What are Superfoods and why eat them?
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
Superfoods are an excellent way to make up for dietary deficiencies. They are foods that are very high in essential nutrients to help us reach optimum levels of health by providing us with the vitamins and minerals which are missing from our diet.
Over the last few decades, agricultural practices to feed the masses have seriously depleted our soils and hybridised our food, in turn reducing the nutrients in food. While organic farming is increasing, it is nowhere near the levels required to feed our populations and while still in the developing stage, prices are also higher.
Many nutritionists claim that deficiency is worse than toxicity. Even though toxic build up needs to be dealt with, in some ways the body can cope with a certain amount of toxicity.
However, mineral, vitamin, protein, fat or even enzyme deficiencies can have a serious and immediate impact on your health.
Recent research has shown that most ‘westerners’ are protein deficient at a cellular level and that includes meat eaters. As for minerals and vitamins most people fall well below the required levels for optimum health. Fruit, which was once highly mineralised and low in sugar, has now been so hybridized that it reduces the proportion of fibre.
Because fibre helps to release sugar into the body slowly, the reduction of fibre creates sugar spikes which increase the risk of all sorts of problems including diabetes and cardio-vascular disease. For example, wild bananas, oranges and strawberries contain high amounts of minerals and are much lower in sugar than their commercially grown counterparts.
In one of many experiments on mineralisation, a research scientist, Maynard Murray, found that hens that were fed food containing the full complement of organic minerals grew larger, laid larger eggs, exhibited perfect health, were free from disease and remained calm when approached by people.
The hens in the control group were fed the same food with the mineral content depleted. These hens were nervous when approached by people, exhibited diseases such as slipped tendons and worms and several died of unknown causes. None of the mineralised chickens died during the same period. These experiments were repeated with other animals and crops with similar results.
Following are eleven superfoods with various properties that may benefit your health and vitality.
1. Organic Spirulina: protein, vitamin and mineral powerhouse
Spirulina contains a powerful combination of nutrients including most of the essential minerals and vitamins (particularly iron and B vitamins), protein, and has ten times the amount of beta carotene than carrots.
Apart from mother’s milk, spirulina is the only other whole food that contains Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA). Spirulina is also a rich source of magnesium and many easily absorbable trace minerals.
2. Wild Eucalyptus Bee Pollen: the king of foods
Bee pollen is considered by nutritionists to be one of the most complete foods found in nature. It is a rich source of high-quality protein because it contains all the essential amino acids.
Bee pollen contains vitamins A, B, C, and E as well as being very rich in B vitamins including Folic Acid. Bee pollen contains many minerals, including: barium, boron, calcium, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium, and zinc.
It has more than 5,000 enzymes and the phytonutrients such as co-enzymes, bioflavanoids, phytosterols, and carotinoids. Bee pollen also contains 15% natural lecithin and is an alkalizing food.
Warning: some people have an allergic reaction to bee products including pollen.
3. Organic coconut oil: another miracle nature food
Coconut oil is the highest source of saturated medium chain triglycerides (MCT) of any naturally occurring vegan food. Around 50% of these MCT’s are made up of Lauric Acid, the most important essential fatty acid in building and maintaining the immune system. Mother’s milk is the only other source of Lauric Acid.
These medium chain fatty acids are more digestible and much more stable than any other fat and can be left at room temperature for a year without going rancid. Coconut oil is great for the skin when consumed and also if applied externally for dryness and sensitivities.
Coconut oil also has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties. For these reasons it’s a powerful ally in the fight against candida.
Incredibly, even though it is a fat, coconut assists weight control by promoting the body’s ability to burn unwanted fat. It has even been shown to lower bad cholesterol. For this reason, coconut oil has been used for hypothyroidism to increase the body’s metabolism.
4. Cacao: nature’s super antioxidant and anti-depressant
All chocolate is made from the cacao bean, the seed of the Amazonian cacao fruit, which in its natural, unprocessed, unadulterated state has a unique array of nutritional benefits.
Natural raw cacao contains over 300 chemically identifiable compounds making it one of the most complex food substances on earth. It contains anandamide (happy chemical), arginine (natures Viagra), dopamine (reward neurotransmitter), epicatechins (antioxidants), histamine (good for some, bad for others), serotonin (anti-stress neurotransmitter), tryptophan (anti-depressant neurotransmitter), and polyphenols (anti-oxidants).
