These days, we’re bombarded weekly with news of new superfoods that we ‘must’ incorporate into our diets if we want to feel good, perform at work, sleep well, live longer… you get the gist. With so much going on, it’s hard to know where to start and easy to feel overwhelmed. Add to that all that you hear about the supplements you ‘should’ be adding to your diet, and you’ve given yourself one hell of a headache, and perhaps left your body more out of balance than when you began. To clear things up, we’ve consulted the expertise of Oliver McCabe, owner, head chef and nutritionist at Select Stores in Dalkey, where you’ll find a wealth of scrumptious, healthy options to eat in or take away. Oliver likes to keep things simple and hates to think that eating healthy is something that stresses us out. Here he rounds up the best 20 superfoods from which you can pick and choose, that he guarantees will tick all our boxes in the most natural of ways. Over to you, Oliver…
Super foods are said to boost your mood and keep you looking young, well nourished and healthy. They are important to have in one’s diet if you work hard, play hard and train hard to keep yourself focused and well-fuelled. This does not mean you have to reach for the supplements and vitamin pills. Nature has provided some alternatives that are mostly plant-based and full to the brim with health-giving nutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which keep all manner of disease at bay. They are usually low in calories and can be included in your diet on a daily basis to give you energy and keep you fit. Here are 20 my every day simple super foods. There may be some superfoods that are new to us in the west like Goji and Acai berries, but there are plenty of familiar favourites too such as broccoli, onions, tomatoes and watercress. They all taste great whether they’re for eating raw in salads, adding to smoothies and juices or cooking as part of a larger dish. Eating too much of one food may cause a sensitivity or intolerance within the body, so always be mindful of that; the body adores moderation and balance to keep the machine working. There is no need to be stressed out over eating healthily; introduce some of these foods into your diet at suitable meal times to give you a lift throughout your working day and you’ll soon reap the benefits.
The dark purple fruits or berries of the Acai palm are usually pulped and frozen or juiced. In terms of nutrients they don’t bear comparison with any other fruit as they contain more antioxidants and are heralded as ‘anti-ageing’ supe rfoods. Acai berries contain a whole host of vitamins that keep skin, hair and nails looking good and young – Vitamin C for reducing ageing effects of the sun, Vitamin B2 for skin, hair and nails, Vitamin A that helps problem skin such as acne, and E for healthy skin. Zinc too keeps skin clear, and hair and nails in fine form. They have high levels of the essential fats, Omega 6 for improving memory and ensuring good mental health, valuable dietary fibres, amino acids, and trace minerals.
Alfalfa sprouts are defined as living foods and are full of enzymes, complete proteins, Vitamin A for healthy eyes, Vitamin B which is essential for the nervous system and the brain, C to fight infection and E to keep skin looking good. They are also rich in calcium and phosphorus for healthy bones, magnesium for building new cells and proteins, iron for manufacturing red blood cells, potassium for building muscle and silicon for strong nails and shiny hair.
Also known as bilberries, like all berries, blueberries are rich in antioxidants such as Vitamin C making them good for fighting cancer and other serious disease, keeping skin healthy and boosting the immune system.
Brazil nuts have all the components of ‘anti-ageing’ foods. They are a great source of Omega 3s, 6s and 9s making them good for healthy skin, shiny hair and keeping the memory sharp. They are high in fibre and protein, rich in Vitamin E that keeps the skin in good shape, and calcium and magnesium for healthy bones and muscles. There is also plenty of selenium which works with Vitamin E to neutralise free radicals that cause disease, and which is particularly important for men because it helps to produce healthy sperm. It also relieves menopausal symptoms for women and can protect against serious illness.
Only recently did people recognise that one of the most commonly eaten vegetables was so good for you. It is particularly high in beta-carotene which fights toxins in the body and can promote healthy eyes and heart. It’s a great source of Vitamin C which boosts immunity and keeps skin healthy, and is complemented by Vitamin A which is helpful for skin problems. It is also a great source of fibre and is high in calcium so for vegans it’s an excellent substitute for dairy to keep bones healthy and prevent osteoporosis.
Cocoa (cacao) beans are broken into small pieces or nibs and eaten raw. They are high in antioxidants which fight free radicals, sulphur which is needed for healthy skin, hair and nails, magnesium which helps all functions in the body, provides energy and helps to relax muscles. Cacao also contains phenylethlamine and anandamine – chemicals which make us feel happy and in love, but without the calories of chocolate!
In the last few years cranberry juice has become a socially acceptable drink that you can buy at any bar. It is also well known for easing cystitis and other bladder infections because cranberries contain PACs (proanthocyanidins) that attach themselves to bacteria like E-coli and prevent it from attaching to the lining of the bladder. Cranberry juice and supplements are also helpful for easing digestive problems too.
Garlic is one of the ultimate superfoods as it has antibiotic, antiseptic and antiviral properties. It boosts the immune system, fights viruses and infection, lowers cholesterol, improves kidney function, helps fight colds, flu and respiratory infection – and is even more powerful raw, but not very sociable!
