It might be time to rethink our relationship with superfoods. In many cases, they are rightly coined super as many have proven anti-inflammatory, anti-ageing and fertility-boosting properties. However, the singular way we approach superfoods and nutrition overall often means we miss out on the promised benefits since we don’t consume them in the right way. To understand the role of these wonder ingredients and how best to incorporate them into our diet, we sat down with nutrition consultant Sana Khan.
Why are we so obsessed with superfoods?
“For nutritionists, the term superfood is not an ideal term. It is often used as a marketing tool, and may allow people to focus on one food type rather than encouraging them to eat a variety of foods, which is ultimately key. Superfoods are often surrounded by controversy from a nutritional standpoint, because their popularity might not be born from sound scientific evidence but from smaller studies, opinion, influencers or a new trend. The avocado diet is a good example of this. While I don’t deny many of the popular so-called superfoods are nutrient dense, the problem I see in my clinic is many people put so much focus on these, they neglect other really important foods. I do understand we’re drawn to the idea of superfoods because focusing on just one ingredient feels manageable when the world of nutrition can be overwhelming. Ultimately the key to optimum nutrition is through a variety of foods, rather than a single supposed superfood.”
What makes a food a superfood?
“There is no single food or even superfood which is the answer to optimal health. What makes a particular ingredient a superfood in my eyes comes down to two things; firstly, it is scientifically linked to an array of health benefits, so it comes with a volume of evidence behind it; secondly, it offers versatility. By versatile, I mean it can not only nourish you when eaten, but can also be used in other ways, for example topically on the skin or hair. A great example of this is turmeric. It is an ancient superfood, used in many ancient Indian remedies, and is also very well studied, which gives it extra credibility! It’s the active ingredient inside turmeric – called curcumin – that gives its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, both as a cooking ingredient when used in curries and soups, but also when used topically in hair masks, or as an antiseptic. When applied at pharmaceutical strength, turmeric has actually been compared to non-steroidal anti- inflammatory medicines (Ibuprofen and Aspirin fall within this category) in scientific evidence.”
Are some superfoods not all they're cracked up to be?
“I feel some foods are continuously mentioned for their superfood powers. An example is coconut water which is sold in plastic bottles as a health food. The processing and preserving process denatures some of the health benefits that coconut water may possess. Although it is great for hydration, there are still lots of natural sugars present and is often not available in its natural form. As a result, I feel coconut water is over-hyped.”
Does juicing superfoods undo some of the good?
“I have never been a fan of juicing fruit and vegetables because by doing this you lose out on fibre and some nutrients. Fibre is vital for gut motility and is an important aspect of fruit and vegetables. By extracting this, you are simply creating a sugary drink which can cause an insulin spike, thus resulting in a cascade of other blood sugar issues – such as a craving for caffeine, stimulants or more sugar – shortly afterwards.”
Turmeric Lattes – nutritious drink or a total waste of time?
“This is a really interesting question! From a nutritional standpoint, they are more of a gimmick. Consuming a superfood like turmeric in tiny quantities within a sugar-filled latte is not going to give you the health benefits. It is all about the collective consumption, rather than consuming it all in one go. To get the many benefits from turmeric I recommend eating it – an organic powder is perfect – at breakfast, lunch and dinner. That way, it all adds up.”
Does it count if I take it as a supplement?
“Absolutely, but if you do, you should seek specialist advice first, in case it isn’t what your body actually needs. Personally, I take curcumin as a supplement every day, not just because of its anti-inflammatory benefits but because of its anti-ageing properties and beauty benefits too!”
Any superfoods you recommend to support fertility challenges?
“Definitely. The first thing to remember when it comes to fertility support is to stress how important it is to see a specialist to give you the correct guidelines. For my patients looking to increase their fertility, I recommend they incorporate three different food types into their diets.”
1. Omega 3 fats in oily fish like salmon, mackerel as well as nuts and seeds. With conditions like endometriosis or polycystic ovaries, the anti-inflammatory properties in these Omega 3-rich foods can be really powerful.
2. Good fats from avocados for example. The reason why we need these is for the optimum production of new hormones and to create the cell membranes. These are made out of fat, so eating good fats is really important here.
3. Turmeric again! The anti-inflammatory benefits we’ve already touched on but the curcumin inside also helps repair cell and DNA damage.
Is there a superfood waiting to hit the big time?
“Yes, it’s called Maca Root, and is a known fertility superfood, but also has a range of other benefits from supporting cognitive function to mood enhancement. It is an ancient Amazonian root with a really rich profile of vitamins and minerals; Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Iron, Potassium, Manganese and Zinc. It commonly comes in powder form and when added to hot milk, cereal, smoothies etc has a nutty taste. I would recommend having it in the morning, as the B vitamins present can give you lots of energy, not what you want before bed! It is really powerful though so I recommend seeing a specialist before embarking on Maca supplements.”
Is there a diet everyone could benefit from following?
“The most important thing is to consume a wholesome, natural and varied diet, avoiding overly- processed foods where possible. The UK Government recommends we eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, but what is important to remember is it shouldn’t be the same five each day! For example, orange and red fruits and vegetables provide our bodies with vitamin A and beta-carotene, and green fruits an entirely different range of nutrients. Ensure your plate has a portion of good quality carbohydrates (from grains ideally), as well as vegetables, protein and good fats.”
Sana’s Top Five Superfoods
2. Maca Root
3. Leafy Green Vegetables
4. Aloe Vera
5. Green Tea
Sana Khan is a nutrition consultant. To find out more, visit Nourishbysk.co.uk.
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