20 Superfoods and Their Benefits
Most of us know that avocado, blueberries and broccoli tick all the health boxes, but there are many other lesser-known superfoods that we should become acquainted with, says nutritionist Glen Matten – and better still, they all taste great.
1. Leeks for digestion
Judging by the TV ads, I guess you know about probiotics – ‘friendly’ bacteria – already. You probably know less about prebiotics, the fibre that stimulates the good bugs. Leeks contain prebiotics in abundance, which spells happy days for digestive health and may even enhance the immune system.
Other prebiotic foods: Bananas, asparagus, artichokes, onions
2. Swiss chard for vision
Chard is especially rich in two carotenoids called lutein and zeaxanthin, which are also present in the eyes. It looks likely that diets rich in these beneficial compounds may protect eye health by helping to reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts. Chard is good steamed or sautéed, as well as added to soups and stews.
Other eye-brighteners: Kale, spinach, peas, broccoli, eggs
3. Watermelon for sun protection
As its name suggests, watermelon is nearly all water. But it’s also a good source of the red plant pigment lycopene, associated with a reduced incidence of heart disease and prostate cancer, and protection of the skin against damage from UV light.
Other sun-screening foods: Tomatoes, red peppers, green tea, mackerel
4. Coriander for anti-ageing
A generous sprinkling of fresh coriander helps to make up for the lack of green leafy stuff in our diets. It contains good levels of betacarotene and vitamin C, two of the antioxidants thought to protect against age-related disease, and measures up pretty well against other antioxidant-rich fruit and veg.
More antioxidant agents: Berries, broccoli, peppers, carrots, leafy green veg
5. Coffee for a healthy liver
If I told you there was a drink that might reduce the risk of diabetes, Parkinson’s, cirrhosis, gallstones and liver cancer, you might be surprised to find it in Starbucks. But coffee is such a significant source of antioxidants that it could feasibly claim to be a health beverage.
More liver-lovers: Artichokes, rocket, blueberries, beetroot, broccoli
6. Onions for fighting cancer
Onions are particularly plentiful in quercetin, a compound that may possess cancer–protective properties (notably against lung cancer). Consumption of allium vegetables,
which include shallots, leeks, chives and garlic as well as onions, is also likely to fortify your diet against the risk of stomach cancer.
Other anti-cancer warriors: Apples, oranges, parsley, tea, red wine
7. Curry for immunity
Turmeric is hot stuff with researchers because it contains curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory and even anti-cancer properties. It might just turn out to be a brain food, too, with mounting evidence that it may help protect against Alzheimer’s. Not a bad reason to make a curry.
More immune-boosters: Garlic, watercress, tomatoes, pumpkin seeds
8. Courgettes for weight-loss
Courgettes are a perfect example of the low-energy-density foods we should favour to fend off weight gain. They can be steamed, roasted, stir-fried, used in casseroles and stews, and make tasty crudités. With a high fibre and water content, they’ll fill us up and provide only a small amount of calories — but a decent amount of vitamin C.
Other fill-you-up foods: Rye bread, apples, brown rice, celery
9. Red grapes for your heart
The clever compounds in the skins are the attention-grabbers here, accounting for a lot of the fuss about the benefits of red wine. These polyphenols are widely touted for their cardioprotective properties, and the darker the grapes, the higher the polyphenol levels are likely to be.
Other heart helpers: red wine, purple grape juice, nuts, oily fish
10. Black pepper for cheerfulness
Its active ingredient is a pungent alkaloid called piperine, which, researchers have found, stimulates digestion, has antidepressant effects, and does a whole lot more besides. Who’d have thought such an everyday spice had so many intriguing components?
Other mood-lifters: Turkey, salmon, dark chocolate, bananas, oat cakes
11. Mussels for metabolism
Mussels are rich in selenium, which is involved in thyroid function (which controls metabolism), immunity, and reproductive health. Intake of this trace mineral has declined in recent decades and there’s debate about whether this ups our cancer risk.
Other selenium sources: Brazil nuts, tuna, beef, cod, eggs
12. Walnuts for your mind
Walnuts are one of the few plant foods to contain significant amounts of sought-after omega-3 fats, thought to improve learning and memory. This favourable balance of beneficial fats also contributes to their cardioprotective reputation. As these fats can deteriorate, store walnuts in an airtight container in the fridge.
Other omega-3 hideouts: Sardines, salmon, mackerel, hempseed oil, pumpkin seeds
13. Venison for vitality
Unlike most meat, venison is very lean, containing low levels of saturated fat and leaving you with the good bits — protein, B vitamins, iron and zinc. Eat it as steaks, a roast, in a hearty stew, or make burgers from minced venison.
More mineral-rich meals: Liver, chicken, beef, lamb, beans, dried fruit
14. Beetroot for pregnancy
Beetroot offers plentiful supplies of folate (the natural form of folic acid), which is important for mums-to-be. Folate also helps break down homocysteine in the blood, implicated in heart disease and possibly Alzheimer’s. Cooked and sliced, or grated raw, beetroot adds a bit of visual showbiz to a salad.
Other folate-rich foods: Dark green leafy veg, dried figs, avocados, wholewheat
15. Rye bread for a natural detox
It contributes generous amounts of dietary fibre, something most folk don’t get enough of. The benefits include improved digestive health and the reduced risk of colon cancer and heart disease – and that’s before we even think about nutrients such as minerals and B vitamins.
More cleansing foods: Beans, brown rice, lentils, oats
16. Butter beans for all-day energy
Packed full of a healthy combo of protein, complex carbohydrates and fibre, butter beans boast an impressively low glycaemic index (GI). This means they provide a gradual release of nutrients into the bloodstream to stabilise energy levels. Add to soups and casseroles.
Other slow-release energy foods: Meat, oats, lentils, nuts, green veg
17. Halloumi for strong bones
I don’t think cheese is amazingly healthy, but halloumi, made from sheep’s or goat’s milk, is lower in fat (and salt) than most hard cheese. And it’s a great source of calcium, essential for strong bones. Halloumi is generally used as a cooked cheese and is at its best grilled until golden, making it ideal for barbecuing on a skewer.
Other bone-builders: Milk, chickpeas, spinach, broccoli, kale
18. Sweet potatoes for younger skin
Just one medium sweet potato – steamed, boiled, mashed, baked
or roasted – goes a long way to meeting your daily needs of vitamin C, important for collagen, which gives skin strength and elasticity. Research has linked higher vitamin C intake with a less wrinkly appearance.
More skin-friendly foods: Oranges, strawberries, raspberries, peppers
19. Cashew nuts for hunger pangs
Cashews have a lower fat content than most nuts and most of it is ‘good’ fat. There’s evidence that people who regularly eat nuts are slimmer than those who don’t.
Other hunger heroes: Apples, porridge, beans, wholegrains
20. Hemp for hormones
It’s one of the only dietary sources of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), the active ingredient in evening primrose oil, which is converted into substances called prostaglandins. GLA seems to help promote healthy hormones, hence its popularity among PMS sufferers. Sprinkle seeds on your cereal or buy cold pressed hemp seed oil as a dressing or a drizzler (heating destroys the delicate fats so do not use for cooking and keep in the fridge).
Other hormone helpers: Miso, pumpkin seeds, leafy green veg, green tea
Photo via: dailygalaxy.com