‘Superfood’ is such a loose marketing term these days. Sometimes we’re talking about simple everyday foods like garlic or ginger, other times we may be talking about more exotic things like Acai or Camu camu. Because of this confusion in the market, when I was asked to write a top 10 list of superfoods I decided to turn to the internet. I took 20 blogs, media outlets and supplement producer websites. Collated their suggestions of top 10 lists and tried to get an idea of what most nutritionists and health experts think of the best superfoods available. Oddly enough, I sort of agree with how this list turned out.
Oats are one of the mainstays in sports nutrition and popular in medical circles too and for good reason.
They are known for a number of benefits such as reduction in cardio vascular disease risk, diabetes and blood sugar stabilisation, and immune system modulation, amongst a many number of other benefits. Beta-glucans are the polysaccharides responsible for this.
The anti-inflammatory and cortisol reducing effects from oats can beneficial for anyone, be it someone who is training several times a week and experiences heavy loads on their joints, or someone as they are naturally aging. A study conducted by DiSilvestro & Creamer (2009) found that 3g a day of beta glucan for a four week period reduced inflammation by 14%. Those on the placebo saw an increase of 4%.
Possibly one of the most hated vegetables through childhood and a cliché staple in body builders’ diets, broccoli may improve many aspects of health.
Other than providing nutrients such as calcium and vitamin K for bone health, broccoli provides phytonutrients and antioxidants such as zeaxanthin, lutein and beta carotene which are all very important for eye health.
Kaempferol and isothiocyanates are also found in broccoli, which help reduce inflammation within the body, reducing diabetes risk and improving CVD biomarkers.
Indol-3-Carbinol is most likely the best well known chemical found in broccoli. Once ingested, the body derives Indol-3-Carbinol into 3, 3’- Diindolylmethane which is known to encourage proper oestrogen metabolism in both men and women, turning oestradiol into metabolites that help with tumour suppression. For sports performance this is also important as it can help improve body composition.
The rich, creamy, versatile fruit of the avocado tree is an amazing food that can be useful to throw into your diet. High in potassium, Vitamin K, B vitamins and Vitamin E, 15g of fat and 7g of fibre from half of a medium sized avocado, they make for a great weight loss snack that helps with satiety and stabilises blood sugars.
Outside of this, fatty acids like Oleic Acid found in avocados (although better known from olive oil) is seen to improve LDL and Total Cholesterol profiles. Wang, Bordi, Fleming, Hill, & Kris-Etherton (2015) found that compared to a low fat diet and a moderate fat diet both of which reduce LDL-C by 5.3% and 5.8% respectively, a moderate fat diet that includes one avocado a day can reduce LDL-C by up to 10% and reduce total cholesterol by 8%.
Another impressive benefit of avocados comes from the unsaponifiable fats. A study conducted at the Lapeyronie Teaching Hospital in France found that in their double blind placebo controlled trial with osteoarthritic patients, a statistically significant 56.6% of patients found reduced need for using Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs (Blotman, Maheu, Wulwik, Caspard, & Lopez, 1997). It should be stated however, that it is unclear if the same results would occur from avocado as a wholefood, and not just the extract.
7. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is rich in polyphenols and antioxidants which can help with a number of cardiovascular and endothelial (the inside of blood vessel walls) concerns. On top of this, a combination of caffeine, theobromine and amino acids like L- tryptophan from dark chocolate can boost serotonin levels, improve focus and cognition.
A study published in Free Radical Medicine shows that two groups consuming either 75g of dark chocolate and 75g of high-polyphenol enriched dark chocolate saw an 11.4% and 13.7% increase in serum HDL cholesterol respectively. The control group who consumed 75g of white chocolate saw a 2.9% decrease of HDL. This same study also saw a decrease in LDL oxidation (Mursu, et al., 2004).
Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that an increase of epicatechin from a dark chocolate bar with 22g of cocoa improved endothelial function and Nitric Oxide production leading to improved blood pressure (Faridi, Njike, Dutta, Ali, & Katz, 2008).
