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What are Superfoods?

We’ve all heard the hype about superfoods, but what are they really? Healthy silver bullet or a marketing ploy?

Superfoods are foods that are jam-packed with healthy stuff, like antioxidants, vitamins and disease-fighting nutrients that can give your body the edge it needs. Foods like berries, salmon, yoghurt have all carried the label ‘super’ for their various health-promoting effects.

Generally, superfoods are mostly plant-based, but the list includes some fish and dairy as well. They are foods that have been singled out for their overabundance of things like healthy fats (which may prevent heart disease), fibre (great for the digestion and thought to prevent diabetes), and phytochemicals which give many plants their deep colours and smells.

However, while the science behind many individual superfoods is solid, superfoods isn’t a scientific term or an official food group — anyone can use the term. Unlike organic foods, there is no equivalent stamp of quality from a body like the USDA, so let the buyer beware.

There are things you check for, though. Pay attention to how it's prepared, is it heavily processed? Are there lots of added sugars? A kale smoothie with a load of added sugar, may taste great, but won’t do much for your health. Buy from brands you trust.

Also, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. It’s important to follow government guidelines on portion sizes to avoid health problems later on, like diabetes and obesity.

If you’re planning on emptying out your pantry of everything that isn’t a superfood, hold on a minute. Superfoods on their own aren’t the answer, and really can you imagine what an all-acai berry diet would really look like? But superfoods can play an important part of a balanced diet and should be combined with a healthy lifestyle and plenty of exercise.

Here’s a short list of some common superfoods and as always, check with your doctor or health professional about what’s right for you.

  • Berries: High in fibre, antioxidants and disease-fighting nutrients.
  • Fish: A good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which help prevent heart disease.
  • Olive oil: Great for heart health — contains vitamin E, polyphenols, and monounsaturated fatty acids.
  • Whole grains: They have been shown to lower cholesterol and protect against heart disease and diabetes, and are a good source of both soluble and insoluble fibre. Whole grains also contain several B vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. 
  • Yogurt: Contains probiotics — so-called “good bacteria” — which can protect the body from more harmful bacteria. Also, a good source of calcium and protein. 
  • Leafy greens: In addition to adding fibre to the diet, dark, leafy greens are a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium, as well as several phytochemicals. 
  • Nuts: A good source of plant protein. They also contain monounsaturated fats, which may play a role in reducing the risk of heart disease.
As always, be sure to check with your doctor or health professional about what’s right for you.