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Superfoods: Fact or Fiction?

 INSHAPE NEWS OPINION

Hands Holding Super-Foods

Lee Sutherland – Creator of ‘Fitness in the City’

Nearly every exotic fruit and vegetable these days are being touted by the media as the next ‘superfood,’ and I have absolutely no problem with this. Why? Well, because in a time where obesity and disease are on the rise, I praise anything that draws the attention to eating real food. The kind that only nature can create. This food is full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. So honestly, why would I disapprove of a world that points to broccoli for its anti-cancer causing abilities and takes the spotlight away from the latest McDonalds meal deal?

But, do believe that all of these foods can be classified as superfoods? No, just as there are a handful of genetically blessed individuals in the world, and yes, I’m looking at you Elle, Cindy and Helena, there is also a group of superior superfoods. These foods are higher in nutrients and have cancer fighting agents, and they have one-up on the humble old potato. Actually potatoes are very high in potassium, but moving on…

Below is a list of my favourite superfoods, those  that really pack a punch. You may be surprised to learn that not all of them hail from far off corners of the world. In fact, there may even be one or two sitting in your fridge right now and unbeknownst to you they are withholding those super health powers just for you.

Some of my ‘common’ favourite include the following:

Broccoli: This unfashionable cruciferous  vegetable needs to be resurrected as it is high in antioxidants, fibre and folate. The cruciferous veggie is also well-known for its cancer-preventing powers.

FACT: Did you know veggies from the cruciferous family, such as cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts and kale contain compounds called glucosinolates, which convert into isothiocyanates (ITCs) when you chew them and break the cell walls? ITCs are compounds with proven anti-cancer activities. They remove carcinogens, kill cancer cells and prevent tumours from growing. Amazing huh?

Kale: It seems like kale was on every superfood ‘must have’ list in 2012, but with good reason. It is powered with essential vitamins and minerals, and is fantastic for your skin. Kale can also slow premature ageing.

FACT: A recent Harvard study finds that cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, may protect against bladder cancer. It’s one of the most common cancers in this country, and affects two to three times as many men as women. Scientists analyzed the diets of nearly 50,000 men and discovered that those who ate five servings or more per week of cruciferous veggies were half as likely to develop bladder cancer over a ten-year period as men who rarely ate them. And broccoli and cabbage were singled out as the most protective foods.

Berries: Best known for their anti-aging effects and high in antioxidants, berries are also a great option when watching your weight as they are lower in sugar than most fruits.

Wild Salmon: Contains lots of vitamin D and selenium for healthy hair, skin, nails and bones and is rich in omega 3 fatty acids.

Turmeric: I predict turmeric will be the next big thing. It contains curcumin, a phytochemical that has been shown in laboratory studies to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells and suppress tumor blood vessel growth (angiogenesis). This is my books is a win.

Tomatoes: High in lycopene, and full of micronutrients, vitamins and antioxidants that work together in a way that can ward off cancer, heart disease and other ailments.

FACT: Scientific studies have shown that the more tomatoes you eat, the better. Cooking tomatoes are best of all because simmering them along with some heart-healthy oil, like olive oil, makes it even easier for the body to absorb all of the beneficial properties.

Basil: Holy Basil could be the latest weapon in the war against wrinkles, according to new research. It contains anti-ageing antioxidants that help to protect against free radicals and cancer-causing chemicals that attack organs like the heart, liver and brain and damage nerve cells.

FACT: According to the Telegraph, Dr Shinde, a naturopath said, “The study validates the traditional use of herb as a youth-promoting substance in the Ayurvedic system of medicine. It also helps describe how the herb acts at a cellular level.”

Other household staples which hold super properties include:

Green Tea which is high in antioxidants.

Brazil Nuts that are high in selenium.

Natural Yoghurt which contains good bacteria that fights bad bacteria.

Eggs that are a compact package of nutrition, providing every vitamin except vitamin C.

And for those of you who like the more ‘exotic’ superfood, the ‘best of’ award goes to the following:

Chia Seeds – Rich is essential fatty acids, antioxidants and fibre, Chia Seeds are a high source of protein with all the essential amino acids and are rich in iron. In fact, they are said to contain three times as much iron as spinach. In addition, Chia is a rich source of calcium and has higher bioavailability than milk, which means that you can absorb more calcium per tablespoon of Chia than from a glass of milk.

Acaí – This South American fruit has gained immense popularity worldwide, this is attributed to its excellent health benefits, such as strengthening the immune system, slowing down the ageing process and regulating levels of cholesterol in the body, as well as improving circulation and functioning of the heart, reducing inflammation and detoxifying the body.