Aim for a moderate amount, 30 – 50g of 70% dark chocolate a day to see benefits like this.
Yoghurt is an ancient form of fermented milk most commonly made from cow milk but can also be found made from goat milk and rarer still, sheep milk. A popular trend also includes coconut yogurt and almond yogurt. Other than being a good source of protein and dietary fats, yoghurt most commonly provides strains of bacteria such as Lactobacillus Acidophilus and Bifidobacterium Lactis. These two lactic acid producing bacteria are found in the digestive system and help aid in digestion. These bacteria are found all over the body and help protect against pathogenic bacterial infection.
Studies have found that yoghurt consumption gives an estimated 2% to 3% reduction for risk of coronary heart disease (Anderson & Gilliland, 1998). Studies at UCLA have also found that an increased consumption of yoghurt improves brain function and it is likely that consumption improves mood and anxiety, particularly after a course of antibiotics (Champeau, 2013).
While not the most glamourous of foods in this list, legumes such as beans and peas, are a great all-rounder source for protein and carbohydrates. They are a rich source of vitamins and minerals however phytonutrients like phytates and lectins give them a bad name (particularly in the paleo/ancestral camp) but correct preparation of legumes can provide a good stable source of low GI carbs. While not a whole protein source, using varieties of legumes can provide a full spectrum of amino acids and is a great alternative for vegan/vegetarians.
One of the most popular kind of berry available, originally from North America and now grown commercially around the world. We in Australia are lucky in that we have the longest running harvest season of 10 months in a year, from July through to April.
Blueberries have a high concentration of pigments called anthocyanins. These pigments vary in colour based on pH, with a neutral pH this is what gives blueberries their deep blue/ purple colour. It is these anthocyanins and other flavanols that help with memory and spatial learning, vascularity and lowering blood pressure, reduction of oxidative stress and even helping to reduce fat gain (Renderio, et al., 2012; Rodriguez-Mateos, et al., 2013; Nair, et al., 2014; Song, et al., 2013).
Eggs are amazing little things. Providing enough proteins, fats and, essential vitamins and minerals to develop a life of a little chicken once the egg is fertilised. With roughly 6:5:0.5g of protein : fats : carbs and 301 kilojoules (72kcal) per 50g egg. They are packed full of Vitamins A, D and E, B vitamins, Selenium, Iodine, Potassium and many other nutrients found in smaller amounts.
Eggs are a great convenient source of choline, an essential precursor for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, cell membrane constituents, platelet activating factor and betaine. Choline also plays an important role in lipid and cholesterol transport and methyl group metabolism.
Nuts are an amazing, easy source of calories, packed full of nutrients that anybody and everybody should be including in their diet.
Brazil nuts for example, provide a good source of zinc and an even better source of selenium with roughly 530mcg per 28g. With Australia’s RDI suggested at 70mcg/day for men and 60mcg/day for women, a serving of Brazil nuts provide more than 700% of the daily needs.
A study published in Nutrition Journal found that in a double-blind randomised placebo controlled crossover trial using Brazil Nuts, providing 227.5mcg of selenium per day, found improvement to antioxidant activity. Not only after the 12 weeks did researchers find that Glutathione Peroxidase - the enzymes that protect us from oxidative damage - increased by 24.8% but Oxidated LDL decreased by 3.2%. Throughout the trial, HDL-C also saw a significant increase (Huguenin, et al., 2015).
Other nuts such as walnuts and almonds are a good source of magnesium, manganese and Vitamin E
Having a 30g serving of a fruit free trail mix should provide about 732 kilojoules (175kcals) of your daily intake and provide essential nutrients for the body.
Coming in at number one. Salmon.
Salmon is one of the most popular commercial fish in the world and for good reason. Providing a great source of protein, omega 3 fats, vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, B, D and calcium. It even provides antioxidants like astaxanthin which is known for its benefits for eye health, cell regulation and skin health. There is even some evidence that astaxanthin has benefits relating to tumour suppression and longevity through activation of the FoxO3 gene (Morris, Willcox, Donlon, & Willcox, 2015).
