From broccoli and kale to quinoa, super foods come and go, yet Fahmida Jafri, Head of Nutrition at Gulf Medical College Hospital and Research Centre (GMCHRC) explains that a super food is the name given to a food which has strong nutritional qualities that you can only benefit from if you eat the food in its entirety. “Foods with the following features can also be placed under the category of super foods, although no standard definition of this term is available,” she says. “These include those foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, omega-3 essential fatty acids or fibre compared to its calorie count.” Also these foods have 25 percent or more of the recommended intake of two or more nutrients in a serving or else is extremely rich in one nutrient, having 50 percent or more of its recommended intake for the day. And furthermore, in addition to the normal nutrients, this food should contain significant quantities of what could be regarded as health-promoting and/or protective substances such as phytonutrients or other substances not usually found in foods in its class. “These are also minimally processed without being enriched, provide essential nutrients without overloading the body with salt, saturated fat, trans-fat, sugar or other compounds linked to poor health as well as be linked by research to potentially reducing risk of illness or poor health,” she tells as well as have healing qualities which have been acknowledged by traditional medicine.
The Top 10 Super Foods
Broccoli, says Fahmida, is exceptionally high in antioxidants and adheres to the rule of thumb ‘the brighter the colour, the better the vegetable is for you.’ “Broccoli, many a dietician’s favourite vegetable, contains high levels of key antioxidants as well as a number of vitamins and minerals,” she says and is versatile as it can be added to vegetable dishes and stir fries.
The next super food is carrots which Fahmida says are a huge boost of the antioxidant beta-carotene. “Another brightly coloured vegetable choice, carrots are packed full of beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A,” she says and in fact, just one carrot a day will keep the doctor away and is a great snack food choice teamed with peanut butter or low fat hummus. “However remember that over cooking vegetables is a sure way to kill the vitamins so if you cook your carrots, aim to lightly steam them or alternatively make it a daily ritual to snack on a carrot on the way home from work,” she advises.
Another super food is oats, brimming over with low glycemic goodness. “A single serve of oats each day provides you with a substantial amount of soluble fibre; the type of fibre known to help reduce blood cholesterol levels,” she explains with oats having one of the lowest Glycemic Index ratings of all grains. Fahmida suggests to look for the coarsest oats (steel cut) you can find, rather than the ‘quick cook’ varieties and team with plenty of low fat milk and a little cinnamon rather than adding sugar.
Lean red meat is chock full of iron and zinc, rendering it a super food. “While many people eliminate red meat from their diet instead thinking that fish and chicken are healthier options, so long as you choose lean meat, you are getting a more nutrient-dense choice than both chicken and fish,” says Fahmida as lean red meat is a rich source of iron, zinc and vitamin B12, which are all crucial for optimal energy production, particularly for active people. “Red meat consumption should be once per week for normal individuals in a two ounces portion size,” tells Fahmida while active individuals can consume 100 to 200 grams of red meat per week depending on their exercise levels.
Atlantic Salmon is an Omega-3 power house which is actually one of the richest natural sources of omega-3 fats. “The health benefits include reduced triglycerides and blood pressure,” says Fahmida and urges us to consume at least two servings every week. “It is an excellent source of zinc and also contains iodine and potassium,” she says and Omega-3s are considered ‘essential’ fatty acids as we need them for good health. Unfortunately our bodies can’t make them so we have to rely on our dietary intake, she tells and in fact, Omega-3s have been linked with protecting against breast and other cancers and relieving autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease with their anti-inflammatory properties.
Kiwi fruit, though small, is actually the equivalent of an entire daily requirement of vitamin C, tells Fahmida. “This furry fruit is packed full of nutrition and a great choice of lunchbox filler for kids,” she says. “Cut the top off the kiwi, and team it with a spoon for a sweet tasty fruit snack.” One kiwi also provides almost three grams of fibre, a significant amount of beta-carotene and is low in calories.
Walnuts are known as a super nut. “Walnuts are the nuts richest in long-chain polyunsaturated fats,” she says and just 30 grams a day helps optimize cell wall composition, reduce cholesterol levels and boost intake of the vital plant forms of omega-3 fats. “Additionally, walnuts are rich in cholesterol-lowering plant serums and omega-3 oils and have a very high ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fats,” she says. “Walnuts also have similar benefits to oily fish in terms of reducing cholesterol levels and also contain Alpha Linoleic acid which improves heart health reducing risk of sudden death through abnormal heart rhythms.” And walnuts also act as powerful mood boosters which help increase serotonin levels.
Another big super food is green tea which is packed with powerful antioxidants. “If there was one type of tea you should add to your tea repertoire it is green tea,” stresses Fahmida as not only is it exceptionally high in antioxidants, there is also evidence to show that it can help with fat burning. “Aim for a cup after each meal and remember, the longer you leave the tea bag in, the better it is for you,” she says.
Blueberries, explains Fahmida, are nature’s true super food. “They are packed with phytochemicals, flavonoids, vitamins and minerals and have one of the highest total antioxidant capacities of any food,” she says and the major antioxidants in blueberries are anthocyanins which give the berries their blue-red colour. “Anthocyanins are believed to boost memory and brain function as we age and work together with lutein, also found in blueberries, to protect the eyes from cataracts and glaucoma and maintain healthy vision,” she says. “They also offer beta-carotene (which gets converted to vitamin A in the body), vitamin E, as well as B vitamins such as folate (which helps prevent birth defects in babies) and niacin (which releases energy from food), and in lesser amounts, a number of essential minerals including manganese, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus.”
And finally, eggs are another super food. “The humble egg is actually one of the most nutritious foods we can eat and offer a large number of key nutrients,” tells Fahmida, including zinc, high biological value protein and iron as well as more than 20 other vital vitamins and minerals. “Enjoy one to two eggs a day as a great breakfast choice teamed with wholegrain bread or as a protein boost with wraps or sandwiches throughout the day,” she says. “Eggs have excellent nutritional value and contain protein which is needed for building and repairing the cells in muscles and other body tissues.” Eggs also supply valuable minerals and vitamins such as vitamin A, all 8 of the B group vitamins as well as vitamins D and E. “The most important mineral in eggs is iron and it’s found in the yolk,” she says. “The iron is absorbed best if food containing vitamin C is eaten at the same meal; therefore fruit, a glass of juice or some type of vegetable should therefore be eaten during the same meal as an egg.”