I don’t think there is an official definition for what a superfood actually is. For me, superfoods are nutritionally dense foods with a relatively low caloric profile. In other words foods that pack a lot of nutrients, in particular micronutrients like vitamins and minerals into a small amount of calories. As I have mentioned before, I used to suffer from nutritional deficiencies, in particular magnesium and calcium. I remember getting discouraged at how long it took to build up normal levels through supplements alone, so I did my research and found that two main answers to my problems, juicing and superfoods. I have to admit juicing did a lot more to get me back on track but superfoods are a great addition in to the diet, they provide a nice little boost of nourishment when you feel like you need it in addition to a balanced wholefoods diet. More than that, many of them are really delicious.
Today I’m proving a list of the superfoods I use in my diet on a regular basis, what they are, how I use them and what they are good for.
Well this one goes without saying because Cacao makes chocolate. Cacao is the unprocessed version of cocoa. It still retains all its nutrients as it hasn’t been subject to heating and filtering and the likes. Second to juicing cacao helped me the most in my recovery, this is because cacao has the highest amount of magnesium of all the foods that we consume. I started eating a few pieces of raw dairy free and refined sugar free dark chocolate a day and within 3 months my magnesium levels shot up more than they did on a years worth of supplements. That’s the great thing about getting nutrition from food rather than supplements, its highly absorbable and your body can do a lot more with it. That is how cacao helped me but it is probably best known for its high antioxidant content that has been shown to help with ageing, metabolism and weight loss, increasing your mood and is great for heart health. Interestingly a few recent studies have also suggested chocolate is good for the teeth as it can help harden tooth enamel. Of course the studies were conducted with chocolate that had no sugar added at all as sugar is the main cause of tooth decay.
Bee Pollen is a ball of pollen packed together by bees. Bee pollen contains nearly all the nutrients required by humans and is high in protein, mostly in the form of easily accessible free amino acids. The composition of bee pollen does vary significantly according to where bees have been collecting so you never really know how much of a particular nutrient you are getting. The amount of protein can range from 2%-60% but on average it sits at around 40%. My mum remembers being force-fed bee pollen as a little girl because. It seemed to be common practice for all the skinny kids in Romania. I like to add bee pollen to smoothies or as a topping to breakfast or dessert. I also ground it up and put it into my bee superfood blend that I take if I feel a sore throat coming on. I will post a recipe for it soon. Proceed with caution if you are prone to allergies. Many bee foods in particular pollen contain biologically active chemicals which can have wonderful effects on health but in some cases have been shown to interact negatively with some individuals.
Propolis is another substance made by bees. Unlike honey, which comes from pollen, propolis comes from tree sap. The composition again varies widely depending on what trees the bees have been collecting from but generally propolis is great for infections. It is anti bacterial, anti fungal and antiviral properties. Its just a great anti inflammatory thing all round. There is no conclusive evidence on the effects of propolis but many people use it every time they come down with a cold or sore throat. Personally I think it works wonders on a sore throat. The propolis you buy typically comes in a tincture solution, it really gives your throat a good burn on the way down, seems to kill everything as you swallow it. I use it in my bee superfood blend when I have a sore throat. One of my mums friends freezes little teaspoon amounts and chews on them like a throat lozenge. Cant wait to try the idea for myself. (Proceed with caution if you are prone to allergies).
This is a tougher one to write about because I think there is a lot of false marketing around acai berries. Its marketed for weight loss and so many companies have jumped on the acai berry bandwagon and have created acai products that are mostly fillers or other juices with very little acai. But if you can get the good stuff acai is great for its antioxidant effects and like many other superfoods has a host of other nutrients as well. It is best known for its energy producing effects. The main reason acai is getting a mention is because I love Acai Bowls! They are a staple for many people living in the tropics and are so delicious. I also add a little bit of acai powder to my smoothies as well.
mesquite powder is delicious, it is a powder formed by grinding down the seeds or pods of the mesquite tree which grows in arid dessert environments. Mesquite has a low GI, is a great source of dietary fibre and is high in bioavailable protein. It is also rich in minerals like zinc, calcium and iron and is particuairluy high in the essential amino acid lysine which has many different functions in the body including bone formation, collagen formation and the uptake of calcium in the body. Most importantly mesquite is delicious and adds a lovely caramal flavour to desserts and smoothies.
