Su­per­foods ver­sus suppl ements?

We’ve long been fed the line that cer­tain vi­ta­min and min­eral tablets are es­sen­tial for good health – so why are so many of us sud­denly swap­ping syn­thetic sup­ple­ments for nat­u­ral nu­tri­ents? Jane Alexan­der re­ports

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - BODY & SOUL -

A new book is warn­ing that vi­ta­mins might not be as healthy as we think: they could even be caus­ing us harm. Dr Paul Of­fit, author of Killing Us Softly ( Fourth Es­tate) claims that vi­ta­min sup­ple­ments can ac­tu­ally in­crease our risk of heart dis­ease and can­cer. While that may come as a shock to most of us, many natur­opaths — and, in par­tic­u­lar, raw­food ad­vo­cates — are not so sur­prised. They have been say­ing for years that the best way to supercharge our diet is not with man­u­fac­tured sup­ple­ments but with foods dense in nat­u­ral nu­tri­ents — the so- called ‘su­per­foods’. In fact, many nu­tri­tional ex­perts now es­chew sup­ple­ments al­to­gether, claim­ing that foods like acaí, maca and chia are bet­ter, health­ier and much safer than syn­thetic vi­ta­mins and nu­tri­tional sup­ple­ments.

‘Su­per­foods are holis­tic health sup­ple­ments that con­tain more nu­tri­ents per calo­rie than most foods,’ says natur­opath Veronika Poola ( kaliyoga.com). ‘They are es­pe­cially high in vi­ta­mins, min­er­als, an­tiox­i­dants and en­zymes. Un­like syn­thetic sup­ple­ments, they are foods and come in a form that is recog­nised and more read­ily ab­sorbed by the body.’

Phar­ma­cist Shabir Daya, of on­line phar­macy vic­to­ri­a­health.com, agrees. ‘ They of­fer great ben­e­fits,’ he says. ‘Pro­vid­ing not only vi­ta­mins and min­er­als but phy­tonu­tri­ents which have many ben­e­fi­cial properties.’ He points out that su­per­foods are also much safer than syn­thetic sup­ple­ments. ‘Su­per­foods do not of­fer mega doses — mega­doses of any nu­tri­ent can have a detri­men­tal ef­fect.’ But he is swift to point out that they aren’t nec­es­sar­ily a magic bul­let and that you should take some of their mirac­u­lous claims with a pinch of salt. ‘Most foods that are touted as su­per­foods of­ten do have very po­tent an­tiox­i­dant properties,’ he says. ‘How­ever, they may not have a com­plete pro­file of nu­tri­ents, which is why I rec­om­mend a bal­anced, var­ied diet with plenty of fruits, veg­eta­bles, along­side su­per­foods such as goji berries, acaí and so forth.’

Cer­tainly, there is a lot of hype around and some foods, such as bee pollen (sup­pos­edly ‘na­ture’s per­fect food’), have very lit­tle by way of re­search to back up the claims made by their ad­vo­cates. Many ‘green’ sup­ple­ments, such as chlorella, spir­ulina and bar­ley grass have also come un­der scru­tiny from sci­en­tists who point out that the en­zymes they con­tain are aimed at plants, not hu­mans and that, while they don’t do any harm, they equally don’t do much good. But, equally, re­search shows that many of th­ese foods do have pow­er­ful health ben­e­fits.

If you’re re­ly­ing on sup­ple­ments to boost your diet, now could be the time to in­ves­ti­gate the su­per­foods. Ex­pect many more to fol­low. ‘Watch out for moringa and reishi next,’ says Veronika Poola.

The 10 Top Su­per­foods

The fol­low­ing are the 10 most highly re­garded su­per­foods, from acaí to ash­wa­ganda, chia to ca­cao. We look at their claims to fame, the proof be­hind them and how to use them in your daily diet.

1 Acaí: the anti-ager and weight re­ducer

The claims: Ex­ceed­ingly high in an­tiox­i­dants, acaí is said to help pre­vent pre­ma­ture age­ing. Its amino acid pro­file gives a sus­tained en­ergy boost and its high es­sen­tial fatty acid con­tent helps reg­u­late blood sugar.

Are they jus­ti­fied? Acaí berries con­tain very high amounts of es­sen­tial fatty acids and omegas, proven to lower LDL and HDL choles­terol lev­els. Plus they con­tain a re­mark­able con­cen­tra­tion of an­tiox­i­dants (twice the amount in blue­ber­ries), which may help com­bat pre­ma­ture age­ing. In par­tic­u­lar, the acaí berry is a dense source of an­tho­cyanins (con­tain­ing 10-30 more than a glass of red wine).

