The Science of Superfoods: Why Are They Important?
Superfoods have been a staple in our diet for a long time. But there’s an increasing buzz and awareness around these foods, and superfoods are indeed, riding high in the popularity meter. But what are superfoods and what’s so ‘super’ about them?
What are superfoods?
The term ‘superfood’ is used to describe a very healthy food item that contains high levels of nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants such as vitamin E, or all the nine essential amino acids.
These foods may also comprise high amounts of essential vitamins and minerals, which may not be available in large amounts in other types of eatables.
Superfoods can be categorized as plant-based and animal-based. Plant-based superfoods include vegetables, avocado, jamun (black plum), and spinach. Animal-based superfoods include eggs and Indian salmon (Rawas).
What are the specific properties of a superfood?
Here are a few attributes that you will find in any superfood:
1. Nutrient density
Nutrient density, defined as containing more nutrients per calorie, is a key property of any superfood. They are nutrient-dense foods that are healthy for the body while also being low in calories. They are typically the opposite of calorie-dense foods, which tend to be higher in calories and low in nutrient content.
However, it is important to note that the properties of a superfood may vary depending on the conditions where it was grown and how it is prepared during cooking.
Take quinoa for example. It contains a sufficient amount of all nine essential amino acids required by the body to make protein including lysine, which is usually missing in whole grains.
2. Good for the gut
It is important to keep the gut healthy. One can do so by eating natural foods that provide nutrients to the good bacteria in the gut. Superfoods are usually packed with fiber, and the nutrients in them may also help balance the gut microflora (microorganisms that live in the digestive tracts) and reduce inflammation in the gut.
3. Rich in antioxidants
Most superfoods are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants provide protection against oxidative stress by substantially reducing the number of free radicals, which are reactive molecules that are naturally produced in the body through processes such as breathing, metabolism, and exposure to UV rays. Excess free radicals can cause damage to cells and make them age faster, leaving them vulnerable to diseases. Antioxidants bind with free radicals to neutralize their effects in the body.
Examples of superfoods with high antioxidant content include dark chocolate, blueberries, asparagus, strawberries, and peaches.
Should you include superfoods in your diet?
Yes, superfoods are beneficial for your health. But it is also important to remember that superfoods alone won’t get you closer to your health goals.
You can include nutrient-dense superfoods or you can also use a combined approach of including a variety of vegetables and fruits that are not superfoods, but balance each other’s nutritional voids when eaten in combination.
Balance is key. It is advisable to combine superfoods with other categories of foods for optimum nutritional benefits. Other factors such as getting enough exercise everyday, adequate sleep, hydration, and managing stress will aid in a more holistic and sustainable approach to accomplishing your health and fitness goals in the long term.
Superfoods to include in your daily diet
Avocados are high in monounsaturated fatty acids, which are important for heart health. It is rich in antioxidants, which help fight inflammation and cellular damage. This superfood contains lutein, which plays a role in protecting against Alzheimer’s and dementia. Avocados may also help reduce inflammation and pain associated with arthritis.
However, there are some downsides to eating too many avocados, mainly due to its high fat content. For instance, 100g of avocado may contain up to 15g of fat. Therefore, excessive consumption may lead to gas, bloating, or an upset stomach. So, if you are planning to include avocados in your diet, ensure that the amount you consume fits your calorie and macronutrient allowance. It is recommended to eat one-fourth to half an avocado a day.
2. Chia seeds
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Chia seeds are one of the most nutritious foods. They contain many essential nutrients and are rich in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. They are touted as a superfood because of their high levels of antioxidants that help fight against excess free radicals, which may cause cancer or inflammation in the body. They also contain heart-healthy unsaturated fats, which may help lower cholesterol.
Additionally, chia seeds have a high fiber content. They have a unique composition of soluble and insoluble fiber. All these offerings make chia seeds a good source of natural food for gut bacteria and may help relieve bowel movements for people suffering from constipation.
While chia seeds have so many benefits, it is also important to note that they are also relatively high in fat and calories, for example, 100g of chia seeds may contain up to 31g of fat. So, moderation is key. Make sure that while you include this superfood in your diet, it does not exceed your daily calorie and macronutrient requirements.
3. Jamun/ Black plum
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Jamun is classified as a superfood due to its rich antioxidant content that includes anthocyanin, which is responsible for its dark coloration.
This superfood has a low glycemic index. So, it does not cause spikes in blood sugar levels unlike other fruits, such as mango or banana, and can be beneficial for a diabetic. In addition, this item has a high amount of vitamin C. This is another reason for it being classified as a superfood.
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Spinach is one of the healthiest vegetables, as it has a high concentration of nutrients. It is low in calories and has a good amount of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
It is rich in enzymes and antioxidants, which help your body fight against free radicals. It is also rich in folate, which boosts your brain health and is responsible for regulating moods.
Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin K and vitamin B6. The latter helps lower cholesterol levels for those who may be at risk for clogged arteries or stroke. This vegetable also provides a good amount of potassium, which controls blood pressure by regulating sodium levels.
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Broccoli is a nutritional powerhouse, as it contains an impressive array of nutrients and phytonutrients. It also has different types of carotenoids that have proven to have a positive impact on your vision.
Broccoli can also be beneficial for people suffering from metabolic diseases or diabetes. It contains a lot of fiber, which helps regulate blood sugar levels. Also, it has vitamins C and A, which help protect cells from oxidative damage.
6. Amaranth seeds
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Amaranth seeds are popular for their high-protein content and low-carb count. Moreover, these seeds are gluten-free, making them an ideal option for anyone having celiac disease or facing other dietary restrictions. You may ground these seeds into flour and use them as a substitute for wheat flour.
Apart from providing dietary fiber, proteins, and minerals, these seeds contain antioxidants and phytonutrients that fight cancer, heart disease, diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
7. Indian salmon (Rawas)
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Indian salmon, commonly known as rawas, is one of the healthiest seafoods. It is rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which have a positive effect on brain development, learning abilities, and mood.
A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that an increase in dietary omega-3 fatty acids may help improve certain aspects of mental function, including memory and attention span. Rawas is also rich in vitamin B12, which helps in building immunity in the body.
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Eggs are one of the most nutrient-dense, inexpensive foods available. Additionally, they are good for your health and can help with muscle-building by providing all the essential amino acids.
Some studies have shown that eggs can reduce the risk of heart disease. It is because they lower inflammation, which is associated with several medical ailments, including heart disease.
Moreover, consuming eggs lowers the chance of contracting type-2 diabetes, decreases the levels of bad cholesterol (LDL), and helps in building stronger bones.
However, it is important to eat eggs in moderation as they are high in fat and cholesterol. So, this item may not be suitable for people suffering from cardiovascular diseases.
Nutrition is an integral part of accomplishing your health and fitness goals. And good nutrition is more than focusing on individual nutrients or jumping on the bandwagon of food trends. Instead, it is recommended that you include a variety of nutritious foods, covering all food groups. While including superfoods to your diet might be one of the best things you could do for your body, just remember to combine them with other food types for a balanced diet.
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