Spirulina is a salt water plant. I actually hate spirulina. It tastes and smells like fish. The smell reminds me of the algal bloom we get about once a year in Townsville. You cant even get close to the beach during that time because it smells so bad. It is getting a mention though because if you like the taste, spirulina is one of the richest sources of minerals you can get including, calcium, magnesium, iron and potassium. It is also high in b vitamins and very high in protein. About 60-70% of the composition comes from protein. I do have spirulina in my pantry and even though I use it very rarely I keep it because I think it works great as a green/blue food colouring. When you use it in very small amounts you cant taste it at all and gives a nice greeny blue tinge to your food. I like to use it in raw desserts with peppermint or lime, kiwi avocado etc to enhance the colour. You can also get it in tablet form which I think would be easier to handle if you are wanting to take it as a supplement.
I like goji berries because they taste good in chocolate. On their own, the first time I tried them I thought they tasted like grass, but they did grow on me over time. Plus they look really pretty in so many desserts. Goji berries are a berry native to Mongolia and Tibet and have been used in China for a long time. They have been claimed to be the most nutritionally dense fruit available and are probably best known for their antioxidant properties and their ability to increase life expectancy. I’m most impressed with them because they have a lot of vitamin C, more iron than spinach and all the essential amino acids and 21 trace minerals. That’s pretty impressive for a fruit. In Australia we usually get the shrivelled up variety as it is pretty hard to find them fresh but I prefer them that way because they last longer.
I think I eat chia almost every day. They are so incredibly versatile and used so well in cooking as an egg substitute or thickener, I put them in smoothies, bake with them, make jam and thicken pretty much anything. They don’t taste like much so they easily take on the taste of whatever you’re making with them. They secrete a gel like substance when put in liquid and expand up to 3 times their size. The gel and high fibre content in chia makes them really great for your digestion helping things pass along easily in your digestive tract. They are also high in good quality protein and omega 3 fatty acids, which is important on a mostly plant based diet.
Royal Jelly is a substance produced by bees used exclusively to feed the queen bee and new bee larvae. Like bee pollen royal jelly is more or less a complete food offering nearly all the nutrients needed for human consumption. It is particularly high in B vitamins and like most bee foods it has natural anti bacterial and antibiotic components. My dad told me stories of people using royal jelly to assist in recovering from illness when he was young. He said it seemed to help people work up an appetite and help speed up the process. I have taken royal jelly in capsule form but I didn’t notice much affect from it at the time. Now I usually just use it in my bee superfood blend. (Proceed with caution if you are prone to allergies).
Turmeric isn’t exactly a nutrient powerhouse however it has a myriad of ant inflammatory effects so it is often grouped together with the other nutrient dense superfoods. Its best known for doing a great job at reducing inflammation in the body so its good for things like arthritis and heart disease and even localised inflammation from injury and dementia. I generally just use it in the usual way in curries but I don’t mind sprinkling it into a few other sauces and bits and pieces that I make. I also like to add it to my carrot and ginger juices if I’m feeling a little run down.
Maca is a root vegetable originating in peru. I was so excited when I first found out about maca. At that stage I was struggling to balance out my hormones and get my heath back on track, so you can imagine how happy I was to stumble across maca which is probably bets known for its hormone balancing effects. I started taking it in supplement form and initially it was great, I noticed an increase in my mood and energy almost straight away but after a few weeks I started to react badly to it. My stomach became very irritated every time I took it, it hurt the entire day and would put you on the toilet within an hour of ingesting it. Thankfully as soon as you stop taking it, your stomach returns to normal. Unfortunately most of the maca, if not all of the maca in Australia is sold raw. Traditionally maca was always cooked up because of its highly irritating affects on the stomach. I took a long break from maca after. Now I use it in much smaller amounts in my cooking like vegan caramal sauces, smoothies, bliss balls etc simply to raise the nutritional profile of the food, add a little bit of hormonal support and also a caramaly type flavour. Many people do not have the same reaction to maca as I did so I thought I would mention it because if your stomach can handle it, a lot of people swear by it.
Lacuma is a fruit native to peru. I’m a little confused wether I should classify lacuma as a superfood or a sweetener. It is mostly used as a sweetener but has a distinct fruity flavour. Like most fruit it is high in fibre and provides a good boost of antioxidants and b vitamins. It has a low GI and can safely be used by diabetics as a sweetener. It provides a beautiful fruity flavour to compliment smoothies, desserts, granola and vegan ice cream