This informal CPD article on Superfoods was provided by Pocket Nutrition, a nutrition and health focused company combining innovative technology and learning methods to deliver substantive educational experiences that are truly rewarding.
What are Superfoods?
Superfoods are foods (usually vegetable/fruits) considered to be powerhouses of nutrients and consumption of these nutrients is correlated with lowered disease risk/ incidence. Superfoods regularly come in out of vogue; there is often a new favourite of the month that is purported to have the health-giving properties in abundance that we all need. However, there are no universally agreed conventions applied when awarding a food superfood status and there is much debate and controversy associated with superfoods, especially the way they are marketed.
The claims attributed to the health potential of a particular food may often be based on research that is questionable or may be of little significance, e.g. is it reasonable to claim that seaweed is a superfood? Seaweed contains a host of nutrients that are associated with health such as vitamin B12, an important micronutrient beneficial for good digestion, however it contains natural toxins microcystins, which may cause liver damage.
Therefore, when thinking of foods as superfoods, they should be considered in their entirety and should be proven to contain nutrients that confer special health benefits. These superfoods should also deliver their benefits within reason, e.g. one should be able to consume reasonable or modest amounts of these foods to gain from the associated health benefits.
Here are four foods that may be regarded as having superfood status, i.e. are highly nutritious and may confer health benefits:
Avocados are a unique food and are often described as offering ‘complete’ nutrition: they contain an array of vitamins, minerals, monounsaturated fats and ‘complete’ protein making them highly nutritious. Avocados provide monounsaturated fat which is quickly absorbed and utilised in the body as a means of energy, therefore it is less likely to contribute to fat storage and deposition. The complete protein found in avocados offers as a source of highly absorbed energy and is commensurate for tissue repair and immune system maintenance.
Avocados are rich in potassium, which may be lost from the body by vigorous exercise through sweat, alcohol consumption and over use of some medications; potassium is required for normal nerve and muscle function. Avocados are good source of vitamin E which help to maintain the full life span and function of red blood cells, therefore aiding optimum oxygen delivery and usage to tissues and cells.
Avocados are a good source of the antioxidant glutathione, which is related to immune function – the effectiveness of T-cells, the body’s primary disease fighting cells are increased by glutathione, so it is important for to keep levels of glutathione topped up.
Blueberries are superfoods that deliver vital nutrients in a very low in sugar package. They are rich sources of components that are particularly useful for strengthening the immune system: vitamin C and proanthocyanidins. A strong and efficient immune system helps to counteract challenges from daily life and lifestyles and factors that may be detrimental to health such as stress and poor diet; blueberries
Blueberries contain a significant amount of vitamin C, which is augmented by the presence of bioflavonoids in the berries, these are natural pigments that stimulate the uptake and utilisation of vitamin C in the body. Vitamin C bolsters the immune system, is anti-viral and is a potent anti-oxidant.
Blueberries contain powerful phytonutrients (plant nutrient) proanthocyanidins which increase the production of a class of interleukins in the body. These particular interleukins promote the activity of the body’s natural killer cells, which seek signs of abnormal growth of cells (that could progress to disease/ cancer) and subsequently initiate corrective responses.
Broccoli is a fine superfood in that it is a highly nutritious green leafy vegetable, containing a variety of synergistic nutrients and factors enhance energy production and guard against development of cancer.
Broccoli is one of the few vegetable to contain significant amounts of the potent antioxidant coQ10 (spinach is the other). CoQ10 is synthesised in the body, however production declines with age, so dietary source are important to keep levels high in the body. Medications such as commonly used statins are also associated with reduced levels of coQ10. CoQ10 is an also important aid for energy production in the mitochondria of cells thus maintenance of coQ10 levels may be particularly important for those who experience low energy.
Broccoli contains sulforaphanes and indoles, these are powerful compounds that are known to have strong cancer fighting potential. Supforaphanes are sulphur based compounds that increase the body’s production of anti-cancer enzymes and are themselves directly lethal to cancer cells. Indoles work by occupying the oestrogen receptors of cells that may become cancerous; high consumption of the main broccoli indole, indole-3-carbinol, has been correlated with greater protection against cancer.
Spinach is a highly nutritious green leafy vegetable, which contains a synergistic combination of nutrients and phytonutrients that promote health in the body when consumed, making it a superb superfood. Vegetables with similar properties include pak choy, curly kale, Swiss chard.
Spinach provide a good source of beta-carotenes, the vegetable versions of vitamin A. Carotenes work in the fatty environments of cells such as cell and inner cell membranes, where they confer their strong antioxidant protective qualities. These sites are particularly susceptible to damage, being a target for the action of the highly damaging free radicals. Beta-carotene from spinach helps to neutralise free radicals and therefore aiding the function of cells. Spinach is also a source of lipoic acid, an antioxidant that recycles both water soluble and fat soluble antioxidants, helping to increase all-round antioxidant status in the body. Lipoic acid also helps to break down sugar in the body so that it may be used for energy which is useful in controlling weight.
Spinach contains high levels of lutein, another type of carotenoid. Lutein is a strong antioxidant which displays potent activity in many tissues and is particularly protective in the eyes.
More about Superfoods
Superfoods are predominantly, but not exclusively, from the plant kingdom and are characterised by having a large quotient of high-quality bio-available nutrients that promote health. Each superfood varies significantly, but to justify status as a superfood, it should naturally contain some of the following features in abundance: vitamins and minerals, essential amino acid, essential fatty acids, fibre, specific enzymes and phytochemicals.
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