The key ingredient in garlic is allicin, a sulphur compound, which is released when you crush garlic cloves. It is responsible for lowering bad cholesterol levels, detoxifying the body and is a natural antiinflammatory. It is also high in sulphur which keeps skin, hair and nails looking great.
Ginger is a must-have in any kitchen because its active ingredient – gingerol – can help to ease a cold, relieve aches and pains and reduce nausea and even morning sickness. It is high in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties which makes it good for arthritis and improving the circulation. It can also aid the absorption of nutrients, lower cholesterol and regulate blood sugar.
The fresh root can be used to make a tea – just peel an inch of ginger root and grate into a warmed teapot. The Chinese claim it’s a good warming food, particularly good in winter, and can be cooked in curries, tagine, or added to stir fries.
Recognised in Chinese herbal medicine for many years Goji berries have now shot to fame here. Picked from the Goji bush in the Himalayas the berries have the highest content of cancer-fighting beta-carotene than any other fruit. They are said to be one of the richest sources of Vitamin C on the planet to fight infection and keep skin healthy, and they contain Vitamins B1, B2, B6 and Vitamin E and Omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids, that are required for healthy brain and nervous system development.
Recently championed in the media as the latest superfood, kale is a member of the cabbage family and is prevalent in the autumn. It contains more calcium for healthy bones and iron for building red blood cells than most other vegetables. Kale is also high in the antioxidant bioflavonoids that fight disease by neutralising free radicals.
It is also a rich source of Vitamin C that helps the body to absorb these minerals as well as sulphur that keeps skin, hair and nails in healthy form, and beta-carotene that is converted to Vitamin A, also good for the skin and eyes.
The benefits of green tea are well recognised and its phenolic compounds have been attributed with strengthening blood vessels, while the Vitamin E content helps to protect skin, eyes and heart. The antioxidant bioflavonoids are said to be anti-ageing lowering bad cholesterol and protecting you from circulatory problems and heart disease.
Renowned for their cholesterol lowering properties oats release energy slowly because they are high in complex carbohydrates and soluble fibre – they have a low Glycaemic Load (GL) So a bowl of porridge in the morning keeps hunger at bay until lunchtime.
Oats contain silicon for healthy hair, nails, skin and bones, potassium and magnesium for healthy bones and muscles, and a full range of B vitamins for all round health. Rich in protein oats have more oil than other cereals particularly those grown in warmer climates.
One of the best foods you can eat, onions contain quercetin which is both anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic.
Eating onions can help to lower cholesterol and relieve colds and stomach problems. They contain B vitamins which are vital to health, immune-boosting selenium that cleanses the liver, potassium that is required for building muscle and healthy growth, and silicon and sulphur that ensure healthy looking skin, hair and nails.
Recently pomegranates became the flavour of the month because they are packed with polyphenols, an antioxidant known for fighting cancer – particularly of the prostate -Vitamin C which fights infection and keeps skin healthy, and potassium which is instrumental in the healthy function of the nervous system and muscles.
Known as an excellent source of iron which prevents anaemia by manufacturing red blood cells and generates energy, spinach is also full of other nourishing vitamins and minerals. Folic acid also manufactures red blood cells and is essential for developing a healthy nervous system and is therefore given to pregnant women for their growing unborn babies.
Spinach is also high in potassium which helps to build healthy bones and muscles, beta-carotene which protects skin from the sun and can be converted to Vitamin A in the body, and lutein which helps to keep eyes functioning well.
Like all berries strawberries are abundant in Vitamin C which is great for fighting infection, preventing free radical damage to skin by the sun, and helps to keep skin elastic. They also contain ellagic acid, which is a phytochemical said to fight cancer, Vitamin B6 that helps to ease PMT and folic acid which is essential for the nervous system, especially in the unborn child.
All seeds are good for a healthy diet and sunflower seeds contain the essential Omega 6 fats which are good for boosting the memory, keeping mentally healthy and fighting inflammation like arthritis. They are also high in B vitamins which cover most functions of the body, calcium and magnesium which work together to make bones and muscles strong and healthy.
An excellent source of fibre sweet potatoes were unheard of in the Ireland 30 years ago, but are now a popular root vegetable. They are high in beta-carotene which gives them their yellow/pink colour and is good for the eyes, lungs and immune system. They are also abundant in antioxidants for fighting disease including Vitamin C which fights colds and flu and keeps skin healthy and Vitamin E which also encourages good skin, eyes and memory.
The versatile tomato is very high in antioxidants with Vitamin C which fights infection and makes skin healthy, Vitamin E for healthy skin and Vitamin B3 (niacin) that breaks down food to release energy, creates hormones, enhances brain function and keeps the skin and digestive tract healthy.
Tomatoes hit the headlines a few years ago when it was discovered that the carotenoid ingredient lycopene was anti-carcinogenic and neutralises free radicals that cause cancer. It was claimed that cooked tomatoes could help to protect men against prostate cancer.
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