Top 7 superfoods to try

Health and Fitness
Superfoods are just like one-off fashion pieces. Some are a little odd, they pop up for a season, everyone who’s into fashion buys them, and then next season they’re old news and the fashionistas have moved on to the next big thing.

Superfoods have no agreed-upon definition, but most nutritionists would describe a superfood as a food offering superior nutrition in its class. Genuine superfoods have a high nutrient bang for their calorie buck.

Not all so-called superfoods are actually super by this definition, so don’t feel pressure to give into the hype. Many wellness blogs are spruiking foods and supplements that they know very little about, often pushing you towards purchasing a product that they’ll receive a commission on.

However, superfoods do have their place, so if you’re interested in trying some, here’s what’s trending right now.

Beetroot

Beetroot is soaring up the popular food list, especially when it comes to sports performance. Rich in nitrates, beetroot and beetroot juice are studied for their effect on endurance exercise. The research is still inconclusive, with some studies suggesting a boost in performance while other studies show no effect.

Regardless, whole beetroots are a great source of dietary fibre, vitamins and antioxidants, and their vibrant colour can liven up even the most boring of dishes. They’re great roasted, baked, added to salads and blended into smoothies.

Blackcurrants

Blackcurrants are rich in poly-phenols, chemicals which promote health within the body through anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Studies have also shown that blackcurrant intake can increase blood flow. Most studies have looked at blackcurrant extract (a supplement), but I’d argue that the goodness is locked up in the whole food. Try to get them fresh and whole if you can.

Other berries are also rich in these compounds, so don’t feel you’re stuck to just one type of berry. They’re all great to eat regularly.

Cold-pressed nut oils

These nuts oils are created via a process where no heat or solvents are used to extract the oil. Cashew, walnut, macadamia and other oils are available, but they all have a slightly varied make-up of different types of fats with varying levels of stability. For example, macadamia oil has more monounsaturated fats and is more stable than walnut oil.

In the end, it’s the variety of our diet that promotes good health, not one particular food or oil type. These specialty oils can be a great way to add flavour to your meal, but they don’t add any special health benefits beyond what we already know about consuming moderate amounts of healthy fats.

Again, the whole nut is the best for promoting health, as not only do you get the healthy oils, you also get fibre, a small amount of protein, and vitamins and minerals.

Watermelon seeds

According to a recent news article, watermelon seeds are going to be a big deal. They can be flavoured and roasted, but are they actually a superfood?

Watermelon seeds are rich in fat and protein and are classified as a seed oil, with the oil extracted and used for cooking in parts of Africa and the Middle East. In other parts of the world, they’re used as a condiment, garnish, thickener in soups or as a snack. The protein quality overall is moderate – they can be a good source of protein, provided the deficit amino acids come from other foods. They also contain iron and zinc.

The verdict: watermelon seeds are no more special than other seeds. Enjoy these seeds and other new products that may pop up on the market over the next few years, but they’re not the ‘magic bullet’ you’ve been waiting for.

Algae

Algae is a single-celled organism that lives and grows in the water. You know the green murky stuff that grows on the sides of outdoor ponds? Yep, that stuff. It photosynthesises, meaning it creates energy using sunlight – this is one of the properties that makes it of interest to human health.

Marine algae also contains omega 3 fatty acids, and pharmaceutical companies are using it to create omega 3 supplements. With all the knowledge around the benefits of omega 3s, it’s no surprise that algae makes the superfood lists in 2017.

An omega 3 supplement can be beneficial with our current diets, but if your overall diet quality is poor, a supplement is not going to do much for your long-term health. Ensure you’re consistently hitting a high amount of vegetables and whole plant foods each and every day, and if seafood is not your thing, perhaps an algae supplement can help. However, always see a qualified nutrition professional for individualised advice.

Offal

Offal, otherwise known as organ meats, refers to the internal organs and entrails of an animal that are used for food. 

Heart: offal. Liver: offal. Tongue: offal. Spleen: offal.

Steak: meat. Chop: meat. Loin: meat.

In countries like Canada, offal often goes to waste, but many cultures around the world consume the whole animal, which is both sustainable and nutritious. The nutritional composition of offal differs, but most offal products are a good source of protein, B vitamins, phosphorus and iron.

With offal being both cheap and nutrient dense, it could become much more popular in the years to come.

Turmeric

Turmeric is a bright yellow-orange spice commonly used in curries and is hitting the superfood charts with talks of it being able to cure cancer. It’s become so popular that turmeric lattes and turmeric tonics are now available from some wellness cafes, and it has made a debut in the BBC television series ‘Trust me, I’m a doctor’.

The main component of turmeric that’s been studied is curcumin, with the studies showing health benefits having been done in rats. Turmeric is only 3% curcumin, and due to curcumin’s poor bioavailability and short half-life, ie, it degrades quickly, the amount that we actually absorb when we eat turmeric (which is only a small amount) is almost negligible.

So it’s fine to enjoy turmeric lattes and curries, but be aware that they’re not saving you from poor health, particularly if the rest of your diet is poor.

I hope this has given you some superfood for thought, but bottom line: you don’t need to eat superfoods to be healthy – a balanced diet rich in a variety of whole foods will do that. However, if you’re into trying the latest food trends, they’re all relatively harmless and make for a great Instagram snap! 

Kate Freeman
Kate Freeman is HRI's resident nutritionist. She is a Registered Nutritionist from Canberra, Australia and the creator and managing director of the largest private nutrition practice in Canberra, The Healthy Eating Hub. Kate Freeman consults, writes, presents and mentors in the field of nutrition and has over 10 years of experience in the industry.

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