While scientists and nutritionists agree that there’s no clear, definable ‘superfood’ group, there are some foods that clearly punch above their weight in terms of impact on our health.
These superfoods offer high levels of desirable vitamins and minerals or are linked to disease prevention. They are also a source of antioxidants that protect our bodies from cell damage and ward off diseases.
Nutritionists recommend getting more than your fair share of these nutrient-rich foods and balancing your plate with them to promote all-round physical and mental health.
Unlike some of the marketing hype around the latest obscure superfood extracted from far-flung soils, it doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg to ‘eat healthy’. Here are some commonly available ‘superfoods’:
Berries such as raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and cranberries are high in vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants. They’re associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer and inflammation. They’re also useful in treating digestive and immune-related disorders.
Dark green leafy vegetables
Kale, silverbeet, spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables are packed full of micronutrients such as magnesium, folate, zinc, iron, vitamin C and calcium, as well as fibre. They contain high levels of anti-inflammatory compounds known as carotenoids, which may protect against some forms of cancer.
Used as a medicine for centuries, garlic is a rich source of manganese, vitamin C, vitamin B6, selenium and fibre. It may be effective in reducing cholesterol and lowering blood pressure, as well as boosting the immune system. Its sulphur compounds may prevent some types of cancer.
Ginger root contains antioxidants and can help in managing nausea and reducing pain from acute and chronic inflammation. It may also reduce the risk of heart disease, dementia and certain types of cancer.
The curcumin in turmeric has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and may help prevent cancer, heart disease and diabetes. It could also help wounds to heal and reduce pain.
Avocados are rich in many nutrients including vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and fibre. They are high in monounsaturated fats, particularly oleic acid, which is thought to reduce inflammation. Eating avocados may reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Potassium, vitamins A and C and fibre are some of the health-giving properties of the humble sweet potato. They’re also a great source of carotenoids, protecting against cancer.
Mushrooms contain vitamin A, potassium, antioxidants and fibre. They may play a role in reducing inflammation and preventing some cancers.
Eggs offer high-quality protein and are rich in B vitamins, vitamin A, choline, selenium, iron and phosphorous. They contain antioxidants that protect vision and eye health.
Beans, lentils and peas are loaded with B vitamins, minerals, protein and fibre. They offer many health benefits including improved diabetes type 2 management, as well as reduced blood pressure and cholesterol. They can also promote a healthy weight by increasing the feeling of being full.
Nuts and seeds
Rich in fibre, protein and healthy fats, nuts and seeds contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. They can protect effect against heart disease.
It’s one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and have other health benefits. This fish is packed with healthy fats, B vitamins, potassium and selenium. It may lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes and help in weight control.
These ocean plants are dense in multiple nutrients including vitamin K, folate, iodine and fibre. They are a source of unique bioactive compounds with antioxidant properties. Some of these compounds may reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Kefir and yoghurt
Kefir contains protein, calcium, B vitamins, potassium and probiotics. Fermented, probiotic-rich foods like kefir and yoghurt can reduce cholesterol, blood pressure and improve digestion as well as offer anti-inflammatory properties.
It contains high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids and polyphenolic compounds. Olive oil also contains antioxidant vitamins E and K, which can protect against cellular damage. It protects against heart disease and diabetes.