by Alejandra "Alex" Ruani — Get free science updates here.
Superfoods are being ballyhooed everywhere, proclaiming to provide extraordinary health-giving properties.
What’s the deal, you may wonder?
Let’s start off by saying that “superfood”, the word, is not a scientific term, but rather a lay term coined in part by the media.
That’s okay, no harm done.
If anything, it has raised awareness to the masses, showing that food is more than just fuel for your body.
Superfoods (AKA “functional foods” in scientific papers) refer to foods that can have health-promoting properties, such as reducing one’s risk of disease or improving any aspect of physical or emotional health.
Think of superfoods as integrating a healthy, diverse diet of whole foods.
Yes – that means moving away far, far away from processed foods. For many of us who overburden our bodies and overwhelm our repair system just through everyday living, processed foods are the last thing needed. And if everyday living includes some processed foods, superfoods are a must!
What makes superfoods so super?
Those aforementioned micronutrients in superfoods can help to:
- improve your cell behaviour,
- prevent DNA damage, and
- keep you healthier and help prevent disease.
Did you know that the foods you eat can change both your DNA structure and your gene expression? No kidding. Your genes will plainly respond to the food you eat.
Successful ageing and cancer prevention involve the interaction between genes, the environment and life styles, and diet. One of the most modifiable lifestyle factors is diet. So let’s carry on with our conversation and get you going on superfood sensibility.
Below are seven of the 160 superfoods taught in our Nutritional Therapist certification. We consider these as some of the best ones for you:
1. Broccoli and the cruciferous bunch
That includes cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, and Brussel Sprouts, to name the most well-known. And here’s a few others in the cruciferous family that may surprise you: turnips, arugula, horseradish, and wasabi! This group of super vegetables contain both glucosinolates and isothiocyanates.
What do those long lettered components mean to you? These can majorly contribute to three positives for cell health and cancer risk reduction:
- cell protection from DNA damage,
- inhibition of tumour blood vessel formation, and
- assistance to inactivate carcinogens.
2. Wild caught salmon
While most superfoods are plant-based, some animal sources have made it to the list, including salmon. Always opt for wild caught salmon caught in non-polluted waters. It is more expensive, but well worth it. That farmed salmon is higher in contaminants and lower in both calcium and iron.
The reason wild caught salmon has a place in this list is because it’s loaded with long-chain Omega 3s: EPA and DHA. These long chain fatty acids save your body from having to convert ALA (the Omega 3 in plant foods) into EPA and DHA. This is important, because that conversion tends to be inefficient and can lead to an EPA/DHA deficiency.
Always remember: it’s not ALA itself, but EPA and DHA that confer the direct health benefits from the Omega 3 family, including both neurological and cardiovascular health.
Note: If you’re vegan and worry about developing nutrient deficiencies, get our comprehensive Science Report: Veganism 101: Which Nutrients Might Vegans Lack? (optional resource). At the end of the day, there’s always room for becoming an even “better” vegan!
3. Berries (of all varieties)
Berries of all shapes and sizes boast amazing benefits, ranging from cancer prevention and reduced risk of heart disease, to boosting the immune system and treating Alzheimer’s disease. They have a tremendous amount of anti-oxidant capacity.
A diet rich in anti-oxidants is super helpful to decrease those stressors of daily living and to lend service to our ingenious repair system so it can help prevent those cancer cells from even being turned on. In other words, keep the house clean!
4. Green tea
Green tea reduces cancer risk on multiple fronts: by protecting against damage to DNA (which is one of the triggers for cancer) and by shutting down a key molecule in the body that plays a significant role in the development of cancer (learn about this mechanism in our Science Report: From Food to DNA: Can Gene Expression be Changed? – optional resource).
Polyphenols in green tea have been shown to be powerful antioxidants with anti-carcinogenic properties. What’s an optimal amount of green tea to drink? About two to three cups a day is recommended to reap the best health benefits. And if you’re trying to reduce your caffeine intake, you can opt for “decaf” green tea.
Avocados have a long list of potential health benefits…
The pulp is hugely rich in phytochemicals, including eye-protective lutein and zeaxanthin. Besides having 40% more potassium than bananas, avocados are loaded with oleic acid, a fatty acid shown to switch off cancer-causing genes – also available in olive oil.
What’s more, eating this superfood is associated with improved nutrient intakes, including a higher intake of mono- and polyunsaturated fats, dietary fiber, and several vitamins and minerals.
Chlorella is a whole-food based supplement that you can use as a means to support your body’s natural detoxification systems. The essential action of chlorella is to pluck out ingrained chemicals and heavy metals that are not useful for your body, particularly your digestive tract.
You see, chlorella is a very small single-celled, micro-algae. Because of its bitty size, it’s able to do its detox job really well. Even though chlorella boasts tons of positives, beware that not all chlorella is the same. The one overarching feature you want to look out for in choosing a chlorella supplement is that it is one that has broken cell walls. Our bodies do not have the enzymes to break it down. So be absolutely positive of this before you buy it!
7. Dark chocolate
Yep – dark chocolate is good for you. It’s time to do the happy dance.
When buying chocolate, select dark chocolate with a high level of cocoa solids. The higher the amount of cocoa solids, the more polyphenols the chocolate will contain.
Flavanoids, which is a sub-group of those polyphenols, are another important plant compounds with potent antioxidant properties. Cocoa beans, along with red wine, tea, cranberries, and other fruits, contain large amounts of flavonoids. Research is now suggesting that the flavonoids in chocolate play a key role in the promotion of healthy blood pressure, blood flow, and heart function. Outstanding benefits for cardiovascular health.
The even better news? UK and European supermarkets are stocking raw chocolate, which means that the beans aren’t roasted and therefore contain higher levels of antioxidants!
Your body is a formulation of the foods you eat. Optimising your health, boosting your immune and repair system and adding years of healthy vitality to your life can all be upgraded by choosing a diverse diet of whole foods.
Superfoods are one way to truly shift how your DNA responds to what you feed your body. Choose wisely next time you go to the supermarket. You now have a nice slice of healthy choices to load up your trolley.
What do you think?
Let’s hear from you! If you’re a superfood user let us know what has worked for you. Our comment section is a great place to learn from each other and share your own tips. And don’t forget to pass this onto a friend who could use a superfood supercharge!
Available upon individual purchase. Learn more here! Learn the science and get certified!
Available upon individual purchase. Learn more here!
Learn the science and get certified!
Alex Ruani leads the research division at The Health Sciences Academy, where she and her team make sense of complex scientific literature and translate it into easy-to-understand practical concepts for students. She is a Harvard-trained scientific researcher who specialises in cravings and appetite neurobiology, nutrition biochemistry, and nutrigenomics. Besides investigating and teaching the latest advances in health and nutrition science, Alex makes it easier to be smarter with her free Science Catch-ups every other Thursday.