What are superfoods? They are foods that are hugely beneficial to our health because they are alleged to have the power to protect us from certain types of disease or ailment. Here are five superfoods to include in your diet that claim to improve and maintain our overall health:

1. Beetroot

Easily grown in gardens and popular as an ingredient for soup and dips, beetroot is believed to have the power to lower our blood pressure, prevent dementia as we get older and boost our performance when we exercise. Historically, it has been used to treat a variety of ailments, from fevers to constipation, skin problems and liver complaints and for preventing birth defects. Beetroot owes its deep red colouring to an antioxidant called betacyanin, which enhances liver detoxification. It is also a great source for iron and bursting with folate, a naturally occurring folic acid, and magnesium, which we need for healthy skin, bones and cartilage. Beetroot also contains betaine, nitrates and various other antioxidants.

So have beetroot’s claims to be a superfood been verified by a reputable source? Britain’s National Health Service authority teamed up with the British Dietetic Association to examine beetroot’s health claims and found in a 2013 study that the nitrates in beetroot juice were indeed responsible for a modest reduction in blood pressure. Another study conducted in 2013 looked at beetroot’s alleged booster quality during exercise. Although it was inconclusive, as based on too small a sample, a 2014 study involving cyclists performing at high altitudes (2,500 m above sea level) confirmed that beetroot juice gave them on average a 16 second improvement on their performance.

2. Blueberries

Bursting with antioxidants such as anthocyanins, blueberries contain also vitamin C, manganese, fibre and vitamin K. Reputedly, blueberries can help protect us against some cancers and heart disease, lower high blood pressure, and improve our memory. A 2012 study involving 93,000 women discovered that participants who consumed three or more portions of blueberries and strawberries per week had a 32 percent lower risk of heart attack compared with those who ate berries just once a month or less. But the study didn’t prove conclusively that it was the blueberries that were responsible for the risk reduction. Smaller studies have shown that blueberries relax the walls of our blood vessels, which may assist in lowering risk of atherosclerosis, responsible for increasing the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes, and high blood pressure.

The jury is really still out on whether or not blueberries can help reduce high blood pressure, as so far only small, inconclusive studies have been carried out. The same could be said of the blueberry’s claim to help fight cancer. Blueberry extracts such as anthocuanins have been shown to decrease free radical damage that can cause cancer, but as these were lab tests on cells and animals, not humans, it is not clear how well human beings absorb these extracts from eating blueberries and if they have a protective effect against certain types of cancer. Equally, so far none of the small studies carried out have provided a conclusive link between improved memory and blueberry consumption.

3. Goji Berries

Ranked among the superfoods as an A-lister, the plumb red goji berry has won the support of the likes of pop star Madonna, but has been known for its beneficial health properties for more than 6,000 years in Chinese medicine. Allegedly, goji berries boost our immune system, protect us from heart disease and cancer, and help our brains to function better. They are even afforded the power to improve our life expectancy. So are these claims true? Bursting with vitamin C, B2, E and A, goji berries also contain selenium and iron and a host of antioxidants such as polysaccharides. Packed with beta-carotene, they are a delicious addition to breakfast cereals or as a snack. According to the British National Health Service (NHS) and the British Dietetic Association (BDA), however, there is no reliable evidence to support these alleged super powers.

However, so far only small studies have been carried out, all performed in laboratories using purified and highly concentrated extracts of the goji berry. A small study conducted in 2008 found that a daily drink of 20m1 of goji berry juice for 14 days did improve participants’ feeling of wellbeing, brain activity and digestion. But as the study only comprised of 34 participants, it is not conclusive. The same can be said of a 1994 Chinese study into goji berries allegedly helping in the fight of certain cancers. The goji berry’s high vitamin content, however, is certainly beneficial to our health. Even cancer-fighting properties prove to be a myth we should still keep sprinkling delicious goji berries on our breakfast cereals.

4. Broccoli

Detested by many children, broccoli has recently entered the exulted ranks of superfoods. Its fans claim that it can help fight cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Are these claims true? Broccoli does contain sulforaphane, a powerful anti-cancer compound, which assists to neutralize potentially cancer-forming substances in our bodies. Broccoli also contains indole-3-carbinol, responsible for inactivating oestrone, which is a harmful form of oestrogen associated with breast cancer. Broccoli is bursting with beta-carotene, vitamin C, A, K, fibre, calcium and folate, the naturally occurring folic acid, so whatever broccoli’s other health benefits, it should keep colds at bay and makes us feel healthy. But can it beat cancer?

A 2007 review of the evidence on cancer prevention by the World Cancer Research Fund has confirmed that eating more non-starchy vegetables like broccoli can be associated with a reduced risk of developing throat, stomach and mouth cancers. Clinical trials are needed to investigate this fmding in greater detail. Alison Hornby, a BDA spokesperson and dietician, explains that although broccoli doesn’t live up to the claims made by superfoodies, it does contain nutrients such as soluble and insoluble fibre, folate, calcium, vitamins A and C that are important for everyday body functions, making broccoli is a valuable part of our diet.

“It is a member of the family of cruciferous vegetables along with cauliflower, bok choy and cabbage. These all contain compounds that are linked to improving the body’s ability to impede the growth of cancer cells. Broccoli is a flexible vegetable that works well in salads, stir fries, curries and soups. An 80g serving will count towards your 5 A Day,” BDA’s spokesperson Alison Hornby explained.

5. Green Tea

Used in Chinese medicine for centuries to treat a wide range of ailments such as depression and headaches, green tea has been hailed as an all-powerful elixir of life by many superfoodies. Its leaves allegedly contain far more antioxidants than other types of tea simply because of the way they are processed. And while it is true that green tea contains folate, vitamin B, manganese, magnesium, potassium, catechins and caffeine, it is also true that all types of tea, be they green, oolong or ordinary black, are produced from the same Camellia sinensis plant. What is different are the methods of production.

The leaves of oolong and black tea undergo a fermentation process, while green tea is made from fresh leaves that are steamed. Superfoodies claim green tea can boost weight loss and combat heart disease, prevent cancer and Alzheimer’s and reduce cholesterol. Comprehensive studies involving more than 1.6 million participants back in 2009 found no clear link between green tea and prevention of cancers like bowel, breast, mouth, lung and prostate cancer. However, a study conducted in 2015 discovered that when combined with a drug called Herceptin, which is part of breast and stomach cancer treatment, green tea showed promising results in laboratory tests. Human trials are now being considered. As for all the other health claims, there is so far insufficient evidence that green tea has any preventative powers to protect us against Alzheimer’s or heart disease, or be instrumental in reducing cholesterol or aiding weight loss. More long-term trials are needed to back up inconclusive fmdings from initial tests, according to the NHS and BDA.

What nutrition experts do agree upon is that oily fish, which contains omega-3, is very helpful in the fight against arthritis. Oily fish, according to the book Eat To Beat Arthritis by Margaret Patten, O.B.E., and Jeanette Ewin, Ph.D., can help reduce the causes of the inflammation in joints so typical of rheumatoid arthritis without having a damaging effect on the lining of our stomachs. Unfortunately, this is something that conventional medicine used to treat this condition is apt to do when taken over long periods of time.

Numerous studies have found that oily fish is beneficial to our health on many levels. People consuming plenty of omega-3 fatty acids may actually be reducing the risk of developing age-related dementia. Oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, halibut, fresh tuna and anchovies will thin our blood, thus reducing high blood pressure, making oily fish one of the scientifically proven superfoods to include in your diet.




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