Cacao also contains high levels of magnesium, an anti-stress mineral, and nearly twice the antioxidant level of red wine and up to three times that of green tea.
Normal chocolate is made by roasting cacao beans to become cocoa, which decreases cacao’s many nutritional qualities (and milk and sugar is also usually added).
Making chocolate with raw cacao or cacao butter or coconut oil, plus (as a sweetener) agave syrup or honey or maple syrup or rice bran syrup, will give you the same taste sensation, along with cacao’s wonderful benefits.
While cacao beans contain caffeine and theobromine, experiments have shown that these stimulants are far different when consumed raw than cooked.
5. Chia Seeds: super strength food
Chia seeds are a true super food, somewhat secret in modern times. The seeds were once valued so much that they were used as currency and as a staple food for Incan, Mayan and Aztec cultures. ‘Chia’ is the Mayan word for strength, and it’s said that Aztec warriors subsisted on the Chia seed during conquests and warriors would eat as little as a teaspoon when going on a 24-hour forced march.
Chia seeds are high in easily digestible protein, essential fatty acids (particularly Omega 3), soluble fibre and antioxidants. Due to their gel-forming characteristic, chia seeds are effective in creating a physical barrier between carbohydrates and the digestive enzymes that break carbs down, thereby slowing the conversion of carbohydrates into sugars, making them ideal for diabetics.
6. Flax Seeds: essential Fatty acid boost
The greatest nutritional benefit flax has to offer is its high Omega 3 essential fatty acid content. Benefits include lowering total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) levels and lowering blood pressure.
Flax also contains a variety of vitamins and minerals: vitamins A, B1, B2, C, D, E, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, sulphur, sodium, chlorine, iron and zinc. It also contains fibre and mucilage which promote healthy intestinal function.
The alpha linoleic acid (a type of Omega 3 fat) in flax may help prevent heart attacks by reducing the risk of potential deadly blood clots as well as abnormal heart rhythms. Flax also provides the highest plant source of phytoestrogens, which may play a key role in the prevention of breast, prostate and colon cancers.
7. Himalayan Crystal Salt: the healthy salt full of minerals
Himalayan salt is mined by hand from a protected area of the Himalayan Mountains. It is free of the pollutants found in sea salt and table salt. The salt contains 84 of the possible 92 trace minerals, in the same proportion that naturally exists in our blood. It has a highly crystalline structure which allows nutrients to be absorbed at the cellular level, thus purifying the body physically and bio-energetically.
Consumption of Himalayan Crystal Salt has been associated with neutralizing the acid/alkaline balance in the body, breaking down the build-up of heavy metals, stimulating blood circulation and the nervous system and re-mineralizing the body.
8. Goji Berries: nutritionally dense with loads of antioxidants
Grown in Asia and long regarded as a longevity, strength building and sexual potency food. The berries may be one of the most nutritionally dense foods available, containing 18 amino acids, all 8 essential amino acids and 21 trace minerals.
Goji Berries are the richest source of carotenoids and have 500 times the amount of vitamin C by weight than oranges. In addition to these and other vitamins, goji berries also contain about 11mg of iron per 100grams and an array of powerful phytochemicals.
9. Mesquite Powder: high protein sweetener
No, it’s not made from mosquitoes. It’s a traditional Native American food produced by gathering ripened seed pods from the mesquite tree and grinding them into a fine high-protein powder (approximately 20% protein).
Used as a staple food for centuries by desert dwellers, this high protein meal contains good quantities of calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and zinc, and is also rich in the amino acid lysine. It has a sweet, rich, molasses-like flavour with a hint of caramel which blends well into smoothies or other drinks, especially those made with cacao and maca.
Researchers report that mesquite is highly effective in balancing blood sugar.
The natural sweetness in the pods comes from fructose. Fructose doesn’t require insulin to be metabolised which makes it safe for diabetics. The high rate of dietary fibre (pods are 25% fibre) causes the nutrients in mesquite to be absorbed slowly preventing the spikes and valleys in blood sugar.
