|Garlic, Linseed and Other Superfoods|
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- What are superfoods?
- Benefits of superfoods
- 10 Superfoods
The term "superfoods" is a catch-cry for any foods that have high levels of antioxidants or other valuable nutrients essential for good health, (such as essential fatty acids and are listed as superfoods because they have may more nutritional value than other foods.
Antioxidants are potent free radical scavengers that stop the oxidisation that happens in the body and potentially have far reaching health effects. The antioxidants in plants are called phytonutrients (or phytochemicals), which basically means "plant nutrients".
While the list of the foods with the highest levels of antioxidants does change from time to time, the list below is one which shows the foods that are considered to be in the top 10 of high-antioxidant foods.
Foods rich in potent antioxidants have the following health benefits:
- Macular degeneration - research has shown that antioxidants such as Vitamin A slows and even halts the progression of macular degeneration
- Heart health - research from several studies has shown that various antioxidant compounds in many vitamins and other nutrients
- Cancer - a lot of research has shown the foods high in antioxidants can prevent cancer cells from replicating
Blueberries are a super food as they contain very high levels of antioxidants - the highest of any plant foods. These antioxidants are the compounds which produce many health benefits.
Blueberries prevent infection and promote a healthy urinary tract because they contain compounds that prevent the bacteria responsible for causing urinary tract infections from sticking to the bladder wall.
The phytonutrient sulforaphane has been shown in studies to boost the body's detoxification enzymes, which helps to clear potentially carcinogenic substances more quickly out of the body.
The indoles are naturally-occuring phytonutrients in broccoli (and other cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower) which have displayed in anticancer properties against certain types of reproductive tumor cells in various studies.
Other research has found that broccoli is one of five vegetables and fruits that contain substances that act in the same way as the drugs used to treat Alzheimer's disease. Most of these drugs act as inhibitors of an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase, which is responsible for the breakdown of one of the brain's neurotransmitters, acetylcholine. Potatoes, oranges, apples and radishes were also found to display this same activity, but broccoli had the most profound effect. While it is too early to proclaim broccoli as a treatment of Alzheimer's disease, regular consumption of it may be beneficial in reducing a decline in acetylcholine levels in the central nervous system.
Garlic is well known for its antibacterial and antivital properties, which is due to its active component - allicin. Many studies have shown that garlic helps to ward off the common cold. Other studies have suggested garlic protects against Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers.
Several studies have shown that garlic, especially fresh and slightly crushed (but also cooked or in supplement form) has a powerful protective effect on the heart.
Up to around a hundred years ago, linseed was a staple in the diet, but the short shelf life of linseed probably reduced its popularity over the years.
Today, health conscious people have been again adding linseed to their diet in the form of linseed oil or linseeds (either ground or whole). Many bread companies have also realised the health benefits of linseeds and have starting making more breads with linseed added.
Linseed seeds contain many beneficial nutrients, such as protein, fibre, various vitamins and minerals and Omega-3 fatty acids in the form of lignans. Lignans have been recently discovered to have anti-cancer properties, as well having antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antiviral properties.
Linseeds also have the following health benefits:
- the Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for heart health;
- the natural lubricant properties and source of fibre makes linseed beneficial for constipation and colon health promotion;
- linseed provides the fats that are the precursors to brain building compounds;
- linseeds promote healthy skin.
The mushrooms that appear to have the most health benefits are the maitake, shiitake, and reishi mushrooms.
Research has shown that mushrooms have many and varied health promoting effects - lowering the risk of cancer; promoting immune function and warding off viruses, bacteria and fungi; boosting heart health; and support the body's detoxification mechanisms.
The benefits of eating oily fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring regularly are extensive and linked to the high levels of the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids they contain and the fact that these fatty acids are in the right combination (higher level of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids).
Several studies have shown the heart benefits of eating oily fish, so much that fish oil supplements are now recommended to heart patients, as well as a recommendation to increase consumption of oily fish.
One important study showed that if oily fish was eaten three times a week, the risk of fying from heart disease dropped by around 30%! Other research has shown that people who regularly eat oily fish have lower levels of markers for the disease artherosclerosis (blockage of the arteries).
Many studies have also shown that oily fish have anti-inflammatory properties due to the essential fatty acids they contain.
There is also some quite compelling evidence that eating oily fish regularly can help with mild to moderate depression.
Olive oil has long been proved to be a heart-friendly fat, with cholesterol-lowering properties, but new research has shown that freshly pressed olive oil also contains a compound with the same pain-relieving effects as the popular over-the-counter drug ibuprofen. Scientists have recently discovered that olive oil contains a powerful anti-inflammatory compound called oleocanthal.
Oleocanthal has exactly the same anti-inflammatory effect that ibuprofen has. Research has shown that only the freshest - and usually the most expensive - olive oil contains significant amounts of oleocanthal. Ageing and cooking the oil destroy oleocanthal.
Studies have shown that strawberries are rich in the disease-fighting antioxidants such as ellagic acid and anthocyanins, which is the substance that gives strawberries their red colour. The red pigment has also been shown to protect against heart problems.
In 2002, a study found that people who ate about eight strawberries daily experienced an increase in blood folate levels and a decrease in blood pressure, which was an important finding for heart patients. These findings show the the importance of including fruit as part of a heart-healthy diet.
Tomatoes in any form are beneficial for health, but it has been discovered that cooking tomatoes in olive oil releases higher levels of lycopene, so tomato sauce has a higher level of lycopene than raw tomatoes. Home cooked tomato sauce is the preferable option.
Several studies suggest that the eating foods rich in lycopene is associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer and lower incidence of cardiovascular disease. In one study, men who consumed the highest amounts of tomatoes were half as likely to suffer a heart attack as those who consumed the lowest amounts.
Walnuts contain alpha-linolenic acid, which is an omega-3 fatty acid that has a number of heart-healthy benefits, including lowering cholesterol. Alpha-linolenic acid has been shown in studies to reduce the risk of sudden death from dangerous, abnormal heart rhythms.
A study published last year showed that walnuts have beneficial effects similar to oily fish on cholesterol levels and C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammation marker that is strongly associated with heart disease and atherosclerosis (build up of fatty deposits in the arteries, which then block the arteries and cause heart health problems).
Interestingly, walnuts are also beneficial for some allergy sufferers - the oil in walnuts stems the allergic reaction in some individuals due to their anti-inflammatory properties.
- Graci S, Diamond H, Martin JM, The Power of Superfoods, Prentice Hall Canada, 1999
- Pratt SG, Matthews, K. SuperFoods Rx: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life, Harper-Collins Publishers USA, 2004
To learn more, go to the CSIRO Antioxidants Facts Sheet web site