Spirulina. Bee pollen. Baobab powder. Organic goji berries grown on the foothills of Mount Kailash and blessed by Tibetan monks (OK, I made that last one up). Chances are you’ve heard about all these things, and how wonderful they are for your health. Quite possibly you have heard them in the same sentence as superfoods or touted as the cure for a host of modern ills in the pages of a glossy magazine. And if you’ve made the trip to Whole Foods or Planet Organic to find them, I’m quite sure your heart will have skipped a beat when you saw the price tag.
The truth is that while these foods can be beneficial for your health, they are not a panacea. In actual fact you can enjoy a wonderfully rich, nutritious, healthful diet without ever having to eat a goji berry or fork out on the next “magic” superfoods elixir. Some of the most nutritious foods can be found much closer to home, and they don’t have to cost a small fortune.
The key to nourishing your body is to eat a mainly wholefoods diet: that means consuming foods in their most natural form. So as a rule of thumb, avoid anything found in a packet with a long ingredients list. While these items may have a long shelf-life, they are often additive-rich and nutrient-poor – the opposite of a superfood!
Instead, choose foods that are identifiable as foods. For example, munch on a handful of unsalted, raw almonds and an apple, rather than a pre-packaged fruit and nut cereal bar. While such foods may be marketed as “healthy” (and can often be found in health food shops, confusingly!) they are often highly processed. This means the body can struggle to digest them efficiently. They often contain hidden sugars too, which can wreak havoc with your blood sugar levels, and by extension your mood and appetite.
In its essence, a superfood is really anything that nourishes you at the cellular level. That means a substance which the body recognises as “food” and which can be broken down efficiently to be used for energy and the many other vital functions needed to keep you working as you should.
With that in mind, here are my top ten superfoods:
The original superfood. Eggs are power houses of nutrition (after all, they contain everything a young chick needs to develop). A great source of low-cost, high quality protein, eggs provide a host of essential nutrients.These include: vitamin A (an antioxidant, important for healthy immune function and nourishment of the cells in the gut lining), vitamin D (vital for immune, brain and skin health, among others), iron (important for thyroid hormone balance and energy) and betaine (which lowers homocysteine levels, helping to protect against blood vessel damage). They also contain choline, a component of acetylcholine, one of the brain’s key neurotransmitters responsible for a myriad functions within the body including learning and memory formation, hormone balance, muscle movement and regulation of sleep cycles. Choline also provides structural integrity and flexibility in cell membranes, vital for the health of cells throughout the body. Choose free range (and organic where possible).
NB. The myth that eggs raise cholesterol levels has now been widely disproved. Recent studies have shown that daily egg consumption is not linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease; in fact, in some cases a link between eating eggs and decreased risk of stroke was observed.
An amazingly nutrient-dense food, rich in vitamins A, C and K. Broccoli is also a good source of magnesium, which is necessary for over 300 biochemical functions within the body from mood balance to healthy energy and hormone production. Other key nutrients include potassium (electrolyte balance), phosphorous (tissue and cell repair), lutein (eye health) and vitamins B6 and E. Compounds in broccoli known as glucosinolates (specifically indole-3-carbinol and sulphoraphane) are vital for healthy detoxification and the elimination of excess oestrogen, helping to maintain a healthy hormone balance. Indole-3-carbinol has also been found to have neuroprotective effects, making it important for healthy brain function.
Broccoli belongs to the family of cruciferous vegetables which all have comparable health benefits. You may also like to try kale, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts and Collard greens, all of which are similarly easy on the purse strings. If you suffer from hypothyroidism or suboptimal thyroid function remember to steam or lightly cook cruciferous veggies so they can be more effectively used by the body.
As well as being rich in vitamins B6 and C, the antioxidants manganese, selenium and copper and the minerals phosphorous, iron and calcium, garlic has potent anti-microbial qualities. This means it can be beneficial for the health of both the immune system and the gut by helping to ward off attacks by pathogenic microbes that can lead to imbalanced gut flora, Candida overgrowth and other gastrointestinal complaints. It has also been shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
Blackberries (and raspberries)
These deeply coloured berries are good for health on several levels. They contain a good source of fibre as well as phytochemicals called anthocyanins, which help protect collagen in the gut lining and the skin. They are also a rich source of vitamins A, E, K, and B vitamins, as well as the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. These nutrients scavenge the free radicals that play a role in aging and chronic diseases. Eaten in season, blackberries can be considerably cheaper than blueberries, while still containing almost one and a half times more vitamin C than their more exotic (and often air-freighted) counterparts.
This is a wonderful spice used around the world for its medicinal and healing qualities. It contains phenolic compounds, flavonoids, and antioxidants which give it important anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and immunity boosting properties. It can be particularly helpful for keeping levels of unhealthy bacteria in check, so supporting healthy digestion. Despite having a sweet taste, cinnamon can actually help keep blood sugar levels stable, thereby reducing cravings and mood swings. Research also shows that it has neuroprotective effects, helping to prevent cognitive decline and promote healthy brain function. Just half a teaspoon a day, added to a smoothie, stirred into porridge or sprinkled over yoghurt can be beneficial. You can also try sprinkling it over cubed sweet potatoes before roasting – delicious!
Some other wonderfully nutritious (and inexpensive) foods include:
High in fibre, chickpeas help to manage blood sugar levels and promote healthy weight by increasing satiety (feelings of fullness). They also boast high levels of iron, zinc, folate, phosphorus and B vitamins. This is particularly important for vegetarians or vegans who can struggle to get enough of these essential nutrients into their diet.
One of the highest food sources of omega-3 fats, which are essential for healthy brain function, mood and hormone balance. As they are a smaller fish they often contain fewer contaminates than larger oily fish like salmon too.
These brightly-coloured root veggies are high in vitamin B6 (for healthy hormone balance), fibre, potassium, vitamin C and beta-carotene. The latter is converted to vitamin A in the body and is important for immunity and gut health. Although they taste sweet, they have a lower glycaemic load than regular potatoes. This makes them a much better option for keeping blood sugar levels stable.
An obvious choice perhaps, but with valid reason. Packed with vitamins, minerals, protein, fibre, phytonutrients and essential fats, these make a fantastic addition to your diet for overhaul good health.
Rich in zinc, these unassuming seeds are great for skin health, mood and natural hormone balance. They also have potent anti-parasitic qualities, making them gut-friendly immune boosters too.
Of course, any nutritional therapist worth their pink Himalayan rock salt will tell you that one of the key attributes of a healthy diet is variety. Although broccoli is wonderful and bursting with nutrients, you would not be doing yourself many favours if that was all you ate. I’m being facetious of course, but the point is that any healthy eating plan should not feel restrictive. Food is meant to be enjoyed, as well as providing your body with adequate nourishment. So rather than worry that healthy eating is an unattainable ideal, have a go at adding some of the foods on the list above into your daily routine. Both your body and your wallet with thank you.
 Alexander DD, Miller PE, Vargas AJ, Weed DL, Cohen SS (2016) Meta-analysis of Egg Consumption and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 35: 704-716.
 Felton JS, Malfatti MA (2006) What do diet-induced changes in phase I and II enzymes tell us about prevention from exposure to heterocyclic amines? Journal of Nutrition 136: 2683-2684S.
 Jeffrey E, Araya M (2009) Physiological effects of broccoli consumption. Phytochemistry Reviews 8: 283-298.
 Reinhart KM, Talati R, White CM, Coleman CI (2009) The impact of garlic on lipid parameters: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition Research Reviews.22: 39-48.
 Gruenwald J, Freder J, Armbruester N (2010) Cinnamon and health. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 50: 822-834.