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Nutrient - Superfoods for the winter months

By Cathy Robinson BSc Dip Nut Med

Read any newspaper or magazine and you’ll inevitably start reading about the latest superfood. But what is a superfood? And what’s all the fuss about?

There is no official definition of the term superfood, but it implies that the food is a rich source of phytochemicals. A phytochemical is a plant nutrient that has health-supporting properties. Plants produce these powerful substances to protect themselves from oxidative damage caused by the sun and other environmental factors.

There are more than a thousand known phytochemicals and each works differently but most have antioxidant activity, so they not only protect the plant, but may also help us, too.

Free radicals occur naturally in the body, but environmental toxins, such as cigarette smoke and air pollution, also give rise to these damaging particles. Many scientists believe that free radicals contribute to the ageing process, as well as the development of a number of chronic health problems.

It is well known that antioxidants neutralise free radicals. These potentially damaging compounds can impair cell function, damage DNA and even cause cell death if not managed properly. A diet rich in antioxidant foods is the key.

There’s no doubt that any food that has earned the superfood label will pack a powerful nutritional punch. Current research has uncovered some exciting things about these Superfoods and the phytochemicals they contain. Let’s look at a few of them.

One of my favourite superfoods is broccoli sprouts. Broccoli itself is packed with nutrients, but sprouted broccoli seeds are especially high in phytochemicals called sulforaphanes, which are around 100 times more concentrated than in the mature plant. Recent research has shown that these may aid detoxification by the liver and possess antioxidant properties.

Another favourite, the humble blueberry, has also recently been the subject of much research. This tiny berry is packed full of ellagic acid, an antioxidant that has shown promising results in the laboratory in slowing antioxidant damage to DNA, which can result in abnormal cell growth. Blueberries also contain other antioxidants, known as anthocyanidins, and the fruit may help to support immunity and deter harmful bacteria from attaching to the gut and bladder walls.

Grape seed extract contains an important nutrient known as reservatrol, which may be of particular benefit to heart health. Recent research has suggested that reservatrol may help maintain normal cell growth and proliferation.

People have been drinking tea leaves steeped in boiling water for 500,000 years. Studies suggest that green tea, made from unfermented tea leaves, has many health benefits. It’s known that green tea contains theanine, which may help us to stay calm, despite the stress of daily life. It is also a rich source of powerful antioxidant polyphenols, known as catechins. These nutrients are up to 100 times as effective as vitamin C!

Turmeric, that brilliant orange spice used in Indian cooking for over 2,500 years, has justly earned its label as a superfood. Turmeric contains curcumin, which research has shown has natural anti-inflammatory properties, as well as being a potent antioxidant with mild antimicrobial properties.

The list of delicious superfoods goes on – oregano, tomatoes, beetroot, watercress, garlic – too many to discuss here. The winter often sees us overindulging in less than healthy treats, with its rounds of parties and family get-togethers so, to redress the balance, why not reach for one of these truly super foods? 

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