The term ‘superfood’ is used to describe foods that are nutrient rich and minimally processed, with proven benefits for overall health. Like a ‘best in show’ list for your grocery shop. It was first used in 1990 by medical journalist Michael Van Straten, as a title for his cookbook. However, what started as a media and marketing strategy quickly took on a life of its own – and here we are now, 20 years later, writing you a list for ‘superfoods 2020’!
There is no set criteria for ‘superfoods’, which is why every article or list you read will be slightly different. In fact, most medical and nutrition experts don’t take this concept seriously, arguing that most wholefoods are ‘super’, in their own way. We tend to agree, however, we’ll take any opportunity to share a little inspiration for eating nutritious food.
The good news is, most foods appearing on superfood lists these days, including ours, are familiar, affordable, and easy to incorporate into your lifestyle. For example, dark green leafy vegetables, berries, legumes, sweet potato, Greek yoghurt, green tea, etc. You might find the odd ‘modern’ food or extract, such as matcha, cricket protein, chicory root and wheatgrass – but take it from us, you can live a long and happy life by sticking with the ‘old and mundane’!
For our Top 5 ‘superfoods’ 2020 list, we’ve tried to think ‘inside the box’, and reintroduce you to some humble ingredients you may already recognize, but haven’t tried yet. It’s time you gave them a go!
Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian meat-alternative, made from fermented soybeans. Once only available in health food stores and Asian grocers, tempeh can now be found in most mainstream supermarkets, due to the surging popularity of vegan diets and fermented foods. It is an excellent source of protein, containing all essential amino acids, as well as range of micronutrients. In fact, a 150g serve of tempeh contains almost as much calcium as 150ml of milk, and over three times the amount of iron found in 2 large eggs. It is also low in saturated fat and carbohydrate, a source of omega-3 fatty acids, and contains prebiotic fibres beneficial for gut health.
How to eat it: Buy a block, dice into cubes, and marinate in spices or Asian flavours. Pan fry or oven bake it, and use it in stir fries, curries and salad bowls.
Fermented, sour cabbage – sounds like every child’s worst nightmare, doesn’t it? Whilst cabbage itself is nutritious, the sauerkraut fermentation process lifts it to ‘superfood’ status, because it stimulates the growth of probiotics. Probiotics promote gut health by aiming to create a positive balance of bacteria in your intestines, aiding digestion, reducing inflammation, and according to new research, reducing the risk of many chronic diseases.
It’s hard to know how many types of probiotic strains are in sauerkraut, especially since every preparation is different. However, one study suggested that up to 28 different strains can be found in sauerkraut, including the widely studied lactobacillus family. That’s far more variety than your average probiotic!
How to eat it: Make it yourself – it’s easy! The rule to remember – 1tbs salt for every 1kg of shredded cabbage (or other vegetables). Shred 1kg of cabbage (any variety) and wash thoroughly. In a large bowl, add 1/3 of the cabbage and 1/3 tbs salt. Massage the salt into the cabbage for 3 minutes, then wait 5 minutes. Repeat this process twice with remaining cabbage. The cabbage will release water during this process, creating a salty brine. Transfer the cabbage to a jar with the brine and pack very tightly. Seal the lid, and store in your pantry at room temperature for 1 week, before transferring to the fridge. For added interest and flavour, try adding shredded carrots and beetroots, garlic, ginger and/or pepper.
Speaking of childhood food aversions - for many of you, frozen peas would be right up there! But even if you have avoided peas like the plague for most of your adult life, it’s never too late to acquire a taste for them. And you won’t be sorry!
Peas earn their ‘superfood’ status for many reasons. Firstly, they are one of the highest vegetable sources of fibre, with 1/2 cup peas providing more fibre than equal volumes of broccoli, sweet potato and spinach. Peas are also higher in fibre compared with most wholegrains, including oat bran, barley and quinoa. As you know, fibre supports gut health by keeping us regular and providing a ‘food source’ for healthy bacteria, allowing them to thrive. Furthermore, soluble fibre can support appetite control, blood sugar control, and lower absorption of dietary cholesterol.
The good news continues for peas. Unlike most vegetables, they are an excellent source of protein. For example, ½ cup of peas has over four times the amount of protein compared with equal amounts of carrot. Despite being relatively low in the amino acid methionine, peas contain all other essential amino acids, in particular, branched chain amino acids such as arginine (supports blood flow, circulation and healing) and leucine (supports muscle growth and repair). This makes them the perfect ingredient for a high protein vegan meal (or non-vegan meal too!), and explains why they have been targeted for vegan supplements.
How to eat it: Frozen peas can be added to just about anything (except desserts maybe!). Add them to salads and stay fuller for longer, or our new favourite trick – mash them with avocado, lemon juice, salt and pepper and spread on wholegrain toast with a poached egg or goats cheese.
They may be small, but chia seeds punch above their weight when it comes to nutrition. In fact, chia seeds are the richest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help to lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation in muscles, joints and organs, and protect the health of our brain and eyes. The good news continues, with two tablespoons of chia seeds (approx. 30g) providing 30% of the recommended daily intake of fibre, with most of this being ‘soluble fibre’. Soluble fibre may help to lower cholesterol, stabilise blood sugars, reduce appetite, and promote gut health. Did you know, chia seeds are also a great source of protein? Two tablespoon of chia seeds will provide 4.5g of protein, about the same as 100g of natural yoghurt.
How to eat it: Chia seed puddings make excellent bulk-cook breakfasts and snacks. For a single serve breakfast, combine ¼ cup of chia seeds with 1 cup of your preferred milk, and a small drizzle of honey (optional). Leave to soak overnight, then in the morning, top with fresh fruit, crushed nuts and plain yoghurt. You can leave chia puddings in the fridge for 3-4 days.
Nothing new to see here! Beetroots have been a diet staple since the 1500’s. However, they reached ‘top ten superfood’ status recently in a survey of 1,342 registered dietitians in the United States, who’ve acknowledged some pretty impressive health benefits. In particular, the nitrites found in beetroot juice have been shown to lower blood pressure, increase circulation and, possibly, improve athletic performance. Beetroots are also rich in folate, antioxidants and phytonutrients, which fight against disease-causing free radicals (i.e. ‘toxins’), and may protect against heart disease and cancer.
How to eat it: Beetroots are not the most attractive vegetable, and their vibrant juice stains everything it touches! But don’t let that put you off. If you’re chasing the health benefits mentioned above, juice your beetroots for a hit of nitrates. Otherwise, roasted or grated beetroots are a delicious addition to salads and homemade dips (we love beetroot hummus!). Put on a pair of gloves if you must, and do not wear a white shirt when preparing or eating. Store any leftover beetroot separately to avoid it staining other ingredients.