19 July 2016 / Nutrition

Our top 10 superfoods, and how we use them!

Health and wellness are pretty big buzzwords for us millennials, and with increased levels of sedentary living and diet-related illnesses, it is no wonder that we are desperately seeking some health alternatives.

Despite these health trends being so prevalent in social media over the last few years, these super foods have been used around the globe for thousands of years for very good reasons! My mum was a 90’s hippy, and owned dozens of ‘vegetarian’ health books that preached the use of health foods and raw veges, so luckily for me, I have been exposed to this world for over 2 decades. While the concept of ‘functional foods’ has been around forever in a day, interest in these specific foods is growing faster than before. 

According to Google’s Food Trends Report, there is a growing consumer interest in the health-enhancing role of specific foods, or what experts call ‘functional foods’.

 A number of the top trending foods over the last two years are "healthy" ingredients like turmeric, apple cider vinegar, avocado oil, bitter melon, and kefir (high in a trending bacteria called probiotics). These superfoods are said to infer far-reaching benefits such as better skin, libido, energy and cures for depression, insomnia, and pain. What I love about this years Google Food Trends Report, is that the focus has shifted from ‘eliminating’ foods, to adding them. Obviously it is a good idea to ditch some foods, or perhaps reposition these foods to the ‘sometimes’ pile, but I do like this new perception of ‘adding the good stuff’, rather than restricting yourself.

Interestingly, as a response to this newfound desire of ‘healthy foods’ by consumers, brands are "healthifying" products and their marketing.

A survey of the supermarket shelf shows ingredients like chia, flax and probiotics being added to crackers, chocolate, and gummies. Nestle, for example, is going so far as to create a line of "medical foods" to treat diseases. This is exciting, but is also something to be wary of. Don’t let these brands trick you into thinking that anything and everything that includes these ingredients is good for you. Often, the added healthy ingredients are still being paired with nasty sugars and preservatives. So, don’t let yourself be sucked in by simply spotting one of these buzzwords in a product.

 

So, what health foods do we readily use in our household? Well, a good chunk of my list are standard house-hold ingredients which is a great thing. If you throw these in the trolley most weeks, than you are on the right track!

 

1. Ginger

Ginger not only has an amazing taste, but it has a plethora of benefits for your health. Ginger is great when you have a cold, but it is especially good for settling an upset stomach. Ginger also helps with exercise-induced muscle pain, and is an anti-inflammatory – so after a big barre workout or a run, I have a lemon, ginger and honey drink before bed. For the ladies, ginger is also known to help settle menstrual pain.

How we commonly use it

-       Add ginger to stir fries

-       Add ginger to soups, especially pumpkin

-       Make a ginger, Manuka honey and lemon drink by simmering the ingredients in a pot with water and draining

 

gingerlemon

 

2. Chili

If you like food that packs a punch, then this super food is for you. 

Chilies are excellent source of Vitamin, A, B, C and E with minerals like molybdenum, manganese, folate, potassium, thiamin, and copper. Chilicontains seven times more vitamin C than oranges. I am just going to re-direct you to this site if you are not yet convinced. We are obsessed with chilli in our household, and I add it to as many things as possible!

How we commonly use it

-       To marinade our meat (with olive oil and garlic)

-       In slaws and salads

-       Add it to soups (especially pumpkin, cauliflower or broccoli)

-       Add it to yoghurt dressings to add with meats and salads (greek yoghurt, chilli, coriander and lime juice)

 

3. Turmeric

With a shoulder injury in our household, turmeric has been one of our favourites this year for its anti-inflammatory qualities. Turmeric is the perfect natural supplement for helping your muscles recover from exercise or injury. 

Turmeric is also a powerful anti-oxidant. Anti-oxidants are also vital to include in our diet as they fight free radicals. Free radicals in the body can damage our good cells, and many health professionals believe that free radicals can contribute to arthritis, cataracts, diabetes, kidney disease, age-related blindness and also the development of Alzheimer's disease.

How we commonly use it

-       Add it to salads, and soup (usually pupmkin soup, alonside chilli and garlic)

-       Toss it through roast veges, especially cauliflower

-       Add a teaspoon to smoothie

 

4. Goji Berries

Some people call the goji berry the ‘fountain of youth’ – umm, yes please. The goji berry, also called the wolfberry, is a bright orange-red berry that comes from a shrub that's native to China. In Asia, goji berries have been eaten for generations in the hope of living longer. However there are many more proven benefits. Goji berries are full of antioxidants, and can offer a feeling of calmness, helping you gain an improved quality of sleep. Goji berries are a nutritional powerhouse, packing healthy food energy into small servings. Their rich, sweet taste, along with their high fibre content, provides a feeling of fullness that can help put a stop to accidental overeating.