How to su­per­boost it in your diet: Add half a tea­spoon to juices and smooth­ies. Make sure it’s freeze-dried and not pas­teurised.

2 Ash­wa­gandha: the stress re­ducer

The claims: This ayurvedic tonic is an adap­to­gen that helps coun­ter­act the ef­fects of stress and burnout. Can re­lieve ner­vous ten­sion and restore sex­ual vi­tal­ity. May help fer­til­ity. Are they jus­ti­fied? An im­pres­sive amount of re­search in­di­cates that ash­wa­gandha does have a host of ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing boost­ing im­mune func­tion and en­hanc­ing brain chem­istry — im­prov­ing mem­ory, sooth­ing de­pres­sion and eas­ing stress. Its anti-in­flam­ma­tory ef­fect has been shown to be com­pa­ra­ble to a dose of hy­dro­cor­ti­sone and pa­tients with os­teoarthri­tis found it sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced pain and dis­abil­ity. How to su­per­boost it in your diet: Add a tea­spoon to food or have it as a tea, up to three cups a day.

3

Ca­cao: na­ture’s Prozac

The claims: Pure raw ca­cao (the raw in­gre­di­ent of choco­late) can re­duce stress and anx­i­ety and in­crease feel­ings of well­be­ing. It is ex­tremely high in an­tiox­i­dants and mag­ne­sium.

Are they jus­ti­fied? The jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion, Cir­cu­la­tion, says, ‘Re­cent re­search demon­strates a ben­e­fi­cial ef­fect on blood pres­sure, in­sulin re­sis­tance, and vas­cu­lar and platelet func­tion.’

How to su­per­boost it in your diet: Add a desert­spoon of the nibs to por­ridge, ce­real or smooth­ies. Note: don’t take late at night — it could af­fect your sleep. Make sure you buy the ac­tual nibs, rather than re­fined, sweet­ened ca­cao.

4 Chia seed: the ap­petite sup­pres­sant

The claims: Chia was ap­par­ently used by the Aztecs and Mayans for en­durance and en­ergy. It’s a gelati­nous seed that adds bulk to food, mak­ing it an ex­cel­lent weight-loss aid. It con­tains the high­est veg­e­tar­ian source of EFAs (es­sen­tial fatty acids) and is ex­ceed­ingly high in cal­cium and iron.

Are they jus­ti­fied? The Amer­i­can So­ci­ety for Nu­tri­tion cites a study pub­lished in The Jour­nal of Nu­tri­tion which showed chia could help re­duce serum triglyc­eride lev­els and in­flam­ma­tion. But the Jour­nal warns that more re­search needs to be car­ried out to ver­ify other claims. Most re­search so far has been on lab an­i­mals, not hu­mans.

How to su­per­boost it in your diet: Soak the chia for 10 min­utes (one part chia to seven parts wa­ter) as a break­fast base, or add to smooth­ies or soups or rice (add it when the meal is cooked).

5

Goji berries: the life ex­ten­der

The claims: Nick­named ‘the longevity fruit’, th­ese small berries have po­tent anti-age­ing and im­mune-en­hanc­ing properties. Said to in­crease stamina, strength and sex­ual en­ergy too. Are they jus­ti­fied? A study re­ported in The Jour­nal of Al­ter­na­tive and Com­ple­men­tary Medicine found that daily con­sump­tion of Goji berries for 14 days ‘in­creases sub­jec­tive feel­ings of gen­eral well­be­ing, and im­proves neu­ro­logic/psy­cho­log­i­cal per­for­mance and gas­troin­testi­nal func­tions’. How to su­per­boost it in your diet: Twenty-eight grammes a day is the ideal dose; sprin­kle on por­ridge, ce­real, yo­ghurt; add to tomato and red pep­per dishes.

6 Hempseed: the hor­mone bal­ancer/beauty booster

The claims: A su­perb veg­e­tar­ian pro­tein (a much bet­ter choice than soya or whey pro­tein for ath­letes) with the ideal ra­tio of es­sen­tial fatty acids. Hemp can en­cour­age weight loss and a healthy im­mune sys­tem. It also helps pro­mote glossy hair, healthy skin and nails, and may bal­ance hor­mones and re­duce in­flam­ma­tion. Can also help de­pres­sion and soothe eczema.

