Superfoods – what are they?

Naturopath Gemma Hurditch answers for CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine).

With the increasing interest in health and wellness, the term ‘superfood’ came into common use in the 1990s. Whilst there is no official definition of a ‘superfood’, it is understood to mean foods that are particularly nutrient-dense and desirable in the diet.

In many parts of the world, producers can claim any food to be ‘super’. This doesn’t mean that every nutrient-dense food will have a claim on the package – many of the most super foods don’t come in packages! It also doesn’t mean every food that is labelled as ‘super’ will be so!

The recent media explosion of ‘black pudding – now a superfood’ is a great example of marketing hype and misuse of the term. So how do we decide for ourselves if a food is super or not?

Chosen correctly, ‘superfoods’, foods with a uniquely high content of bioavailable nutrition (which in turn do not have undesirably high levels of other non-healthful properties!) will enhance the functioning of the body, much like using high quality building materials will improve the durability and quality of a house. For example, in the UK children get more of their vitamin C, B1, B6, folate, iron, magnesium and potassium from potatoes simply because they consume potatoes frequently! Potatoes, whilst delicious, are only considered a ‘good’, not an ‘excellent’ source of any of these nutrients. Imagine the improved nutrition and wellness of our children if we were able to substitute some of our fries, mash and crisps with some super alternatives like dark leafy greens, sweet potato or berries!

It must be understood that the inclusion of one superfood, such as chlorella, in the diet is not likely to undo the damage of having an otherwise poor diet and lifestyle. We should look to having a super diet to give ourselves the best opportunity for vibrant health.

The nutrient factors you want to increase will determine which superfoods to focus on.  If you are looking to boost your memory and concentration for example, it could be best to consider super oily fish options. If you are concerned about your immune system you may want to source some foods which are ‘super’ for their vitamin C and bioflavonoid content, Acai springs to mind.  If heart health is your top concern, there’s the vitamin E rich goodness of almonds. Whatever your goal, there will be different superfoods and combinations of foods to give you a lift.

There are also many all-round superfoods such as spirulina, broccoli or kale which are useful as part of your daily wellness regime.

As well as knowledge of which foods are super-nutritious, we must also know how to use them. Chia seeds, for example, are wonderfully nutritious, but they should be soaked or crushed before eating.  Otherwise they generally end up in your teeth! Turmeric is an immensely useful herb, and it is even better when taken with black pepper for absorption. Green tea may retain more of its antioxidant properties when taken with a squeeze of lemon. A Nutritional Therapist will recommend which foods are bursting with the nutrients you most need for your individual wellness plan, and can also advise you on how best to prepare and enjoy them. Dietary changes are much easier to adopt if we know how and why they will help us, and even more so when they taste great!   Here’s to a super diet and super health!

CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine) is the UK’s leading training provider in a range of natural therapies, including Naturopathic Nutrition, Herbal Medicine, Acupuncture, Homeopathy, Naturopathy, and Natural Chef training.  Colleges across the UK, Ireland, Finland, South Africa and the USA.