The term “superfood” is thrown around a lot these days but what exactly is “superfood”? According to Google, “superfood” is a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being. Blueberries, kales, hemp seeds are just a few examples of food that have garnered the title. However, there are no set criteria for determining what can be categorized as superfoods. The term itself is misleading as it can exaggerate the healthy properties of some of the foods. Sure, some foods are more healthy than others and often are overhyped to the point that we often justify that they are worth spending a lot of money on.
After digging up the Internet for the trending superfoods in 2018, I wanted to compose this list of the most popular/sought after superfoods, with some statistics to back them up as well 🙂
First, let’s establish some criterias for these superfoods:
- Nutrient values: there are many nutrient rating system out there, but for the sake of simplicity I am only using a couple main ones: ORAC (a measurement of antioxidant content), ANDI (a measurement of nutrient density).
- Phytonutrient content: I will also try to include information about the amount of healthy chemical compounds in each food item if such information is available
- Immune system improvement or disease prevention: these added health benefits are also often taken into consideration when determining what food is superfood.
Shall we begin?! 🙂
ORAC Value: depending on different types of seaweed, with F.Vesiculosus (or “Fucus”) having the highest ORAC value of 2500, while others fluctuating around 500-1500 (link)
ANDI Value: unavailable. However, it can be said that seaweed is one of the most nutritious food around, and here is a list of some of its nutrients: (link)
- Vitamin K: 82% RDA (recommended dietary allowance)
- Folate: 45% RDA
- Magnesium: 30% RDA
- Calcium: 17% RDA
- Iron: 16% RDA
Phytonutrients: seaweed has many phytonutrients that no other foods have, one of which is Fucoidan, a natural compound that is found only in brown seaweed.
The seaweed that contains the highest levels of Fucoidan is called “Cladosiphon okamuranus” or Angels’ Hair or Mozuku. While a few types of Fucoidan like Mozuku and Mekabu show a relatively lower antioxidant activities in comparison with Fucus fucoidan (link), Mozuku fucoidan has shown to have a higher apoptosis inducing effect on cancer cells, and Mekabu fucoidan is reported to be more effective in suppressing cancer Angiogenesis than other fucoidan extracts.
While Fucoidan has not been widely accepted as an official treatment for cancer due to challenges impeding utilization of the compound (complex structure, highly variable doses, etc.), there are numerous promising pre-clinical reports on the many health benefits of Fucoidan, including but not limited to:
- Suppression of metastasis and Angiogenesis in cancer
- Activation of apoptosis (cancer cell destruction)
- Enhancement of immune system
- Alleviation of chemotherapy side effects
- Mitigation of high blood pressure & cholesterol
- Lowering of blood sugar activity
- Alleviation of the symptoms caused by diabetes
- Relief of eczema, pollen allergies
- Improvement of blood circulation
- Improvement of stomach and gut health
- Elimination of the Helicobacter pylori bacteria
- Prevention of other common lifestyle diseases
Needless to say, seaweed has been recognized as a superfood by many nutritionists and health experts. However, the essence of seaweed, or brown seaweed in particular, is Fucoidan which is a bioactive compound that has the most health benefits.
Chaga mushrooms look liked burnt charcoal that can be seen outside of mostly birch trees.
ORAC Value: ranging from 5,200 to 146,700, but depending on the manufacturers and the product forms, this number can vary greatly (link).
ANDI Value: unavailable. Chaga mushrooms are more well-known for their antioxidant content while their nutrient profile is not super impressive. But here are some of its key nutritional compounds:
- Beta-glucans (~12-15% compared to ~40% in Agaricus blazei mushrooms): Strengthens and supports the immune system
- Betulin & betulinic acid (~3%): Breaks down cholesterol in the bloodstream
- Superoxide Dismutase or SOD: Fight free radical damage and slow down the aging process (while it’s useless to take SOD orally, chaga mushrooms contain a high amount of Copper, Iron, Zinc and Maganese which stimulate the production of SOD in our bodies)
- Abundance of B vitamins: such as B2 & B3
Chaga mushrooms are indigestible in its unprocessed state. Beta-Glucans have the ability to stimulate the immune cells in our body, thus they are major anticancer ingredients. However, all medicinal mushrooms contain this polysaccharide, and as indicated above, there is a larger amount of Beta-Glucans found in Agaricus blazei mushroom than in Chaga mushroom. Even though Chaga is not as powerful as Agaricus in strengthening our immune systems based on the levels of Beta-Glucans, its antioxidant potency is very high, making it one of the most sought after mushroom supplements available in the market. A high-quality Chaga extract will provide a high level of antioxidants, so it’s important that you read the product’s supplemental facts.
Here are some health benefits of Chaga mushrooms:
- Anti-aging properties and skin benefits
- Anti-inflammation and anti-viral properties
- Immune system stimulation
- Anti-ulcer and anti-gastritis properties
- Healthy blood pressure support
Sumac is a spice that originates from Middle East and a high-tannin variety of sorghum. It’s described as a tangy lemony flavor that is great for all kinds of dishes from sprinkling on food, to dressings.
ORAC Value: 312,400 (two times the ability to fight free radicals as Chaga mushrooms; 60x the antioxidant content as blueberries, for your reference)
ANDI Value: unavailable
Because it contains such a high level of antioxidant, sumac bran definitely has some health benefits even when used sparingly:
- Anti-aging, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties
- Cardiovascular system benefits
- Blood cholesterol levels reduction
- Diuretic properties
Ashwagandha (means “smell of horse”), also known as “Indian ginseng”, is one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic healing, and its usage dates backs to ancient times.
ORAC Value: 8487
ANDI Value: unavailable. Below are some of its medicinal chemicals (link):
- Withanolides (Ashwagandha has the highest concentration of this): anti-inflammation properties
- Many fatty acids and amino acids
- A variety of sugars/polysaccharides
Some of its unique health benefits are listed below (link):
- Anxiety reducing properties and anti depression properties
- Blood sugar stabilization
- Thyroid function improvement
- Sexual potency enhancement for men and women
- Apoptosis induction in cancer cells
- Depigmentation property in skin cells
While it seems that a couple of foods listed above share some of the same health benefits, they posses health properties that are unique to them. And while superfoods are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and are totally good for our health, they aren’t all instant cure-all. That’s why it’s vital that you employ a varied diet so you can profit from the different health benefits of many superfoods.