Superfoods used to appear on many food labels until the European Union commission decided that it was an unfair term and under a new law, back in 2007, banned it completely.
It was unfair in the way that, as Mars Co. would say: all food are super, as long as they give you energy...! Right?
It was too easy to fall for manufacturers claims about their “superfoods”. This is why the term was quickly replaced by “nutrient-dense” foods. This terms makes a lot more sense. It means that the more nutrients per calorie a food contain the better it is for health.
No chocolate bar manufacturer can join in on this one. Not only the actual chocolate content is minuscule, but it is mainly cocoa butter and other leftovers from chocolate processing, but the calorific index is extremely high, thanks to refined sugar. A 51-gram mars bar (229 calories) contains 8.7 grams of fat, 4.2 grams of saturated fat, and 35.1 grams of carbohydrates, of which 30.4 grams are from sugar!!! (source: livestrong)
“Empty calories” such as refined and highly-processed foods may contain very little nutrients.
For example, refined sugar or refined flour, and their byproducts, are foods stripped from all that nature gave a plant and all that is beneficial to our health. Indeed we need glucose, but once the sugar or the flour is broken down inside the body, that is all there is for the body to use for energy but no other body function. Such food, therefore, cannot be labelled “superfoods”.
Unprocessed nutrient-dense foods contains a wide array of nutrients including macronutrients and micronutrients, which include minerals and vitamins, but also antioxidants and many other beneficial compounds
When looking at “superfoods” it is easy to maximise nutrient intake, done simply by consuming food that are known for their nutrient density.
To establish how food becomes “super” there are several ranking systems in place:
To keep it simple, it is best to look at the ORAC score.
[Many tables are available online, including the comprehensive official USDA table:
At the top of the scale, you will find all of the spices, sumac at the very top with 312,400, Cloves 290,283, and blueberries, well-known for their antioxidants, only score 2,359, and green tea barely exceed 1,000.
To create your own “superfood”, all you need is a touch of some of the highest ranked ingredients to make a huge difference. Cooking with spices is, therefore, essential, plus this can greatly enhance the flavours of all your dishes.
Eating brassicas, lightly steamed or even raw, can help you maximise the intake of a wide array of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants but also fibre and enzymes, vital for digestion. The good thing is you can enjoy any of the wide variety of these great vegetables at every meal without it becoming boring.
Tip: Fennel, for example, only scores 307; however, it is widely known to help liver function. A pinch of ground turmeric, nutmeg, black pepper, a dash of olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice, a sprinkle of pumpkin and chia seeds, a tablespoon of chopped red pepper, not only transform fennel into a great salad but the dish has now become a “superfood”. It contains an ideal ratio of macronutrients, micronutrients, fibre, and an amazing variety of antioxidants.
Another way to maximise nutrient intake is to eat mostly raw or barely processed vegetables and fruits of as many different colours a possible, trying to consume a rainbow of colour at every meal.
DO NOT THINK 5-A-DAY!
*DO NOT BE CONFUSED!
1 APPLE = 1-A-DAY
5 APPLES = 1-A-DAY
So let’s talk about Superfoods, nutrient-dense and other food powerhouse:
What are Superfoods?
Superfoods are natural foods that are low in calorie and nutrient-dense (See ANDI and MANDI article), with high levels of antioxidants that help the body fight cell damage from free radicals. These antioxidants assist the immune system and are proven to play an active role in the prevention of cancer and promoting cardiovascular health.
At present, there is no definitive list of Superfoods, and there are some fruits and vegetables with extremely high concentration of antioxidants; however, they are not all known worldwide (i.e. Goji berries have only been globally noticed in the last decade, while Tibetans have been eating them by the handful for centuries. The same for açaì berries and other ethnic foods).
In order to preserve nutrients and essential antioxidants, it is important to use the right cooking method. Avoid boiling food for too long and in too much liquid, and overcooking vegetables in general — vegetables will always tell you when are over coked: their taste changes and become bitter (i.e Broccoli).
It is always best to eat vegetables and fruits raw (It is recommended that 75% of the diet should consist of raw food: salads, crudités, fruit juices (although they have lost most of the fibre), and that one main dish daily should be a salad) and as much of a range as possible.
Want an idea of a ‘Superfood‘ dinner?
Pan fried Fillet of salmon served with sweet potatoes, steamed Kale and broad beans.
Side of fresh watercress sprinkled with mixed seeds and walnuts pieces, drizzled with a little Extra Virgin olive oil, lemon juice and chopped parsley and coriander vinaigrette.
Hints: Marinate the salmon fillet — same recipe as the vinaigrette, but add crushed garlic and a bit of puréed ginger — for 5 minutes or longer. Using a frying pan (make sure the pan is really hot), put salmon fillet skin down, add salt and pepper, and cook for 5 minutes with only 1/4 of a teaspoon of coconut oil, then place the pan in a pre-heated oven to 200˚c for another 5—10 minutes. The middle should still be pink and soft, and the skin crispy (but not burnt).
You can roast the sweet potatoes or mash them — once cooked, season and add 1 tbsp of Extra Virgin olive oil (instead of butter) and finely chopped parsley.
To steam Kale, just place the leaves in a pot with a little water and salt — the leaves will steam instead of boiling. Keep lid on until cooked.
It is important to notice that no matter how many litres of carrot or pomegranate juice one drinks everyday or how many bowls of blueberries one has for breakfast, when added to a very poor diet, one would not rip the benefits of those Superfoods.
* Based on their ANDI Score
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