How to make a balanced diet a little bit super

Healthy lifestyle choices, coupled with a balanced nutritious diet, reduce the risk of many illnesses, disease and cancers. When it comes to selecting the best food to incorporate in your diet, recently there has been a lot of interest in superfoods. They can help improve your training and performance levels, prevent illness, and also recover from injury too.

You will probably be forgiven for thinking that superfoods are something that the Man-of-Steel brought with him from the planet kryptonite! However, super food is a term used to describe foods that are considered to be at the pinnacle of the healthy food pyramid.

The online dictionary defines superfood as "a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being". However, there is no official definition and the EU has banned health claims on packaging unless they are supported by scientific evidence.

Foods on the superfood list include ones rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants are chemicals thought to protect against the harmful effects of the chemicals naturally produced in every living cell that cause cell damage, called free radicals. The antioxidants in superfoods are:

Beta-carotene

The human body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A. Beta-carotene in itself is not an essential nutrient, but is a precursor to vitamin A (see next item).

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is also known as retinol and plays a key role in boosting your immune system, improving your ability to see in dim light, while also keeping skin healthy.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid as it is less commonly known, helps to protect cells and keep them healthy. Vitamin C is necessary for the maintenance and health of your connective tissue, and additionally aids the healing process of wounds.

Vitamin E

One of the several important functions of Vitamin E is protecting cell membranes. This helps to maintain healthy skin and eyes, but a key benefit is that it strengthens the immune system.

Flavonoids

Flavonoids are a group of plant metabolites. Flavonoids are best known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory health benefits as well as the support of the cardiovascular and nervous systems.

Selenium

Selenium is a mineral found in the soil. Selenium naturally appears in water and some foods. While people only need a very small amount, selenium plays a key role in the metabolism.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids. They are also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development.

So, what can you actually buy? Below is a list of 50 superfoods for you to try…after all, trying to remember all of these and look for their names in ingredients or on hard-to-read packaging while rushing around a supermarket is perhaps a little unrealistic!

Acai Berries
Almonds
Apple’s
Apricots
Artichokes
Asparagus
Aubergine
Avocados
Bananas
Beetroot
Bell Peppers
Blueberries
Broccoli
Brussel Sprouts
Butternut Squash
Cabbage
Cacao
Carrots
Cashew Nuts
Coconut
Cranberries
Cucumbers
Dark Chocolate
Flax
Garlic
Ginger
Grapes (purple/black)
Green Tea
Greens
Goji Berries
Hemp seed
Honeydew Melon
Jerusalem Artichokes
Kale
Kimchi
Lentils
Mangoes
Oatmeal
Olive Oil/Olives
Oranges
Pomegranate
Quinoa
Red Kidney beans
Sauerkraut
Spinach
Strawberries
Sweet Potatoes
Tomatoes
Turmeric
Wheatgrass

 

Although super foods contain very beneficial nutrients, it would be a mistake to think of them as being able to magically undo the damage caused by an unbalanced diet high in saturated fats, sugars and salt.

The best way to use superfoods is to incorporate them into a healthy balanced diet that includes regular exercise. This means eating a variety of foods so that your overall food intake is:

33% fruit and vegetables,
33% starchy foods like bread pasta potatoes and rice,
15% milk and dairy foods,
12% made up of nondairy sources of protein like meat, fish eggs and beans.
Only 7% should be foods that are high in fats and sugars.