Superfoods seem to be everywhere at the moment. But it's hard to say what the term means exactly, because there is no single, agreed definition for what constitutes a 'superfood'. However, all foods that are classed as superfoods are natural in origin – superfoods are not produced in industrial manufacturing plants – and they possess a set of specific properties.
Superfoods can help us feel more active and fit. This is because they contain a balanced combination of minerals, vitamins, amino acids, healthy fats, fibre and carbohydrates, as well as trace elements. These positive ingredients can also help to build muscle and detoxify the body.
Most superfoods are easy to source from well-stocked supermarkets. For some of the more exotic superfoods, you may need to resort to health food stores or the Internet. Regardless of where you buy your superfoods, it is important to consider their origins and the cultivation methods used in their production. Even the very best foods can do more harm than good if they have been treated with pesticides. Look for certifications and organic labels as indicators of high-quality products.
Matcha lime cake, matcha latte, matcha ice tea, matcha, matcha, matcha...the latest new superfood powder seems to be everywhere. But what exactly is matcha? Matcha is Japanese for "ground green tea". And that's exactly what it is: Green Japanese tencha tea leaves are ground into a fine powder and then packaged and sold as matcha. Matcha contains a lot of caffeine, so it provides energy and acts as a stimulant. The caffeine in matcha enters the blood stream more slowly than the caffeine in coffee, so it's easier for the body to tolerate, and the effects last longer. Matcha powder is also said to help you relax and improve concentration and attention span thanks to its combination of caffeine and the amino acid L-Theanine, earning matcha its place on our diverse list of superfoods. Matcha tea is usually prepared with a small bamboo whisk.
Acai berries (pronounced "ah-SIGH"), which grow in central America and Brazil, are not yet as well-known as some of the other superfoods – so they remain available in abundance in their native countries. They contain valuable antioxidants, which protect cells, helping to prevent illness and slow down the natural ageing process. They also supply our bodies with unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins A, C and E and minerals. They taste slightly earthy and nutty, with a hint of sourness. As they go off quickly, the berries are usually supplied in powder form or frozen.
Goji berries, nicknamed the happy berry, originated in China, where they have been known for their medicinal properties for centuries. They contain an above-average amount of vitamins B, C and E and betacarotine, as well as a variety of minerals, more than 10 amino acids and iron. Goji berries taste a little like raisins, cranberries and cherries. In Europe, the berries are usually sold dried, and are ideal for sprinkling on muesli or for adding a fruity twist to a summery salad.
The image of quinoa has been transformed in recent years. What was once just a basic source of nutrition for millions is now a hyped-up superfood. Quinoa originates in Peru and Bolivia, where it has been on the menu for over 6000 years. The Incas referred to it as "the mother grain" and recognised its healthy, strength-giving properties. Now, we know that quinoa has a neutralising effect on our bodies. It can help to balance out and lessen the effects of acidic or acid-forming foods such as cheese and dairy products, wheat, fish and meat. Quinoa is also high in protein, gluten-free and rich in iron and calcium.
The pomegranate is an amazing fruit. Not only does it taste delicious in desserts, salads or as a juice, but it also provides a whole host of nutrients for our bodies. Its high vitamin C content helps to support our immune system – and luckily this fruit comes into season just when we need it most, during the cold winter months. Pomegranates also contain an abundance of B vitamins, iron, folic acid and vitamin K. Thanks, in part, to their high level of antioxidants, pomegranates are also said to have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system, high blood pressure and Alzheimer's symptoms, as well as helping us to break down sugar more effectively. The only problem: They're a little tricky to eat.
Chia seeds contain valuable omega-3 fatty acids, proteins and iron, as well as vitamins and calcium, magnesium and potassium, which boost the immune system and metabolism. As chia seeds are highly absorbent, they can be added to liquid to change its consistency. After a short time, the liquid becomes gel-like. The thickening effect is caused by the polysaccharide layer that forms around the seeds. This layer also stimulates digestion and regulates the blood sugar level, which may help to prevent hunger pangs. For this reason, chia seeds are increasingly being used as a weight loss aid.
Almonds crop up from time to time in most people's diets. However, we should all be making a concerted effort to eat more of them, as they contain nutrients that are essential for our bodies – including unsaturated fatty acids, magnesium, vitamin E, protein, folic acid and potassium, to name a few. These nutrients have been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease. Magnesium, for example, helps to prevent heart attacks. Thanks to their high levels of vitamin E, almonds also strengthen the immune system and contain antioxidants to protect our skin against ageing. Almonds are a really versatile food. We often use them in cakes or other sweet treats, but two or three plain almonds a day will also bring benefits to body and mind.
From the outside, you'd be forgiven for confusing the aronia berry with a blueberry. However, the aronia berry possesses a much more powerful, acidic flavour than the blueberry. The aronia berry also far surpasses the blueberry in terms of nutrients. In addition to vitamins C, E, K and B2, as well as folic acid, the aronia berry also contains minerals such as potassium, calcium, iodine, iron and zinc. But it's the berry's high level of antioxidants, which counteract oxidative stress and therefore ageing, that really earn it its place in this list of superfoods. The aronia berry also supports the immune system and helps the body to heal itself, with flavonoids that reduce inflammation.
While we will have all integrated some of these superfoods into our everyday diet without even realising it, others are difficult to find in Europe.
As long as we understand that superfoods won't work miracles, they can be an excellent addition to our diet, helping to make it more varied and balanced and improving our overall sense of wellbeing. Superfoods alone provide no guarantees of a long and healthy life. Exercise and relaxation remain crucial building blocks of a healthy lifestyle.