Are they jus­ti­fied? A study in the jour­nal Nu­tri­tion & Me­tab­o­lism con­cluded: ‘Hempseed has the po­ten­tial to ben­e­fi­cially in­flu­ence heart dis­ease. Car­dio­vas­cu­lar pa­tients may not be the only sub­jects who ben­e­fit from this re­search. Only time will tell if other dis­eases that have an im­muno­log­i­cal, der­ma­to­log­i­cal, neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive ba­sis may also ben­e­fit from this new nu­tri­tional in­ter­ven­tion.’

How to su­per­boost it in your diet: Blend one or two ta­ble­spoons into smooth­ies or add to soups at the end of the cook­ing time.

7

Maca: the li­bido raiser

The claims: An­other pow­er­ful adap­to­gen, used orig­i­nally by the Peru­vians for en­ergy and sex­ual prow­ess, Maca is said to help re­duce anx­i­ety, stress and de­pres­sion and en­hances li­bido and fer­til­ity.

Are they jus­ti­fied? Ac­cord­ing to the US National In­sti­tutes of Health, ‘Ran­domised clin­i­cal tri­als have shown that maca has favourable ef­fects on en­ergy and mood, may de­crease anx­i­ety and im­prove sex­ual de­sire. Maca has also been shown to im­prove sperm pro­duc­tion, sperm motil­ity, and se­men vol­ume.’

How to su­per­boost it in your diet: Start with a tea­spoon and grad­u­ally work up to a ta­ble­spoon per day on ce­real or in soups and hot drinks (it works well with ca­cao).

8 Dragon fruit (pitaya): the su­per an­tiox­i­dant

The claims: Drag­on­fruit was used by the Mayans. It is high in an­tiox­i­dants and be­lieved to help pre­vent di­a­betes and can­cer, neu­tralise toxic met­als and re­duce choles­terol and blood pres­sure. It is also said to have wound-heal­ing properties and to re­duce the risk of heart dis­ease.

Are they jus­ti­fied? A study re­ported in the med­i­cal jour­nal Phar­ma­cog­nosy Re­search sug­gests drag­on­fruit could help pre­vent di­a­betic com­pli­ca­tions and lower the risk of de­vel­op­ing heart dis­ease and high blood pres­sure.

How to su­per­boost it in your diet: Add it to

smooth­ies and sal­ads.

9

Turmeric: the dis­ease fighter

The claims: Turmeric is a po­tent an­ti­in­flam­ma­tory, an­ti­sep­tic and an­tiox­i­dant (five to eight times more po­tent in its im­mune­boost­ing ef­fect than vi­ta­mins C and E). It helps to pro­tect cells and in­hibits the repli­ca­tion of dam­aged cells. Turmeric also ap­pears to help arthri­tis, low­ers choles­terol and pro­tects the heart. It’s a pow­er­ful brain food and may even help weight loss and acne and strengthen bones.

Are they jus­ti­fied? The National In­sti­tutes of Health in the US have funded at least eight stud­ies prob­ing turmeric’s po­ten­tial to treat a range of dis­eases from can­cer and cys­tic fi­bro­sis to Alzheimer’s and arthri­tis. An Ital­ian study found it de­creased arthritic pain 58 per cent.

How to su­per­boost it in your diet: Add the

spice to cur­ries, stews and soups.

10 Spir­ulina: ‘na­ture’s green magic’

The claims: Sup­pos­edly one of the most nu­tri­ent-rich foods, and the high­est source of pro­tein and iron (while be­ing low in calo­ries), spir­ulina is said to curb ap­petite and bal­ance blood sugar lev­els, mak­ing it a good weight-loss aid.

Are they jus­ti­fied? An­i­mal stud­ies have shown spir­ulina to be help­ful in chemo­ther­apy-in­duced heart dam­age, stroke re­cov­ery, age- re­lated de­cline in mem­ory, di­a­betes and hay fever. But the US National In­sti­tutes of Health says there is in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to rec­om­mend spir­ulina and that more re­search is needed.

How to su­per­boost it in your diet: Add a ta­ble­spoon to cit­rus juices or add to salad dress­ings. Cau­tion: If you have any med­i­cal con­di­tion, are preg­nant or breast­feed­ing, con­sult your doc­tor be­fore sup­ple­ment­ing your diet

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