According to the Oxford Dictionary, “superfood” is defined as “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being.” The term was coined in the early 20th Century, but many such foods have been celebrated in traditional cultures for centuries for their health-promoting benefits.
Abir Hamza-Goodacre is a BANT-Registered Nutritional Therapist who works at our Hospital, looks into the traditional wisdom behind five of these nutrient-based elixirs.
The story of ginger, also known by its scientific name Zingiber officinale, dates back 5,000 years. The Indians and ancient Chinese used the root of ginger as a tonic to treat common ailments and to the Romans it was a strong symbol of wealth and fertility.
Ginger contains a specific compound called gingerol, which is thought to be responsible for its multitude of health benefits.
Studies show that ginger can help relieve nausea, decrease fasting blood sugar levels, increase working memory and reduce inflammation.
Ginger can be used fresh and in powdered form both in meals and teas.
Goji berries have been a staple in traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries, credited with improving vitality, energy and longevity. With up to 12 times the antioxidant levels of blueberries, it’s no wonder these berries top the charts as one of the most nutrient-dense superfoods.
They are also loaded with nutrients that may help prevent eye disease, protect against skin damage and have been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
You can find goji berries in dried or powder form at supermarkets and health food shops. Try adding them to a salad or in smoothies if using the powdered form.
For centuries, the Japanese and other Asian cultures have understood the healing benefits of mushrooms, incorporating them in food, teas and healing elixirs to combat everything from chronic inflammation to poor gut health. Here are some of the superstars that are available fresh or in dried form in most supermarkets:
Shiitake to ward off pathogens
Their primary function is to help regulate the immune system. Perhaps their greatest influence is on the activity of the macrophages (the "pack man"-like white blood cells that dissolve cancer cells, viruses and infection).
Maitake as Your Flu Shot
Maitake is high in compounds called beta glucans, which stimulate the immune system to activate certain cells and proteins that attack cancer cells and pathogens that don’t belong in a healthy body.
Reishi to fight infection
Reishi mushrooms have been used for centuries to boost immune system function and even combat the symptoms of potentially deadly viral infections including the flu, swine flu and avian flu. They have also been indicated in other upper respiratory conditions.
Chaga to soothe
Chaga is known for its immune supporting and soothing properties. Many traditional healers have used it as a soothing tea for ulcers and gastritis. It has also shown potential for helping to maintain healthy blood pressure levels.
Top tip: Add fresh or dry mushrooms to casseroles, soups, and sauces.
A staple of the European diet for millennia, this umbrella term for a group of vegetables that include broccoli, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and collards, cannot go without a listing in the top five superfoods.
The astonishing concentration of vitamin A carotenoids in cruciferous vegetables and their unusually high content of vitamin C and manganese are clearly key components in their growing reputation as an antioxidant vegetable group, not to mention their excellent source of fibre.
Kale and collards in particular also offer a megadose of vitamin K, a conventional nutrient that is being increasingly linked to regulation of our inflammatory response and chemo preventive properties.
“Better to be deprived of food for three days, than tea for one’ ancient Chinese proverb.
Green tea is a type of tea made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, which is the same plant used to make other types of tea like black, white and oolong tea. Unlike other tea varieties, however, green tea undergoes very little processing, which helps to maximize its antioxidant and polyphenol content. These attributes have been shown in research to boost metabolism, improve oral hygiene, enhance insulin sensitivity and decrease several risk factors for heart disease.
Simply start by brewing 1-2 cups per day to incorporate this superfood into your routine.
You can see that certain foods do pack a punch when it comes to health but remember that no single food contains all the necessary nutrients for overall health and wellness. Rather, they can be incorporated into a balanced and diverse diet for maximum benefit.
Published on 13 October 2020