Just how super are superfoods?
Superfoods – hip, delicious and extraordinarily nutritious, but these much vaunted foods come at a price – often quite a high price. Are they really worth the money or are more conventional foods just as good? We have taken a closer look at four of these superfoods.
These small reddish berries come from China and Mongolia. Their high levels of vitamin C are supposed to boost the immune system, but lemons – and even strawberries – have similarly high levels. Another alleged benefit of the berries is that they contain Lycium barbarum polysaccharides (LBP) which are said to have cancer-inhibiting effects. However, these effects were demonstrated in experiments with mice and it remains to be seen whether the results can be applied to human beings. Goji berries also contain zeaxanthin which has beneficial effects on the cells of the eye and is claimed to prevent aged-related degeneration. However, this substance can also be found in many other significantly less expensive foodstuffs (e.g. spinach, maize and eggs).
The major claim for these seeds is that they contain very high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and depression. These fatty acids also occur in certain varieties of fish (e.g. Atlantic salmon). While it is true that they occur in high levels in chia seeds, they first have to be converted during the process of digestion. In contrast, the fatty acids in salmon can be more easily absorbed by the body. Linseed, which contains similar substances, is viewed as the less expensive alternative to chia seeds.
Quinoa came originally from the Andes and is not in fact related to wheat. Instead it is harvested from a species of the goosefoot genus (Chenopodium quinoa), a grain crop which is grown primarily for its edible seeds. Its proponents claim that it reduces cholesterol and encourages weight loss. Quinoa is rich in protein, magnesium and iron. It is also relatively low in calories and high in dietary fibre. Fibre fills the stomach and makes you feel full up. Although millet contains almost as much protein as quinoa, it has less magnesium and only around half as much iron.
In botanical terms, wheatgrass is a type of sweet grass. Fresh wheatgrass contains high levels of iron, vitamin C and zinc. Most wheatgrass is processed into powder, losing much of its vitamin content. Wheatgrass can also be consumed fresh, usually after it has been juiced. Its bright green colour comes from chlorophyll, which is supposed to help with detoxification. High levels of chlorophyll are also present in many native plants, including broccoli and curly kale.
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