How we commonly use them

-       A sweet addition to salads

-       Add a small handful to oats in the morning

 

5. Blueberries

 Blueberries are a more common superfood, and an easy one to include into our diets, as they are so delicious on their own. Blueberries are among the most nutrient dense berries out there and include fibre, vitamin C, K and Manganese. Because they are low in calories, yet high in nutrients, they are a great fruit to snack on. Blueberries are too an antioxidant and can help lower blood pressure, can help prevent heart disease and can help improve brain function. Like cranberries, blueberries contain substances that can prevent certain bacteria from binding to the wall of the urinary bladder. This may be useful in preventing urinary tract infections.

How we commonly use them

-       Add to smoothies

-       Add to porridge

-       Eat on their own

 

6. Chia seeds

Chia seeds are tiny black seeds from the plant Salvia Hispanica, which grows natively in South America. Chia seeds were an important food for the Aztecs and Mayans back in the day, and have made a right comeback in the last few years. Chia seeds were prized for their ability to provide sustainable energy. In fact, “chia” is the ancient Mayan word for “strength.”

Chia seeds are loaded with antioxidants and are extremely high in fibre. They are a source of protein and are high in nutrients that are great for our bones such as calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. If you do not eat much meat, or have adverse responses to dairy products, then chia seeds are a must in your diet.

Due to the absorption rate of chia seeds, you often create a gel-like matter when adding liquid. Personally, this makes me gag a little. So to make sure I am still getting them in the system, I add a few teaspoons of chia seeds to my water bottle, and give it a good shake. Sure, these floating black seeds pick up a few stares, but you can smile sweetly knowing that you are safeguarding your health.

How we commonly use them

-       Add a few teaspoons to a water bottle

-       Add a few teaspoons to a smoothie

 

7. Manuka honey

 This is one that we, as New Zealander’s, can be really proud of. Manuka honey, produced in New Zealand by bees that pollinate the Manuka bush, is one of the most unique and beneficial forms of honey in the world. Benefits range from healing sore throats and digestive illnesses, to curing Staph infections and gingivitis. Generally speaking, the typical raw unfiltered honey is a rich source of:

  • Amino acids
  • B vitamins (B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid)
  • Calcium
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Sodium
  • Zinc

 With Manuka honey, the nutritional content is up to 4 times that of normal flower honeys. This is what is called as, in the industry, the ‘Unique Manuka Factor’ – it has a ring to it doesn’t it? Benefits include improved sleep, increased immunity, reduced IBS symptoms, reduced acne and eczema and can help heal intestinal imbalances.

How we commonly use it

-       Hot lemon and honey drinks

-       On toast with banana and cinnamon

-       Add it to salad dressings

-       Eat it from a teaspoon (especially when you have a sore throat)

 

8. Apple cider vinegar

My grandma used to force me to do a ‘shot’ of this when I was a kid – so I have some pretty rough memories of this one. However, I have learnt to love it again in my adult life.

Apple cider vinegar is known to kill bad bacteria (hence why it is great when you are sick).  Apple cider vinegar has also shown great promise in improving insulin sensitivity and helping to lower blood sugar responses after meals, which is great news for those who may suffer from diabetes.

 How we commonly use it

-       Shots (only when we really have to)

-       Add it to salad dressings (think Manuka honey, olive oil, garlic, Dijon mustard)

 

9. Garlic

We love garlic in our cooking, so this one is easy to include. Garlic is low in calories and very rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and Manganese. Garlic supplementation helps to prevent and reduce the severity of common illnesses like the flu and common cold. Garlic contains antioxidants that protect against cell damage and ageing. It is known to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

How we commonly use it

-       Add to stir fries

-       Add to soup

-       Pasta sauces

-       Add to salad dressings

 

10. Kale

Kale is very high in nutrients and very low in calories, making it one of the most nutrient dense foods around. Many powerful antioxidants are found in kale, including quercetin and kaempferol, which have cardio-protective, blood pressure lowering, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-depressant effects. Most of us have heard that kale is great for us, but in honesty it can be hard to eat. I like kale in salads, but it took me a while to find the best way to prepare it so that I didn’t feel like I was choking while eating it.

How we commonly use it

- Blitz it in a food processor and add to salads. Check out this salad for inspiration.

 

 11. Water – can we add water to this list? 

Water is one of the most overlooked superfoods. A common expression in the health world is ‘don’t medicate, hydrate!’, and I can see why this might be a good first step. Water helps increase your energy and relieves fatigue. Since your brain is made up of mostly water, drinking it helps you think, focus and concentrate better, making you far more alert. Water flushes out toxins in your body, which reduces the risk of kidney stones and UTI’s. It also aids in digestion, as water is essential to digest your food, which reduces discomfort in the stomach, and constipation. 

For most of us, water is free - so this really shouldn’t be a difficult one to include in our diets! If you need to spice it up, add a squeeze of lemon juice, or a sprig of mint to your glass.