Like fashion, superfood hype comes and goes. From chia to baobab, Lara Green picks ten that everyone’s talking about and explains what on earth to do with them (and yes, kale IS on the list)
Fancy some chia seeds with that salad? Some goji berries with your morning granola? ‘Superfoods’ are a marketing dream at the moment, but if you can get through the hype, there are health benefits to be found. Here’s ten to work into your diet right now…
A favourite with pro juicers and a regular on the menu at some of the capital’s coolest raw cafés, this nutritious blue/green algae offers excellent health benefits. In fact, some argue it contains more nutrients than a lot of other super foods put together so we’d be crazy to ignore the benefits. Key ingredients – vitamins B, E, beta-carotene, antioxidants and vital minerals – all help to promote good health and it’s a great one to kick start energy levels, support weight loss and boost your calcium intake. The only downside is the taste. Whilst the benefits are dazzling, it’s rather akin to murky pond water, so mix it in with your fave fruit and veggies to up the flavour factor.
Healthista tip: Choose smooth fruits (banana) and natural sweeteners like medjool dates and almond milk to create tasty shakes. Alternatively go for a supplement. Holland & Barrett sell handy 500mg capsules.
A fave with the likes of Oprah and Matthew McConaughey, Acai (Pronounced ‘as-i-ee’) are antioxidant, vitamin-rich purple berries that grow on palm trees on the banks of the Amazon that when ripe, are rapidly pulped and freeze dried to lock in all of the goodness. The result is a purple powder that can help to protect cells from oxidative stress, keep the nervous system healthy and provide essential fatty acids that support heart, liver and brain health. Easy to use and relatively pleasant on the ol’ taste buds, it can be thrown into all of your favourite health foods – from breakfast oats and porridges to smoothies, juices, salads and yoghurt.
Healthista tip: Opt for ethical, organic and preferably in powder form. Naturya’s Acai berries are organically farmed by cooperatives in Para, Northern Brazil and are brilliant in smoothies or mixed with water for a quick pick me up.
The health industry is having a bit of a micro-moment right now. Larger is in fact, not always healthier it seems, with research showing that greens harvested around 14 days old can be tastier and more vibrant with a higher nutrition content than their older counterparts. They also have the added benefit of working with pretty much anything – soups, salads, shakes, smoothies, tacos – you name it, they’ll pack an impressive nutritional punch in any food. You can pick them up in organic veggie stores, but we think it’s worth giving them a go yourself. Simply grow them like normal herbs and veggies – sow them into compost with regular light and water, and hey-presto, you’ll have your own microgreens in a couple of weeks.
Healthista tip: Coriander, kale, mustard, beet, broccoli, basil and fennel all work brilliantly in micro-form and have a wonderfully concentrated flavour that will delight the senses. And whilst they will bring a certain gusto to casseroles and soups, we think they’re best enjoyed light and airy – chucked into a salad being the best way to get great nutrition AND a hit on taste.
No superfood list is complete without it. Celebs love kale, nutritionists rave about it and there is no greater ingredient in a smoothie or raw juice than the hardy kale cabbage. A raw green that works nicely blended with apple, banana and mint, it is packed with powerful antioxidants, vitamin K (an anti-cancer nutrient) and is a superb source of iron and omega three fatty acids. It’s also filled with fibre and sulfur so if you’re on a detox mission, this will help the cleansing process and help keep your liver healthy.
Healthista tip: it’s a bitter green so try it in a smoothie or juice with fruit to balance out the flavour. There are tons of recipes on line so do lots of research to keep the flavours fresh and tasty.
Whilst it might not score any points for taste, wheatgrass certainly delivers when it comes to benefitting the body, in fact there’s not much this little wonder grass can’t do for our health. It’s a great source of chlorophyll (a blood builder), bursting with enzymes, protein and antioxidants to support and cleanse the body and works a treat blended into a juice in place of that latte.
Healthista tip: Mix it with plain water and knock it back! It won’t taste great but it will help to cleanse the digestive system. Try Squeeze Juices Café for fresh wheatgrass shots delivered to your door, or Green’s Organic Wheatgrass powder.
The humble sesame seed – the hero of salads and sushi – is making its way on to shopping lists again, thanks to its high calcium and zinc content. Packed with magnesium, copper, fibre and Vitamin B1, it’s a great one for bones, promotes good heart health and protects the liver from oxidative stress. Over 3,000 years old, we hear the women of ancient Babylon would eat sesame seeds with honey to prolong youth and beauty whilst Roman Soldiers ate them for strength and energy.
Healthista tip: The seeds carry more nutritional value when they are un-hulled. Try Healthy Supplies for natural sesame seeds.
Available as a pill, liquid or powder, Maca is a root from the radish family that’s grown in the Peruvian mountains. Bursting with vitamins B, C and E, it’s known to support women during the menstrual cycle and can help to alleviate associated symptoms such as cramps, mood swings and anxiety. It’s also a bit of a hit with athletes for its energy-yielding properties and support for building lean muscle mass. Oh, and it apparently adds extra vroom to bedroom antics too…
Healthista tip: keep the amounts small – half a teaspoon is enough to get the benefits you need. We love it in a shake for brekkie but it’s also great added to flour for an extra health kick in muffins or cookies. Try Wholefoods Maca Powder – £8.39 for 500g.
Hemp is the new kid on the block and one that we’ll all want to be friends with on discovering its fab protein content. It has a yummy, rich nutty texture that works a treat in cereals and salads or chucked into your favourite smoothie blend. Boasting a plethora of good stuff including iron, magnesium and B vitamins, it’s a great support for energy, bones and muscles. It’s also one of the few plant protein resources to contain the full spectrum of essential amino acids that our bodies can’t produce, making it a great choice for vegans and vegetarians.
Healthista tip: Look for shelled hemp – it’s so simple to use and can be chucked in more or less anything from soups and salads to ice cream and brownies. Try Linwoods Shelled Hemp, £6.49 for 225g.
A brilliant add on to smoothies and juices, Chia seeds keep for yonks and are packed with fibre and omega-3 fatty acids. Naturally filling, they make a great breakfast mixed into gluten free oats with almond milk and banana or topped on to a green juice to kick start your day. The appeal of Chia is down to its flexibility – it keeps for ages, can be thrown into most meals and is great in your best bakes too.
Healthista tip: buy it in ground form, it’s easier to digest and makes lightwork of mixing it in to smoothies, cereals and salads. Milled Chia Seeds are £11.99 for 315g from Holland & Barrett. If you’re having it whole, soak it in water overnight or for at least 30 minutes. The seeds explained and become easier to digest. Then drink the water with the seeds in. It;’s hydrating powers are extraordinary and athletes drink chia water for a sugar-free energy hit pre-training.
Hailing from Africa, the Baobab fruit contains a powdery pulp with a high level of vitamin C and antioxidants. Used for decades in traditional African medicine, it’s now made its way into the cupboards of UK health lovers who buy it in bars, powder form, juices and supplements. A great energy booster, it is rich in fibre and provides an excellent source of calcium, potassium, thiamin and vitamin B6, not to mention polyphenols which have potential health benefits against various diseases.
Healthista tip: it’s quite hefty on the purse strings so buy it in powder form and use it sparingly on salads and smoothies (it has slightly circusy edge). Greens Organics have a soil association certified powder that comes in three sizes, starting from £17.99 for 250g.