Maca – Maca is typically found in the Andes, at a high altitude, where the land is barren and the weather conditions are extreme. These harsh conditions could probably be the reason why the Maca root is full of nutrients, which makes it a highly valued superfood. Maca is a rich source of fatty acids and sterols and is said to increases stamina and libido. The root also improves endocrine system function and regulates hormonal imbalances as well as lowers anaemia and alleviates menstrual discomfort and cramps.

There are many other superfoods that are of benefit to you and your body, if you would like to read more on these then please visit my website.

Lee Sutherland is the creator of Fitness In The City – a personal training blog on all things health, nutrition and fitness. She is also a Master Personal Trainer who trains clients outdoors as well as working at Sydney’s exclusive gym Holistic Fitness.

Sigrid de Castella – ‘Half the Woman I Was’ Author

I feel the question here that needs to be asked is, “Do ‘Superfood’ actually have a scientific basis, or is it just some marketer’s ‘wet dream’ trying to con you into buying more of something?

Let’s see if I can answer this for you. I believe that a ‘Superfood’ is an unscientific label used in different ways, depending on the slant of the article or promotion, for marketing purposes. Generally it’s used to describe foods with high nutrient or phytonutrient content that, if consumed in the right quantities, may lead to ‘suggested’ health benefits. Unfortunately there is no real regulation around the claims of ‘Superfoods’ and many are based on discussion papers or inconclusive and very limited research at best, or purely theoretical suggestion and hypothesis.

The issue with reported ‘Superfoods’ is not necessarily whether they contain health giving properties but rather that there is often no discussion around how much of it you need to ingest to show a marked change, or how much this consumption contributes to, or defeats, a natural healthy diet.

The truth is no one can tell you how much per day, or week, you should be consuming of these so called ‘Superfoods’ because it entirely depends on what other foods you are eating, as well as your body size, genetic factors and your predisposition to disease. However, more is not necessarily better when it comes to ‘Superfoods’ because some ‘Superfoods’ if taken in excess can actually be harmful. Confused? I don’t blame you. Let’s take a closer look at the top eight so-called ‘Superfoods’.

Nuts and Seeds

Form: Raw, not roasted or salted, and preferably organic.

Contains: Calcium, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, omega-3 fatty acids and insoluble fibre.

Claims: Reduces heart disease and colon cancer. Boosts brainpower and balances moods.

Take: A daily dose of 200g. You can find a recipe on my website.

Berries

Form: Raw and preferably organic, or at least well washed.

Contains: Phytonutrients, antioxidants and fibre.

Claims: Reduces cancer and premature ageing.

Take: 250g per week or more of darker coloured berries like blueberries, blackberries and loganberries.

Omega 3 Fish

Form: Fresh oily fish, lightly cooked and not fried.

Contains: Omega 3s (EPA & DHA).

Claims: Essential for brain, heart and immune system health.

Take: 150g of oily fish, such as salmon, at least twice a week or a fish oil supplement.

Seaweed

Form: Fresh or dried.

Contains: Iodine, magnesium and ocean minerals and vitamins.

Claims: Natural metabolism regulator and promotes good health.

Take: A quarter of a cup of kelp, nori, hijiki, or wakame every 2 or 3 days.

Tomatoes

Form: Fresh and ripe, organic if possible.

Contains: Lycopene, as well as vitamins C, A, B and K, potassium and fibre.

Claims: Powerful antioxidant that reduces risk of chronic diseases.

Take: A cup, or more, of raw tomatoes each day.

Beans (Legumes)

Form: Dried, rehydrated, canned and sprouted.

Contains: High nutrition food with phytochemicals, protein, fibre, EFA’s and complex carbs.

Claims: Promotes good heath that prevents ageing and diabetes.

Take: Three cups of beans per week. Anasazi beans are the lowest ‘gas producing’ beans.

Broccoli

Form: Fresh and crisp, organic if possible.

Contains: Lutein, isothiocyanates, Vitamin C and K and Folate.

Claims: Delays age-related poor vision, prevents cancers and repairs DNA, as well as combats heart disease.

Take: At least ½ a cup five times a week of cruciferous vegetables raw or lightly steamed, not boiled.

Soy

Form: Natural soy products like tofu and soy milk.

Contains: Isoflavones and phytoestrogens which mimics estrogen.

Claims: Combats cell damage, reduces menopausal symptoms and prevents prostate cancer.

Take: No more than 30g per day due to its hormone altering properties.

