Indian gooseberries are the traditional rich sources of vitamin C. Amla delivers minerals such as calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc and iron, and vitamins like beta-carotene, B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, Niacin, Pantothenic acid, Vitamin B6, Folate), vitamin C and vitamin E, besides multiple antioxidants.
- The antioxidant properties of amla fruits also contribute to the alleviation of secondary complications in diabetes. The antioxidant properties are partially derived from high vitamin C content but also from a large amount of phenolic tannin compounds. Hair growth-promoting effect and longevity-promoting effect in this fruit are interesting and appear to be more effective than other nutraceutical options. Amla fruit has been endowed with immune-modulating properties and a significant ulcer protective and healing effect.
17. Moringa (Drumstick Leaves): Moringa leaves are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and even protein. Moringa leaves contain significant amounts of Betacarotene, B-vitamins (folic acid, pyridoxine and riboflavin), vitamin C, and vitamin E, minerals ─ calcium, manganese, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, and zinc.
- Besides being rich in protein unlike green leafy vegetables, it delivers quality protein that includes all eight essential amino acids our body needs. Addition of commercially available Moringa powder to soups and stews is highly recommended in addition to using fresh moringa leaves similar to any other green leafy vegetable.
18. Mushrooms: Some of the most common varieties of edible mushrooms such as oyster mushrooms, button mushrooms, portobello, etc. contain vitamins D and A, potassium, dietary fibre, and several antioxidants not present in most other foods, though the nutrient content varies depending on the type of mushrooms. Due to their unique antioxidant content, mushrooms may also play a role in reducing inflammation and preventing certain types of cancers.
19. Seaweeds: Seaweeds are nutrient-rich sea vegetables most commonly consumed in Asian cuisine. Seaweeds are enriched in vitamin K, folate, iodine and dietary fibre. These ocean vegetables are a source of unique bioactive compounds which may have antioxidant effects. Some of these inherent bioactive compounds may also reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
Courtesy: Science Reporter