The science behind suerfoods

The science behind superfoods

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Do superfoods live up to the hype? Find out why these nutritional powerhouses are more than just a passing fad.

When it comes to the typical Western diet, we could all do with a little nutritional help, and the rise in popularity of superfoods has the potential to revolutionise the way we eat.

Many plant foods in their unrefined state are worthy of the title “superfood” because of the abundant health benefits they may offer, but there are certain foods that play a starring role and take nutrition to another level. Think acai, goji, pomegranate, acerola, quinoa, matcha– you could be forgiven for thinking these are the names of celebrity offspring, but in fact they’re exotic-sounding, plant-based foods that pack a nutritional punch.

So what does science have to say about all this?

Scientists have long touted the health benefits of phytochemicals and micronutrients, and this is where so-called superfoods come into their own. These foods are packed with antioxidants, and are a concentrated source of vitamins, minerals and amino acids.

New superfoods are popping up faster than you can say “goji berry”, as more research continues to link them to a multitude of health benefits. Clearly, traditional cultures didn’t wait for science to introduce them to superfoods – protein-containing quinoa earned its superfood status as far back as 3000 to 4000 years ago, when it was a staple part of the diet in the Andean regions of modern-day Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia.

Take chocolate for example (if you insist!): the flavonoids found in cocoa and chocolate have been linked to a sense of wellbeing. In Europe, historical documents going back as far as the 17th century pointed to chocolate’s potential to benefit health.

Before celebrating that great news by sinking your teeth into family-sized bar, be aware, many healthful flavonoids don’t survive the processing involved in the making of today’s popular snacks. In the case of chocolate, the greatest concentration of flavonoids would be found in raw cacao – chocolate in its purest and, some say, most delicious form.

RECIPE: Raw cacao + matcha bars

So what does the science really show?

Sadly, that our modern-day diets, along with our penchant for less movement and more reality TV, have led us down a path of ill health. But that by opting for a balanced eating plan that includes more antioxidant-containing fruits and vegetables and other nutrient-dense fare - of which superfoods are the shining stars - we can begin to take back control of our wellbeing, and pave the way for a healthier future.

Chia pudding, anyone?