Rather than following the latest ‘Superfood’ trend and over indulging in what may turn out to be an ineffectual, or harmful dose, a better option is to eat a diet that’s rich in raw natural ingredients and low in processed foods. For a comprehensive list of daily vitamin, mineral and trace element requirements and their best natural sources consult my book “Half The Woman I Was.” It contains a complete directory of everything the human body needs for optimal health.

Sigrid de Castella is an internationally published author, speaker, and coach in the fields of health and business. Her book Half The Woman I Was– How I lost 70kg naturally, reclaimed my life … and how you can too!” has received international acclaim and has been hailed as the most comprehensive weight loss book on the market. Sigrid has also studied Personal Training with the Fitness Institute Australia and has a keen interest in whole food nutrition, natural therapies and all aspects of physical and mental health. Sigrid and holds a BBA from RMIT University and is a member of both the Australian Institute of Managers and the Australian Society of Authors.

Sputnik – Chief Swashbukler, The Swashbucklers Club (I’m also an ultra runner and author if that is still too weird)

Is it a train?

It’s hardly surprising so-called ‘super foods’ are coming out of the woodwork faster than a speeding bullet these days. In fact, with the growing list of things classified as super foods, I wouldn’t be surprised if woodwork itself is considered as one of them sooner rather than later.

It seems every where I look someone is banging on about how super this or that is. Whether it’s Chia seeds or quinoa or some other previously unheard of and difficult to pronounce thingy from some exotic location around the world.

That’s not to say some foods aren’t genuinely super. The problem is, the rise and rise of the super food phenomena yet again seems to be based on our desire for a quick fix.

Too many of us are looking for the short cut to better health. The cheat to being fit. The super secret to achieving something amazing. And there’s no question some of these foods will contribute to some of these outcomes. It’s just that, no matter how super they really are, the majority of real progress is made by following the boring old fundamentals. More fresh ‘alive’ foods, less packaged and processed rubbish.

You see, I’m a big believer in the 80/20 rule. That is, 80% of the things you do, make 20% of the difference. And vice versa. And I happen to believe super foods mostly fit into the ‘20% of the difference’ category. Which, if you’re getting the ‘20% of the things that make 80% of the difference’ bit right, then by all means it’s worth seeing if you can’t take things up a notch and see what a difference these super foods can make.

I won’t discuss the finer details of healthy eating here as I’m not really qualified to get into the ins and outs of what to eat more or less of. What I do know is, that as usual, there are no miracle fixes. And if you’re not getting your basic eating right then adding a super food here and there isn’t likely to be the most important thing you can do to make a difference.

If you’re eating fast food and sugar and smoking and drinking alcohol, a sprig of wheatgrass in your fat-burger or adding chia seeds to your daiquiri isn’t going to be all that super. The best I can recommend is that you set aside a little time and energy to read up on these. Even then, don’t fall for the trap of believing everything you read on the internet, see on TV or in magazines.

In fact, you could do worse than to save yourself all that time and energy and see a nutritionist to get expert advice on what would be best for you specifically based on what your own goals and desired outcomes are. Maybe they’ll suggest super foods, maybe they won’t.

Just remember to start with the basics first. Get them right and who knows, you might just produce super results even without the newly ordained super foods.

Have an Out of this World Day!

Since taking up running in 2010, Sputnik has completed numerous road marathons including the New York Marathon as well as a number of ultra trail runs including the Tarawera 100km ultra in Rotorua, NZ and the brutal North Face 100 – a 100km trail race through the Blue Mountains in NSW. His practical, useful and usually at least vaguely entertaining advice and ability to make stupid, difficult and stupidly difficult acts of exercise look a tiny bit enjoyable and possibly even fun has already helped numerous people get off their arses. His mission is to do that a bit more. As testament to his Swashbuckling spirit he has eaten fried tarantulas in Cambodia, climbed active volcanos in Indonesia and been married. In November 2012 Sputnik was part of the first group to ever race the 200+km Manaslu Mountain Trail in Nepal and finished in a blaze of glory several days before everyone else – when he was helivac’d off the mountain half way through after almost dying. He’s fine now though and stands by his motto thatOrdinary is the enemy and must be avoided at all costs”.

Simone Samuels – Australian Holistic Coach

In order to talk about superfoods, we first need to define what a superfood exactly is. The word superfood is a term that has basically been coined by the media, and is one that I believe to be over-used. It seems a new superfood is being discovered every week and it is difficult to know what is a ‘superfood’ and what isn’t and whether this food is something we should rush out to buy.

What I consider to be a superfood is something that we can eat that is nutrient dense and can contribute to our overall health and wellbeing. In my opinion, the true superfoods are foods such as bananas, blueberries, sprouts, broccoli, nuts and seeds and fermented foods like sauerkraut. These are all relatively simple foods that are easy to find, but they have a lot of nutritional benefit. These are foods that we should all be eating as part of our daily diets in order to be healthy and strong.

