The origin of the word "Superfoods" definitely lies more in the marketing realm than say, the scientific one. It was first coined as a marketing term for promoting foods that were nutritionally dense but did not really belong to the "mainstream" food items found in the supermarkets.
That being said though, there is certainly no denying the fact that these superfoods come loaded with vitamins, minerals, fibers and antioxidants that are much needed by the human body. Therefore, they pack power, incredible nutritional value and a host of other benefits too when you consume them.
But the marketing companies today don't stop at labeling superfoods being only “nutritional”. In fact, most of the superfoods found in the markets today come with incredible claims such as them being immunity and sexual health boosters.
Is there any truth behind such claims then?
If there is, how much of it is scientifically backed and how much of it is hype only? This article helps sort out this dilemma as well as tells you all there is to know about the so called "Superfoods". Please feel free to help yourself to some essential superfoods information below if you are interested.
SuperFoods - Laying Out The Proper Definition
As of now, there does not exist any official or legal or even scientific definition for the term "superfoods". However, the Oxford English dictionary does describe them as nutrient rich food that are considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being. On the other hand, the Merriam Webster dictionary defines them as nutrient dense food that are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and/or phytonutrients.
Thus, a general definition of superfoods can be laid out as follows.
"Superfoods are food items (including fruits, vegetables, fish and dairy products) that are nutritionally richer than other common food items and therefore, confer higher health benefits over them."
A more complete definition of superfoods can still be construed as "a group of exotic and non-exotic foods that have superior concentrations of essential nutrients and antioxidants as compared to the more common food items, which helps to fight diseases and provides greater health benefits".
SuperFoods - Why the Name?
As stated at the beginning of the article, the term "superfoods" was coined as a marketing strategy but the name stuck because obviously there was some truth behind the nomenclature.
To elaborate the point further, calling these nutritionally dense foods superfoods also makes sense because:
- They contain "superior" amounts of nutrients than the other, more traditional food items
- They contain antioxidants, healthy fats, phytochemicals and fiber; each of which is considered to help fight off diseases and promote better health.
- Some scientists and researchers argue that branding certain food items as "superfoods" is not safe as it might lead to certain negative results such as:
- Unhealthy consumption of the "superfoods" in order to derive maximum benefits in shortest time, and
- Preference of a particular food item over another when in reality both provide the same nutritional value.
Both these concerns are valid and they go a long way in explaining why the scientific community is not ready to accept this particular group of food items as "superfoods" officially. However, there is no denying the fact either that the superfoods, whether you like the name or not, do come packed with a host of benefits. The next section talks about exactly that. Take a look.
How Do SuperFoods Benefit Us?
Apart from having amazing nutritional value, the superfoods also offer something extra in terms of health benefits. Here is an assorted list of all the benefits they provide.
1) High Nutrition Value - All of the superfoods are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibers and phytonutrients that are much needed by the human body. However, that is not all. What makes superfoods especially beneficial is the fact that they are low in calories, bad fats, processed sugars and salt, which is usually the case with traditional food items.
2) Improved Immune System - Science has already established a strong association between regular consumption of fruits and vegetables, and ability to fight against diseases and allergies. All the superfoods are rich in a wide variety of nutrients that help strengthen the immune system by improving its anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant properties.
The Acai fruit, one of the more healthy superfoods around, is especially considered to be a major immunity booster. Other notable food items that provide similar benefits are Goji Berries, Kefir (a Russian drink made from fermented milk), and Cocoa Powder etc.
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3) Promotes Alkaline Balance - An alkaline diet is considered to positively influence the human health by improving energy levels, lowering cancer risk, strengthening immunity, maintaining blood sugar levels and mitigating diabetes risk. The superfoods come loaded with minerals such as potassium, zinc and magnesium that help to alkalize the diet and improve the alkaline pH in body. This also has a significant impact on bone health in the body and helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
4) Better Detoxification - All the cruciferous vegetables (aka those leafy green veggies you usually avoid) including both exotic such as kale, Swiss chard, dandelion greens, Bok Choy and non-exotic ones such as spinach, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, are incredibly effective in ensuring a balanced and improved detoxification process in the body. This, in turn, helps inhibit the growth of cancer cells and reduces the production of free radicals which can damage cells.
5) Boost Metabolism and Weight Loss - The best superfoods are high in soluble fiber and have low calorific count, they can be consumed in greater amounts without worrying about burning extra calories or lengthy digestion process. Furthermore, some of the superfoods (like beans) are found to be rich in protein, fiber and good fats that help to curb hunger and provide sugar-free energy throughout the day once consumed in adequate amounts. Green tea helps in reducing fat which helps in maintaining proper body weight and reduced waist size.
6) Reduce Ageing and Damage in Cells - The antioxidants found in superfoods help reduce the presence of free radicals which damage the skin cells and provide Vitamin C that keeps the connecting tissue between skins and muscles strong. This essentially translates to a more youthful and healthier skin, thus making you look younger than your age. The destruction of free radicals also prevents oxidative stress in the body which can lead to age-related diseases such as cancer, diabetes and various heart diseases.
Now that we have established the importance and benefits that superfoods bring to the table, here is a summarized list of some of the food items that are considered as the best superfoods for your health.
Top 10 SuperFoods
Blueberries are one of the best superfoods around and can be easily found on top of many superfoods lists. They are rich in vitamins, antioxidants, soluble fibers and phytochemicals such as flavonoids. They are also anti-inflammatory and help lower the bad cholesterol levels in the body. All of these make blueberries an excellent dietary choice that helps to prevent diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stomach ulcers. Remember, the darker the berries, the more benefits they pack!
