the quintessential superfood – the blueberry

I love finding out about all the benefits of eating whole foods. We all know they make us feel great but it’s cool to know WHY they are so good for us. There has been more and more discussion about Superfoods in the media, with fruits and vegetables being high up on the list. Now I see Superfoods as foods that are the best source of nutrients and easily available. Some classify them as having a high amount of nutrients per calorie…although this can limit high calorie, yet nutritious foods likes nuts.

Then term Superfoods has also been exploited by marketers and the media in the past years, with many food trends coming and going. For example, goji berries sell for a very marked up price in health food stores. Yet the very same berries, commonly called wolfberries are sold much much cheaper in local Asian groceries!

Still, there certainly are some foods out there that just pack a great nutritional punch but are still commonly found and not from the other side of the world! Whilst I love some more unusual foods like maca powder and raw cacao, it’s the more basic foods that I include in my regular diet.

So these are some of my favourite Superfoods…

Blueberries
~ What’s in it?
Blueberries are FULL of phytonutrients, being most well known for their high levels of anthocyanins (which gives their beautiful colour,) flavonols and reservatol. They are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin K and manganese. Plus they are a great source of fibre. 
~ Why should you eat it?
Their phytonutrients provide great antioxidant support on a cellular level. In face they are ‘whole body’ antioxidant support, with research showing protection from oxidative stress to virtually every body system including cardiovascular, blood sugar regulation and the nervous system. They are also anti-inflammatory and prevent degenerative diseases. Despite not being the lowest GI fruit around, studies have shown they actually impact the blood sugar levels favorably and are beneficial to those with type 2 diabetes metabolic syndrome. Research is showing they can help with weight management and reducing belly fat too. Vitamin C can help support immune function, keeping those colds away.
~ How can you eat it?
Preferably fresh, raw and organic! But frozen blueberries have minimal reduction in their nutrient content, and are super convenient meaning you can have blueberries all year round. Try them in smoothies, with yoghurt or kefir, in salads or just snack on them as a guilt free treat with around 80 nourishing calories per cup.

Green Leafy Veg
~ What’s in it?
So much nutrient richness per every calorie! They are a super concentrated source of nutrition, providing minerals (such as iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium) and vitamins K, C, E, and many of the B vitamins. Not stopping there, they have a long list of phytonutrients too including beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, Dark green leaves even contain small amounts of Omega-3 fats. Of course they are fibrous as well.
~ Why should you eat it?
Greens are such a great source of nutrition, you really can’t get enough! Vitamin K is probably the star here, preventing blood clots, osteoporosis, preventing diabetes and reducing inflammation. The carbohydrate content is super low and combined into the layers of fiber, which makes them slow to digest.So most leafy greens have minimal impact on your blood glucose. You can treat them as ‘free’ food so to speak – perfect for filling up your stomach with. Mineral and vitamins reduce cardiovascular disease and diabetes risk, plus all those nutrients help you recover more quickly from exercise, keep the digestive tract moving and healthy and are great for healthy skin, hair and nails too.
~ How can you eat it?
Every day! Saute or drizzle with healthy fats (olive oil, coconut oil) because Vitamin K being a fat-soluble vitamin, means you absorb the nutrients best with fats. Raw or cooked, go organic if you can and make sure you wash first. Try baby spinach in smoothies; sauteed kale; stir fry bok choy, gai lan and other asian greens or even roast with garlic and herbs.

Broccoli 
~ What’s in it?
Full of vitamin C and vitamin K, plus many of the B vitamins. It is a great source of folate and fiber, rich in minerals such as manganese, zinc and also potassium. It is a very good source of calcium, more so than dairy.
~ Why should you eat it?
Vitamin C supports the immune system and aids the absorption of iron in the body, so its the perfect veg to pair with a grilled steak. Again, as with all fruit and veggies, it is anti-inflammatory and provides antioxidant support for our bodies. If you are lactose intolerant or avoid dairy, then broccoli is a great way to keep up your calcium too.  (If you have any thyroid problems, you are best to avoid it though as it contains goitrogens which although are naturally occurring, can interfere with the functioning of the thyroid gland.)
~ How can you eat it?
Best eaten cooked for better nutrient value. Steaming is best for locking in the nutrients too, if you find that a bit bland then try drizzling a little olive oil or tahini and sea salt. For something extra delicious try roasting or stir frying. Whatever you do, don’t overcook it – no body likes mushy broccoli! If you like it raw, try it in some homemade hummus or with avocado. Or make a raw coleslaw with finely chopped broccoli.

    Capsicum
    ~ What’s in it?
    Massive amounts of Vitamin C! They are also high in Vitamin K, B6 and folate. Phytonutrients include flavonoids and cartenoids such as alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, cryptoxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin. 
    ~ Why should you eat it?
    Not only does the Vitamin C help you ward off colds and flu, capsicum can help lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and even speed up your metabolism. With such a variety of colour, they make eating the rainbow easy and add beautiful colour and flavours to meals.
    ~ How can you eat it?
    Raw is deliciously sweet and crunchy, try eating one just like an apple! Wash in cold water, again preferably organic as we are eating the skin. You can char grilled these on the BBQ and add them to salads or make pestos and dips. Saute them with some spices for a kick. The more common red is sweeter than green, with yellow and orange making the odd appearances in grocery stores.