When we consider the foods that the media call “super,” they are mostly foods that are not essential, but are more of a dietary supplement that people may want to add to their diet to imrpove their overall well-being or to fill a gap in their usual food consumption.

The more expensive and exotic superfoods that are on the market probably do bring many nutritional benefits, but I don’t consider these to be essential foods. They may be nice to supplement our diets with, but not consuming them is not going to cause us harm or lead to health problems. It is also difficult to assess just how beneficial some superfoods really are. I do think that there are some superfoods sold by clever marketers which just cost a lot of money and are more gimmicky than they are beneficial.

That being said, there are some exotic superfoods that I do consume regularly. These are spirulina, maca, chlorella and raw cacao. The spirulina I add to my green smoothies for an extra bit of protein, as I am an athletic vegan. The chlorella I add to my water to aid in removing toxins from my system, as I live in a very polluted city. The maca I like to sprinkle on a fruit salad or add to a nut milkshake, I find it really helps to balance my hormones and PMS symptoms. And the raw cacao is simply delicious. I have dabbled in other new superfoods but haven’t noticed too much difference in the way I feel by consuming them, so I don’t go out of my way to make them a part of my regular diet.

One could go crazy and broke trying to include every new superfood that is sold in their diet. However, eating a wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables, adding sprouts and fermented foods and eating a small amount of nuts and seeds every day will ensure that you have a balanced diet which will lead to good overall well-being.

Simone Samuels is an Australian holistic health coach raw food chef. She also comes under the titles of yogini, scuba diver, photographer, fitness lover, writer, world traveller and life adventurer. She believes that being happy and well is a state that everyone deserves to feel, every day. Simone runs the practice Wellness Warung so she can help busy women to reclaim their wellbeing and empower them to feel happy and hot! Simone received her training as a Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s cutting-edge Health Coach Training Program. During her training, she studied over 100 dietary theories, practical lifestyle management techniques, and innovative coaching methods with some of the world’s top health and wellness experts. She also holds a Master of  Education, and worked as a teacher, trainer and tutor for over a decade before transferring her skills to the role as health coach.

Nick Jack – CHEK Holistic Lifestyle Coach and Personal Trainer

The term superfoods is becoming the latest buzz word in nutrition and health circles. This is a bit like the health & wellness fad a few years ago. I must admit I did not know what people were talking about when they mentioned superfoods. I thought it was some scientifically engineered product that had abnormal amounts of nutrients.

However, I now know that superfood is a term that was developed 20-years ago to describe foods that contain very high level of nutrients. Most of these foods are nothing new and many people eating them would regard them as a “normal” everyday occurrence as most of the superfoods are natural foods such as broccoli, salmon and beans.

These foods, I would agree, are great to include in anyone’s diet and I would highly recommend people including them. This is providing that they are natural, as anything found in a packet, jar or bottle should be avoided due to the preservatives, additives and processing that has occurred. Any food that has been processed typically losses its nutritional value and can no longer be called “Super.”

In addition to this, I would also add caution to fruits. Even though they may be high in certain nutrients they are also high in sugars and can cause all sorts of chaos to a person’s health.

My biggest concern with the label of “Superfoods” is the isolated allopathic approach that western society loves to take in its approach to health. By making a food a superfood it promotes the fact that this food will “FIX ME.” It will reduce my high blood pressure or cholesterol levels and it will cure me of heart disease or reduce my chances of getting another illness.

Sure the food may make a contribution to better health, but the body is a system of systems and no one factor on its own will provide you with the result you are looking for. That is why you need a balanced nutritional approach, you need to eat at the right frequency and you also need to be getting to bed on time. You also need to be reducing your stress and exercising so that you maintain your health and overall wellbeing. You get my point.

Eating ten broccoli stalks a day and not doing anything else, won’t change anything. You need to live a healthy person’s lifestyle everyday to be in good health.

Nick Jack is a qualified CHEK Exercise Coach, Level II Holistic Lifestyle Coach and personal trainer. He runs a personal training business called NO Regrets Personal Training.

Nick likes to lift weights, cycle, run and triathlon. He has played almost every sport at one time in his life. Now, he enjoys spending time walking his dog and relaxing with his wife and friends.

Disclaimer: The information published in this column are based on each of the author’s own professional and personal knowledge, and opinion. This information and opinon is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.
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Comments

  1. Jordan Skillen says:

    I really enjoyed this 🙂

    Like

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