When I tell people that I am a nutritionist, the first thing they usually say is something along the lines of “I bet you must have the healthiest diet, full of superfoods with absolutely no junk food or alcohol.”
I typically respond with laughter. Once I compose myself, I stress that my diet is far from perfect.
Sure, the majority of what I eat is what most people would consider healthy: lots of lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. But, in my opinion, a large part of having a healthy diet involves having a healthy relationship with food, and that means including all types of foods in moderation. This is why my Instagram feed is full of burgers, pasta, pizza and gelato.
As for superfoods, I do not go out of my way to include them on a daily basis. Not to mention, many are difficult to find in this part of the world. I can’t even buy peanut butter here, let alone acai or goji berries.
That said, there are many benefits to including superfoods in your diet. Let’s first consider what a superfood is, and what some common types are.
What is a superfood?
A superfood is a food which is nutritionally dense and thought to improve one’s health. There is no set criteria for what classifies a certain food as a superfood. The term itself is a bit gimmicky, and is not used by scientists.
In simple terms, it just means any food that packs a strong nutritional punch. There is certainly no harm in consuming these types of foods – marketing tactics aside.
Common types of superfoods
Superfoods usually contain high amounts of vitamins (the most common are calcium, folate, iron and vitamin C), minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals.
Some common superfoods include acai, almonds, beans, beets, blueberries, broccoli, cabbage, chia, collards, cranberries, dark chocolate, eggs, goji berries, greek yoghurt, green tea, kale, kiwi fruit, leeks, lentils, mackerel, pistachios, quinoa, salmon, sardines, spinach, squash, strawberries, sweet potato, swiss chard and whole grains.
Benefits of consuming superfoods
The aforementioned foods are deemed to be superfoods as they provide one or more of the following benefits:
- Prevent chronic disease: A diet high in vitamins and minerals will help to prevent disease and increase life expectancy. Some superfoods contain high levels of healthy fats, which reduce one’s risk of heart disease. They are often high in fibre, which prevents diabetes. Antioxidants are believed to combat the harmful effects of free radicals, which can cause cancer.
- Slows down the ageing process: As well as increasing one’s lifespan, consuming superfoods regularly is believed to help you look younger.
- Boosts the immune system: Consuming these foods regularly will reduce your likelihood of falling sick, as all the vitamins and minerals will keep your immunity high.
- Promotes healthy digestion: Many of these foods are high in fibre, which promotes a healthy digestive system and reduces the risk of developing stomach and gastric cancers.
- Improves moods: While I wouldn’t go as far as saying that consuming these foods will cure depression (we know how I feel about that idea!), many of the aforementioned foods have been linked to mood enhancement.
- Weight loss and weight maintenance: Superfoods are not only incredibly healthy, but they contain relatively low amounts of calories for high amounts of satiety. Half a cup of black beans, for example, contains 310 calories and 20 grams of protein, which will help you stay fuller for longer. Foods with high fibre contents work in the same way. For example, eating 200 calories’ worth of broccoli is guaranteed to keep you a lot fuller than 200 calories’ worth of chocolate.
There is no miracle food that will ward off all diseases and illnesses. Consuming one or two superfoods each day will not undo the damage of an otherwise unhealthy diet. I’d recommend sticking to the more common superfoods, such as berries and broccoli, rather than hunting down some of the more expensive options.
Ultimately, you should aim to consume a diet rich in various types of fruits and vegetables, as well as foods you enjoy such as cheese and ice cream, to ensure optimal physical and mental health.
Do you consume any superfoods regularly?