Superfoods For a Super You!

by SHRIYA DIDWANIA 

Superfoods are foods that provide health benefits, contribute more than the required nutrients in the human diet, and potentially help certain medical conditions. They may have a higher than average quantity of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that can potentially lower one’s risk of disease or enhance any other component of physical or emotional health. In this article, you will read about examples of superfoods, their categorization, and the health benefits of certain superfruits discussed in detail.

 

What Are Examples of Superfoods?

The National Institute of Health recognizes certain foods as superfoods, such as kiwi, whole grains, cranberries, fish, tomatoes, avocados, dark chocolate, berries, and others. [1]

Some groups like the Cancer Research UK, however, claim that this term is simply used to market foods better and that there is no clear scientific basis to this categorization. For example, blueberries, often touted as a superfood, do not have an unusually high content of nutrients.

Fruits and Berries

Goji berries, maqui berries, avocados, and papayas

Healthy Oils

Fish oil, flaxseed oil, cod liver oil, pumpkin seed oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil

Nuts and Seeds

Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, and cacao

Supplements and Spices

Turmeric, maca, ginseng, and suma

Vegetables

Broccoli, pumpkin, carrots, shiitake mushroom, sweet potato, and spirulina, a type of blue-green algae

Grains

Buckwheat, quinoa, oats, barley, seaweed, and wheat

 

Superfruits

Superfruits are a subcategory of superfoods marked by a high density of naturally occurring compounds like polyphenols, which are plant-based molecules with antioxidants. [2]

Goji Berries

Also called wolfberries, these bright orange-red berries are native to China. Across Asia, these berries have been consumed for several generations because they are believed to help one live longer. [3] Goji berries have nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and fiber, and they have been suggested to alleviate symptoms of high blood pressure, fever, diabetes, and age-related eye problems. These berries can be eaten raw or cooked and can be dried akin to raisins. They are often used in herbal teas, juices, wines, and medicines. [4]

In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, healthy adults consumed goji berry juice for 14 days and showed higher ratings of energy level, concentration, and athletic performance. Moreover, they also experienced better sleep quality, ease of awakening, serenity, and feelings of health, happiness, and satisfaction. These adults also reported significant decreases in their levels of fatigue and stress. [5]

Another 2011 study published in Optometry and Vision Science discussed the impact of goji berry consumption among the elderly. According to the results, the subjects showed an increase in antioxidant levels as well as levels of plasma zeaxanthin, a carotenoid present in the retina of the eye. They were also protected from hypopigmentation, or loss of skin color, and from the buildup of soft drusen, or extracellular material, in the eye. However, the mechanism of goji berry on preventing macular degeneration is not clear. [6]

Açai Berries

Native to South America, the açai palm produces a tiny, blackish-purple fruit which has been recognized as a superfood because of its high antioxidant content.

In a 2011 pilot study in Nutrition Journal, researchers looked at the health benefits of açai on humans. Ten overweight adults took 100 grams of açai pulp twice a day for a month and showed reduced fasting glucose and insulin levels, as well as lower cholesterol levels. The study concluded that açai consumption decreased the risk of metabolic diseases in overweight adults. [7]

A 2015 study published in Biology of Sport assessed the effects of açai consumption on athletes’ performance. Seven junior hurdlers consumed an açai berry-based juice blend daily for 6 weeks and took blood tests before and after a sprint, both at the beginning and at the end of the 6 weeks of supplementation. The results at the end revealed greater antioxidant capacity of plasma (the fluid part of blood), alleviation of the muscle damage that exercise induced, and lower serum lipid. [8]

Cacao Seeds

These seeds are categorized under super fruits because they are found within the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree. Cocoa powder and chocolate are made from these seeds, which are native to the Amazon basin and other tropical areas of South America and Central America. To learn more about cacao, cocoa, and chocolate, read “For the Love of Chocolate”. 

A 2011 study in Chemistry Central Journal analyzed the antioxidant capacity, total polyphenol content, and total flavanol content of different fruit powders and retail fruit products. Flavanols are naturally occurring antioxidants found in several plants. According to the study’s findings, cocoa powder had the highest concentration of antioxidants and flavanol among the products tested. Moreover, dark chocolate had a significantly higher capacity of antioxidants and flavanol than the fruit juices. The study concluded that cacao seeds contain nutritive value due to their composition of micronutrients, including antioxidants such as flavanol, as well as their composition of macronutrients, which are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. [9]

 

But a Word of Caution...

It’s important to exercise caution and avoid overconsumption of these foods because their natural toxins could cause side effects, especially among kids and at-risk patients. Consulting a doctor is recommended, especially if you plan to consume these foods to treat or prevent a health disorder. Sometimes, there could be residues of arsenic and pesticides in imported foods, which could adversely impact your health. Arsenic can have immediate toxic effects when consumed, such as gastrointestinal problems, and it can also cause cancer in the skin, bladder, lungs, and kidneys.

Moreover, you should look into the amount of processing a food has undergone. If a food is highly processed as in the case of superfoods such as whole grains and green tea, its nutritional value can be significantly lowered. Processed foods often have high sugar contents too, which pack on empty calories and can result in weight gain.

 

Bottom Line

There are plenty of other antioxidant and nutrient-rich superfoods that provide a host of benefits for one’s health and wellness. Superfoods are powerhouses of nutrients. Overall, superfoods are a stepping stone towards healthier diets but besides these, there are several other healthy options that one can explore, even if they are not called “super.” [10]

 

References ▾

  1. “Superfoods.” nih.gov. (n.d.).
  2. “Cacao seeds are a ‘Super Fruit’: A comparative analysis of various fruit powders and products.” Chem Cent J. (2011).
  3. “Chapter 14: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects of Chinese Wolfberry.” Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, 2nd edition. (2011).
  4. “Goji Berries: Health Benefits and Side Effects.” webmd.com. (2015).
  5. “A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical study of the general effects of a standardized Lycium barbarum (Goji) Juice, GoChi.” J Altern Complement Med. (2008).
  6. “Goji berry effects on macular characteristics and plasma antioxidant levels.” Optom Vis Sci. (2011).
  7. “Effects of Açai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) berry preparation on metabolic parameters in a healthy overweight population: A pilot study.” Nutr J. (2011).
  8. “Effects of supplementation with açai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) berry-based juice blend on the blood antioxidant defence capacity and lipid profile in junior hurdlers. A pilot study.” Biol Sport. (2015).
  9. “Cacao seeds are a "Super Fruit": A comparative analysis of various fruit powders and products.” Chem Cent J. (2011).
  10. “What are superfoods?” livescience.com. (2015).