While the most available salmon is farmed salmon, if you can manage to get some sustainable wild caught salmon you’ll find a higher amount of protein, omega 3’s and vitamins and minerals per serve compared to farmed salmon for less kilojoules gram for gram.
Anderson, J. W., & Gilliland, S. E. (1998). Effect of Fermented Milk (Yogurt) Containing Lactobacillus Acidophilus L1 on Serum Cholesterol in Hypercholesterolemic Humans. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 43-50.
Blotman, F., Maheu, E., Wulwik, A., Caspard, H., & Lopez, A. (1997). Efficacy and safety of avocado/soybean unsaponifiables in the treatment of symptomatic osteoarthritis of the knee and hip. A prospective, multicenter, three-month, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Revue du rhumatisme (English Ed.), 825 -834.
Champeau, R. (2013, May 28). Changing gut bacteria through diet affects brain function, UCLA study shows. Retrieved from UCLA Newsroom: http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/changing-gut-bacteria-through-245617
DiSilvestro, R. A., & Creamer, J. (2009). Anti-inflammatory Actions of Oat Beta Glucans in an Exercise Stress Model. The FASEB Journal, 221.8.
Faridi, Z., Njike, V. Y., Dutta, S., Ali, A., & Katz, D. L. (2008). Acute dark chocolate and cocoa ingestion and endothelial function: a randomized controlled crossover trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 58-63.
Huguenin, G. V., Oliveira, G. M., Moreira, A. S., Saint'Pierre, T. D., Goncalves, R. A., Pinheiro-Mulder, A. R., . . . Rosa, G. (2015). Improvement of antioxidant status after Brazil nut intake in hypertensive and dyslipidemic subjects. Nutrition Journal.
Morris, B. J., Willcox, D. C., Donlon, T. A., & Willcox, B. J. (2015). FOXO3: A Major Gene for Human Longevity - A Mini-Review. Gerontology, 515-25.
Mursu, J., Voutilainen, S., Nurmi, T., Rissanen, T. H., Virtanen, J. K., Kaikkonen, J., . . . Salonen, J. T. (2004). Dark Chocolate Consumption Increases HDL Cholesterol Concentration and Chocolate Fatty Acids May Inhibit Lipid Peroxidation in Healthy Humans. Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 1351-1359.
Nair, A. R., Elks, C. M., Vila, J., Del Piero, F., Paulsen, D. B., & Francis, J. (2014). A Blueberry-Enriched Diet Improves Renal Function and Reduces Oxidative Stress in Metabolic Syndrome Animals: Potential Mechanism of TLR4-MAPK Signaling Pathway. PLoS One, e111976.
Renderio, C., Vauzour, D., Kean, R. J., Butler, L. T., Rattray, M., Spencer, J. P., & Williams, C. M. (2012). Blueberry supplementation induces spatial memory improvements and region-specific regulation of hippocampal BDNF mRNA expression in young rats. Psychopharmacology, 319-30.
Rodriguez-Mateos, A., Ishisaka, A., Mawatari, K., Vidal-Diez, A., Spencer, J. P., & Terao, J. (2013). Blueberry intervention improves vascular reactivity and lowers blood pressure in high-fat-, high-cholesterol-fed rats. The British Journal of Nutrition, 1746-54.
Song, Y., Park, H. J., Kang, S. N., Jang, S.-H., Lee, S.-J., Ko, Y.-G., . . . Cho, J.-H. (2013). Blueberry Peel Extracts Inhibit Adipogenesis in 3T3-L1 Cells and Reduce High-Fat Diet-Induced Obesity. PLoS One, e69925.
Wang, L., Bordi, P. L., Fleming, J. A., Hill, A. M., & Kris-Etherton, P. M. (2015). Effect of a Moderate Fat Diet With and Without Avocados on Lipoprotein Particle Number, Size and Subclasses in Overweight and Obese Adults: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Journal of the American Heart Association.