Our desire for that magical ingredient that will help us lose weight faster, think better or live longer has vaulted the term “superfood” into the popular lexicon.
According to Google Trends, we actually hit peak superfood more than two years ago: on January 29, 2016, to be exact, when Jasmin Queen won the ABC reality TV series “My Diet is Better Than Yours” with something called the superfood swap diet. But Google searches containing the term “superfood” are still tracking at around 75 percent of this peak, suggesting that the quest for a diet fix is no fad.
With that level of interest, it’s a hard topic to ignore. Let’s just get something out of the way though: Healthy eating always requires a balance of good, wholesome foods. One particular food is not going to be a silver bullet for whatever you’re hoping to achieve.
That said, some foods are healthier than others, and these are our picks for those that particularly shine. Some of the foods below stand out for their high nutrients-per-calorie, others because of more specialised benefits. All though are excellent staples of any healthy diet.
Salmon is the fish of fish. It’s dense, lean and loaded with nutrients; it’s versatile in cooking and tastes amazing to boot.
A 100-gram portion of salmon contains 20 grams of protein, plus B vitamins, vitamin D, potassium, selenium (which bolsters the immune system) and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.
You may have heard the buzz surrounding omega-3 fatty acids, and it is well deserved. Omega-3’s are an essential nutrient (meaning the body cannot synthesise it, and it must be consumed) that have been linked to heart and brain health. Many fish contain these fatty acids, but it is hard to beat salmon’s balance of lean proteins and fats, micronutrients and taste.
The ancient Aztecs thought chia seeds endowed their warriors with supernatural strength. Indeed, this tiny superfood proves big nutrition can come in a small package. A mere ounce of chia seeds contains 5.6 grams of protein and 11.2 grams of fibre (which helps you feel more full while consuming fewer calories), plus antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids (see above).
But the real magic of chia seeds lies in their high concentration of B vitamins, which boost your metabolism and help you generate the energy you need to feel awake and alert throughout the day. Drop some into your smoothie, salad or cereal if you need the power of the Aztecs to help you get through your workday.
The numerous health benefits of brewed green tea naturally carry over into matcha, its powdered form.
But matcha is not simply ordinary green tea that has been ground up. Matcha tea leaves are grown, cured and processed using a specialised technique that originated in China and Japan. This increases their levels of caffeine and, especially, theanine – a powerful plant-based nutrient that crosses the blood-brain barrier to reduce stress, relieve anxiety, improve memory and cognition, and elevate mood.
The traditional Japanese method of making matcha tea is as meticulous as it is lengthy, but you can enjoy the same health benefits by brewing the powder into a latte of hot milk or tossing a few scoops into a smoothie. Matcha also goes nicely in cakes, muffins, ice cream and other deserts.
Yes, the ordinary chicken egg is a superfood – and not just the egg white, but the whole thing, yolk and all. Eggs contain an amazing assortment of protein (6 grams per egg), vitamins and fats in one compact package. They’re also rich in vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and (once again) B vitamins, which all makes for an energising start to the day.
Eggs also have a reputation for being a high-cholesterol food. While they do contain cholesterol, the Mayo clinic says that “the effect of egg consumption on blood cholesterol is minimal when compared with the effect of trans fats and saturated fats” because only about a quarter of the fats in egg yolk are saturated.
The humble sardine is the butt of many a culinary punchline. Yet contained within this unsightly, oily, fishy-smelling product is a heart of nutritional gold. In fact, sardines have the nearly the same nutrient profile as salmon: they’re rich in omega-3’s, B vitamins and selenium, plus vitamin D, phosphorous, calcium and a high amount of protein.
Yet, unlike salmon, they are inexpensive, compact, ubiquitous and will last literally years when canned. That said, we definitely recommend purchasing sardines fresh from your local fish market and trying them sautéed, smoked or baked.
This pale cousin of broccoli is low in fats, protein, carbohydrates and even fibre (at least compared to other vegetables). However, it is jam-packed with vitamin C and has amazing levels of more specialised nutrients, including carotenoids, tocopherols, ascorbic acid and glucosinolates, which improve cardiovascular health and help prevent neurodegenerative disease, diabetes and some cancers.
The only cereal grain on this list, oats are the gold-standard of clean, complex carbs. Oats are low in sugar and high in fibre, and for a cereal grain they also have quite a bit of protein. Although they are around 66 percent carbohydrates, their energy content contains a strong balance of “rapidly digested” starch, “slowly digested” starch and “resistant” starch (which, like fibre, helps digestion and overall gastrointestinal health).
The take away is that oats are an excellent fuel source to keep your body energised in the short and long term. They also provide high levels of vitamins and minerals, especially manganese, phosphorus, zinc, iron and magnesium, and may help prevent cardiovascular disease and improve overall heart health.
Coffee drinkers can be a little sheepish when discussing their consumption habits with non-coffee drinkers – you know, the sort that orders acai tea after you ask for a double shot latte with skim milk.
Be ashamed no more. In 2017, a meta-analysis by British medical journal BMJ of various coffee research reported a startling conclusion: Coffee drinkers are less likely to die.
Compared to non-coffee drinkers, they are 19 percent less likely to die of cardiovascular disease, 16 percent less likely to die of coronary heart disease and a whopping 30 percent less likely to die of stroke. Coffee drinking has been correlated with lower rates of prostate cancer, melanoma, leukaemia and other common cancers, and lower risk of various liver diseases and overall gastrointestinal health.
The data suggests these benefits peak at three cups per day. Drinking more cups didn’t appear to cause harm, it just reduced the health benefits.
Said Robin Poole, the paper’s lead author: “We don’t know entirely why it has these benefits, but the evidence suggests there is a synergy between caffeine and the antioxidants in the coffee.”
That’s enough evidence for us. Time for another cup!