Avocados are loaded with plenty of healthy fats and nutrients such as oleic acid, folate, lutein, mono-saturated fats, glutathione and Vitamin E among various others. All of these can help your body prevent diseases such as cancer, serious heart conditions and several brain related complications. Also, because avocados are among the more delicious superfoods around, they can be easily integrated into shakes or meals to provide a major nutritional boost to your diet.
Beans are a remarkable source of low-fat proteins, soluble fibers, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. This nutritionally dense superfood helps to improve brain, skin and cell health and reduce blood pressure. Plus, they also help lower cholesterol, curb appetite and provide sugar-free energy all through the day. Since they are such a good source of proteins and other essential nutrients, you can even replace the regular bread with beans as a filing side-dish in your diet.
Kale belongs to the cruciferous category of vegetables. It contains the highest amount of antioxidants than most of other fruits and vegetables. It is also a rich source of fiber, vitamins (A, C and K), minerals and phytochemicals that help fight diseases such as cancer and heart diseases. Notably, Kale (and other similar dark, leafy green veggies) is the most nutritional food in the world, as it delivers more nutrients calorie for calorie than any other food. You can eat kale raw or boiled, steamed or even roasted.
5) Chia Seeds
These come loaded with the highest amount of Omega-3 fatty acids than any other known plant. Chia seeds are native to Mexico but have recently become a rage among superfood users. Besides being rich in fatty acids, they also contain antioxidants, protein, fibers and minerals. You can mix a spoonful or two of chia seeds in any meal as they are almost tasteless. Also, as they expand up to 5 times their weight when put in liquid, only a little amount of chia seeds will help you feel full in no time.
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Acai berries are found mainly in the rainforests of South America. They are small and purple in color and are often sold frozen or in the form of powders, juices or tablets. They are extremely rich in antioxidants and one of the few fruits in the world that contain oleic acid. Apart from helping fight cancer and heart diseases, Acai is also known for its weight loss and anti-aging properties. You can blend Acai berries with any other sweet fruit to make a smoothie or shake.
7) Cocoa Powder
Cacao or Cocoa powder is rich in phytonutrients called flavonoids that help reduce blood pressure and improve the blood circulation to important parts of the body. It is also loaded with antioxidants that help prevent cell damage and cancer. When buying cocoa, make sure that you choose the raw or non-alkalized form as the processed (also called Dutch or alkalized) cocoa powder is not as rich in antioxidants. Cocoa powder can be added in moderate amounts (1 oz. preferably) to smoothies or shakes to gain a chocolaty flavor and taste without worrying about extra calories to burn.
The wild salmon contains copious amounts of protein, Vitamin D, selenium, Vitamin B2, B3, B6, B12 and Omega-3 fatty acids. All of these combine to provide health benefits such as prevention of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, cognitive decline, vision loss and even protection from UV rays of the sun. The wild Alaskan salmon is considered to be the best salmon as it is low in contaminants as compared to the common salmon. Two servings per week of salmon is all you need to deliver all the required nutrients for a healthy body.
9) Green Tea
Green Tea, a common beverage of the Japanese and the Chinese, is rich in EGCG (or Epigallocatechin gallate) that makes it a powerful remedy for cancer and heart diseases. The EGCG is a phytochemical that curbs the growth of abnormal cells in the body, thus preventing chances of cancer. The green tea is also a good source of antioxidants and regular drinkers of green tea have been found to contain lower cholesterol levels than non-drinkers.
Although all the nuts (almond, peanuts and likes) are highly rich in essential nutrients and fatty acids, it is the walnut that takes the cake among them all. A handful of walnuts every day will provide your body with the required dose of Omega-3 fats, Vitamin E, alpha-linoleic acid, potassium, magnesium, copper and manganese. It also helps to protect the brain cells and prevent diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s.
You can have walnuts in their natural nutty form or eat the organic walnut butter found in the markets. Whether you like it or not, superfoods (and supplements) are the order of the day. We need them both to fulfil our daily quota of nutrients. However, where superfoods score over the supplements found in the market is that they are all natural as compared to the commercially processed form of the latter.
SuperFoods vs Supplements
Our digestive system is naturally built to accept only whole foods to extract nutrients and discard everything else. When the food product is processed, like the artificial supplements available in the market, chances are that they will prove to be more harmful to the body than useful. This is mostly because the vitamins and minerals that are mostly present in the commercial supplements are in a state that is not readily absorbed by the human digestive system. This leads to complications later in life.
The solution is to look for and purchase only high quality supplements in the market, or go completely with the natural superfoods only. Natural superfoods are considered to be whole food concentrate that are consumed in their natural forms. Therefore, they are able to deliver all the essential nutrients packed in them minus the harmful side effects of commercial supplements.
Why Superfoods Are Important?
Even if you think that you have been eating healthy and well enough, you might still need to take an additional dosage of high quality superfoods or supplements to receive all the essential nutrients. There could be many reasons for this but mostly it is because of the amount of processed foods we eat that are not only low on nutrients but also prove to be harmful for our health in the long run.
If you just dismissed this notion by saying that you eat completely organic, think again. Even the organic food products are not efficient enough today, given the poor quality of soil in most parts of the world. And therein, lies the importance and necessity to embrace these “superfoods” in our diet. After adding exercise and balanced diet to your daily regime, superfoods should be your next obvious step towards a healthy and long life. Because after all said and done, health is the only true wealth we must have!
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