      Avocado
      ~ What’s in it?
      Loads of fantastic fibre! Healthy omega 3 fats! It is a quite a unique combination of fats, being a source of phytosterols (including beta-sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol,) Polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols (these are widely present in ocean plants but not so much amongst land plants making it unusual,) and finally over half of the total fat in avocado is provided in the form of oleic acid. It is also an impressive source of cartenoids.
      ~ Why should you eat it?
      Like the avocado’s phytosterols, its PFAs also provide us with anti-inflammatory benefits. It is particularly known for it’s benefits to arthritis. Oleic acid helps our digestive tract form transport molecules for fat that can increase our absorption of fat-soluble nutrients like carotenoids….which is is high in, so it has it all in the one food for you! It promotes heart health and reduces your chance of cancer and other degenerative diseases. It’s phytonutrients can also assist with weight management and blood sugar regulation.
      ~ How can you eat it?
      Make sure you get the flesh closest to the skin as this is the most nutrient rich – peeling the skin or scooping the flesh with spoon can help. Allow to ripen at room temperature and then it can be stored in the refrigerator for about a week (keep the stone in the flesh and wrap in glad wrap to stop oxidation). Speaking of spoon, a pinch of sea salt and a spoon are all you need to eat an avo! Great in salads or with veggies to help nutrient absorption of fat soluble vitamins. Try it with chicken or turkey slices, as a dip with veggies, in raw desserts or even in smoothies.

      Walnuts
      ~ What’s in it?
      Walnuts have the highest source of omega 3’s of nuts. They also provide a good source of manganese and copper. The skin contains phenolic acids, tannins, and flavonoids. They contain Vitamin E, with an unusually high level in the form of gamma-tocopherol (normally present in the alpha-tocopherol form). Minerals include calcium, magnesium and potassium.
      ~ Why should you eat it?
      The omega 3’s can assist in decreasing LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol, increasing gamma-tocopherol, increasing alpha-linolenic acid in red blood cells. All of this relates to the ability of our blood vessels to respond to various stimuli in a healthy manner i.e. anti-inflammatory and antioxidant support.
      Studies have shown the gamma-tocopherol form of vitamin E has been found to provide significant protection from heart problems. Adding walnuts to your diet can help reduce belly fat too.
      ~ How can you eat it?
      Nuts should be soaked for 12-24 hours to assist digestion and then dehydrated. This makes them lovely and crispy too. Or you can roast them on very low heat if you don’t have a dehydrator. Try sprinkling them on salads for some crunch, on yoghurt or with berries, snack on them plain or add cinnamon or spices for a change. Just 14 halves a day is plenty to get the benefits.

      Salmon
      ~ What’s in it?
      More omega 3’s! Just what everyone needs. Don’t forget the protein and amino acids though, recent studies have shown that salmon contains small bioactive protein molecules. It’s super high in Vitamin D, B12 as well as tryptophan and selenium.
      ~ Why should you eat it?
      Aside from all the benefits of increasing omega 3’s in our diet, salmon has plenty of other reasons to eat it. The bioactive peptides (in the protein) may provide special support for joint cartilage, insulin effectiveness, and control of inflammation in the digestive tract. Back to the omega 3’s, it provides cardiovascular, eye, cognitive and joint protection.
      ~ How can you eat it?
      The best is wild caught Alaskan salmon which is lowest in mercury and toxins. But failing that, the benefits of eating any salmon is good. It is best to not eat the skin if you cannot get the Alaskan salmon. Steamed, baked, grilled or pan fried, salmon is pretty delicious any which way. A rich tasting fish, it is great with crispy salads or clean veggies. Use leftovers to top salads or for breakfast with eggs and spinach.

       

      Red Meat
      ~ What’s in it?
      Obviously it’s a great source of protein. Tryptophan, Vitamin B12, zinc and selenium are all found in red meats. It’s a great source of iron, creatine and the highest source of Alpha-Lipoic Acid.\
      ~ Why should you eat it?
      Selenium is needed for the proper function of glutathione peroxidase, an important internally produced antioxidant that has also been shown to reduce the severity of inflammatory conditions like asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Zinc is essential to proper immune function and bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis.  It is great source of energy and protein to fuel the body.
      ~ How can you eat it?
      It’s debatable how much red meat one should eat, I like a few times a week generally. Grilled, stir fry, roasted, braised or slow cooked depending on what cut. Minced makes for delicious meat sauces which are great for freezing ahead. Veggies served with it are essential to provide fiber and in turn utilise the fat from the meat to improve nutrient absorption – it’s a good relationship!

        Oats
        ~ What’s in it?
        They contain a lot of manganese, selenium, phosphorus and a fantastic source of fibre, specifically beta-glucan. They are a low-GI or slow release carbohydrates. They have an antioxidant compound unique to oats, called avenanthramides. They a suitable wheat-free alternative and are available gluten-free as well.
        ~ Why should you eat it?
        Studies have shown the fibre can lower cholesterol and the avenanthramides can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Beta-glucan has significant benefits to your blood sugar levels and can help those with type 2 diabetes. The fiber alos helps prevent cancers.
        ~ How can you eat it?
        The less processed the better, so oat groats or rolled oats are best. Forget the instant porridge sachets with fake flavours please! Oat bran (made from the outer hull) is also great for adding into smoothies and porridge. I like to soak oats overnight in water or kefir to reduce the phytic acid. From there you can simply eat them soaked or cook into porridge. Porridge can be sweetened with honey or nut milk. Or try my favourite savoury porridge with a poached egg and sea salt. Make pancakes with oats and eggs, or try replacing some flour with oats when baking.

        Next up, a look at some of my favourite Super Nutrients!

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