ALTHOUGH the term 'superfood' is fairly recent, many foods have been valued throughout the ages. These days we understand more about why certain foods help prevent and treat everything from cancer to heart disease. Most of these are rich in vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals.
OMEGA-3 fats found in oily fish such as mackerel and sardines are vital for brain development, help keep the heart healthy and reduce the risk of stroke. They have an anti-inflammatory effect which can help relieve symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Research shows that women who have a good intake of omega-3 while pregnant are less likely to have a premature baby and that people who suffer from depression often have low levels of omega-3s in their blood.
Omega-3 fatty acids fall into two groups. The long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) seem to be more beneficial the short chain omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Oil-rich fish are naturally rich in DHA and EPA.
Mackerel and sardines are low in environmental contaminants according to the Oceans alive website. Atlantic mackeral come from marine fisheries rather than fish farms and are often caught using purse seines and trawls. Salmon and tuna tend to have high levels of PCBs and mercury. Canned albacore tuna have been found to have some of the highest mercury levels.
BLUEBERRIES are packed with nutrients and healthy phytochemicals. According to nutrition scientists at the Human Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, blueberries are the number one fruit for fighting free-radicals. The research centre devised the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) system to measure the ability of fruit and vegetables to neutralise free radicals.
For maximum protection, scientists suggest we eat at least 5,000 ORAC units every day - just 50g of blueberries provides double this amount. Blueberries also contain pectin which can help lower cholesterol levels.
BROCCOLI is a rich source of the antioxidants betecarotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, which can ward off colds and flu and help fight off harmful free radicals which can cause cancer and ageing. Broccoli also contains the phytochemicals sulforapanes, isothiocyanates and indoles which may help reduce the risks of cancer.
One medium serving of broccoli contains over 50 percent of the recommended daily requirement of vitamin C and about half the recommended daily intake of the B vitamin folate. Research suggests that a good intake of folate can help reduce levels of homocysteine in the blood. At high levels, homocysteine behaves in a similar way to cholesterol blocking the arteries that supply blood to the heart increasing the risk of heart disease. Folate is an extremely important vitamin for women planning a pregnancy as it is essential for cell division and DNA and helps to prevent birth defects including spina bifida.