With a low glycaemic index of 25, mesquite requires a longer time to digest than many grains. These factors result in a food that maintains a constant blood sugar for a sustained time and as a result, prevents hunger. This food supports diabetics and helps maintain a healthy insulin system in those not affected with blood sugar problems.
10. Maca Root Powder: hormonal balancer
Maca root is native to the mountain regions of Peru, where it has been used by native Indians as a vital health ingredient for thousands of years. Maca root contains significant amounts of amino acids, carbohydrates and minerals including calcium, phosphorous, zinc, magnesium, iron, plus vitamins B1, B2, B12, C and E.
Maca root has been associated with improving fertility, hormonal balance, increased sperm count, stimulating and strengthening libido and increased energy and vitality.
11. Organic Wheat Grass: a great all-rounder
High in chlorophyll and contains a wide range of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, antioxidants and rich in fibre. These nutrients are easily assimilated through our digestive tract giving our body instant vital nutrients including potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, beta carotene, B1, B2, B6, C, Folate and pantothenic acid.
Regular ingestion of organic wheat grass can improve the digestive system, alleviate constipation, help detoxify heavy metals from the blood stream, cleanse the liver, prevent hair loss and help to make menopause manageable.
Wheat grass juice is best taken as a ‘shot’ – just throw it down and chase it with something that tastes nice. It has a liquid grass taste like peas, but stronger. Beware of drinking organic wheat grass on an empty stomach as it can cause transient nausea. As it works through your system you may even get an upset tummy, but this passes quickly when you rush to the toilet and flush out your toxins.
For some, wheat grass juice works on the bowels very quickly, yet others may not be affected. The more toxic you are the more the reaction. Don’t let this put you off because wheat grass juice is a powerful detoxifier. You will probably get used to the taste – some even love it.
You can also use wheat grass as a dried powder and mix into smoothies with fruit. When I juice wheat grass, I also add lemon grass to flavour the mix.
Spirulina by itself doesn’t taste good, but when mixed in a blender with fruit, rice milk, soaked almonds, soaked dates and sunflower seeds (preferably sprouted) it tastes great and is a quick nutritious alternative breakfast or lunch.
You can also add other superfoods to the mix, such as soaked goji berries, bee pollen (if not allergic to bee products), a tablespoon of coconut oil and cacao powder – all of which makes it taste like a crunchy chocolate milkshake – and it’s super nutritious.
Another delicious way to enjoy superfoods is to make chocolate with raw cacao powder and mix in the other superfoods (except the wheat grass) and refrigerate into chocolate moulds and hey presto, the most nutritious chocolate you have ever eaten. It’s a chocolate lover’s dream!
By stealth it’s the tastiest vitamin, mineral, antioxidant and enzyme ‘pill’ you’ve ever had. Even the kids will ask for a second (and third) dose. Here’s the recipe:
1 cup cacao powder
1 cup raw cacao butter (or for more nutrition, substitute with coconut oil, but chocs must be kept in the fridge)
3 tablespoons coconut oil (if not using coconut oil above)
4 tablespoons of Agave syrup (low GI sweetener made from cactus)
Pinch of Himalayan salt
3tsb bee pollen
½ cup of soaked goji berries well drained
¼ cup almonds
¼ cup sultanas or raisins
½ tsp ginger or chili powder
2 vanilla pods
1 tsp Mesquite meal for extra sweetness and protein
1 tsp Maca root powder
1. Pour hot water into a big bowl then place a smaller bowl into the large bowl, then add butter or coconut oil and melt gently.
2. Add cacao powder to a blender with other desired ingredients.
3. Add melted oil or butter and blend till smooth.
4. Spoon mix into chocolate moulds or ice cube tray and put in fridge to set for 30mins.
5. Eat and enjoy guilt free with the knowledge that it’s good for you (in moderation of course).
Coconut oil gives a stronger coconut taste to the chocolates, so if you don’t like coconut, make them with the cacao butter which has a higher melting point than coconut oil, so they don’t need to stay in the fridge.
Coconut oil is better nutritionally, but cacao butter does have antioxidants which also makes it a good fat. If you can’t get the ingredients at a health shop, you can purchase them online.