Top 5 superfoods: why are they so good for you and how you can add them to your diet
As part of our collaboration with Fiovana we asked nutritionist Zara Stella to tell us about her top 5 Superfoods and what it is about them that makes them so super!
Superfoods are nutrient dense foods packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which can help us to ward off diseases, lose weight, age better and live a healthier life. Here are my top 5 superfoods:
Like green tea, matcha comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. The big difference between matcha and other green tea is that matcha is grown in the shade, which increases the amount of cell-food chlorophyll in it and gives it its bright-green colour. Matcha is made by grinding up the tea leaves into a powder, creating a very concentrated version which tends to be quite expensive but a little goes a long way.
Matcha has three times the amount of EGCG than regular green tea. EGCG is a powerful antioxidant which has cancer-preventing and metabolism boosting properties. It also contains L-theanine which has also been shown to increase alpha wave activity in the brain, which may help induce relaxation and decrease stress levels.
I personally love the sense of calm and the sort of relaxed alertness that you get by drinking matcha. However, keep in mind that it has a more concentrated amount of caffeine than green tea, so avoid excessive amounts and don’t drink it late in the afternoon if you struggle with your sleep. You can drink matcha tea or latte (any type of milk will work well) and you can add matcha powder to smoothies, granola, porridge or yogurt. Some people use matcha as an ingredient in both sweet and savoury dishes like muffins, puddings, soups, and bread.
Spirulina is a blue-green alga and it’s considered one of the most nutritious superfoods available. Its main active component is called phycocyanin, an antioxidant which gives spirulina its unique deep colour.
Spirulina is an excellent source of protein as it contains all the essential amino acids that you need, and it also provides lots of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. It has cancer fighting and anti-inflammatory properties, and it can help reduce blood pressure and lower blood sugar levels too.
If you find the taste a little too strong try to blend it in a smoothie or make a delicious almond latte with it. You can also add it to homemade protein balls, omelettes or biscuits. I like to use spirulina when I make pesto too.
Beetroot is higher in sugar than most vegetables, but they are packed with nutrients like iron, manganese, copper, potassium and magnesium and make a great addition to the menu. They provide a good source of fibre, which is beneficial for digestive health, as well as reducing the risk of several chronic health conditions.
Beetroots are rich in betaine and folate which help to reduce potentially toxic levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that can be harmful to blood vessels and contribute to the development of heart disease, dementia and stroke.
The special factor of beetroot is that they have a high concentration of nitrates which get converted to nitric oxide, a molecule that dilates blood vessels, leading to lower blood pressure. Dietary nitrates also enhance physical performance, so beetroots are a favourite amongst athletes. It’s worth considering that dietary nitrates are water soluble, so it is best to avoid boiling beets to maximize their nitrate content.
One of the best ways of adding them to your diet is probably to add them to juices, salads and dips. Beetroots ca also be roasted, steamed or pickled. Don’t discard the leaves, they are delicious and can be eaten just like spinach.
If you are a chocoholic, you’ll be very happy to discover the benefits of raw cacao. Cacao is the raw component derived from the bean of a cacao tree and it’s not to be confused with cocoa which is a lower quality, processed and nutrients depleted version of cacao that is found in most store-bought chocolate bars. Dark chocolate still has some benefits (70% or higher) as the higher the percentage of cacao, the more antioxidants and flavanols you’ll get. 100% raw cacao is best though, and it contains no sugar or other additives.
Cacao is a true nutrients powerhouse with calcium, magnesium, carotene, vitamins E & B, iron, zinc, and potassium. Cacao is extremely rich in flavanols which are a type of flavonoids. These antioxidants support heart health as they help to lower LDL cholesterol (the ‘bad’ type), improve blood flow, lower blood pressure and reduce insulin resistance. Cacao can boost your energy levels naturally, increase the levels of serotonin -the feel-good chemical- in the brain and helps fight premature skin ageing. Apparently raw cacao contains 20 times more antioxidants than blueberries, so we might as well consider it the king of superfoods!
I like to add raw cacao nibs to smoothies and sprinkle cacao powder on porridge. I find that they are best mixed with something that has natural sweetness -like bananas or nuts- to balance the bitter taste of the cacao. You can also add cacao powder when you bake and make a delicious raw chocolate ice-cream with frozen bananas, cacao powder and cacao nibs.
These berries are native to the Amazon region and a true Brazilian superfruit.
Most of the acai berries powerful health benefits come from their high antioxidants’ levels, and especially anthocyanins which give them their deep purple colour. These antioxidants have powerful anti-inflammatory effects, can support detoxification, and help fight cancer cells growth. The fibre found in Acai berry skin and pulp can aid digestion, relieve constipation and support a healthy cardiovascular system.
Acai is also naturally high in essential fatty acids which are important for heart health and a healthy nervous system. Acai berries contain as much Vitamin C as blueberries and is also a source of Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3 and vitamin E. It is also a source of calcium, magnesium, zinc and copper.
Fresh acai berries have a short shelf life, so what we tend to find here is usually the dried powder which delivers the most concentrated amounts of nutrients. You can add this to your favourite smoothie, porridge, breakfast bowls, and homemade granola. I love to make acai bowls with frozen acai and other mixed fruits, yogurt and seeds.