We all hear about them all the time, and it seems like every week the media or local news has a new study about "the next" superfood for your health - whether it be wine (grapes), chocolate, acai, or kale. What do all these superfoods have in common? To be honest, it's the unknown about each one that ties them together more strongly than just about anything else. Will they help you lose weight in exceptional (and safe) amounts? No. Will they give you health super powers that will tack an extra 5 vitality filled years onto your life of fuel your athletic performance? No, not likely. That said, are some of them worth taking a look at and can they potentially have some indirect or subtle impacts on your overall health? We think so.
Typically when we hear about "superfoods" - an undefined and therefore unregulated term, mind you, the thing that makes them so "super" is typically their phytonutrient content and the effects of compounds like resveritrol or other antioxidants, which in some credible scientific studies have been shown to improve biological health markers like reducing the impacts of oxidative stress and even reducing cholesterol levels. Below we take a look at some of the real darlings of the modern superfood conversation, so keep reading to find out more.
Chlorella is a single celled fresh water algae that by weight is particularly high in protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Specifically b vitamins, vitamin A, Iron, magnesium, zinc, and others. Some credible research on chlorella suggests that it may help reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and enhance immune function. A 2008 study showed dietary supplementation with chlorella to reduce body fat percentage, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels. Some additional studies on mice seem to show additional positive effects of chlorella when it comes to fat metabolism in the body.
The verdict: Chlorella is pretty super, and if possible, incorporating it into your diet on a regular basis would be a good thing.
Similar to chlorella, spirulina is a type of algae, albeit with some differences. Specifically, it is a type of blue-green algae and is not a single-celled organism like chlorella. Spirulina's roots as a superfood run deep, as Spanish explorers arriving in Mexico found it a staple part of the ancient Aztec diet. From the ancient Aztecs to NASA, spirulina was more recently popularized when the US space program incorporated it into the diets of astronauts on manned flights up into the heavens.
Spirulina has a lot of favorable characteristics, particularly that it is a "complete" protein, meaning that it contains all essential amino acids your body needs to function properly and can only be obtained through diet. It is also a very low impact food to produce, and very nutrient dense, making it a great food for consumption in our modern times of swelling populations and dwindling resources. Spirulina is approximately 60% protein by weight and is also a good source of thiamin and riboflavin, two b vitamins, as well as vitamins E, K, iron and magnesium. It has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and research suggests it has anti-cancer and cholesterol lowering effects. It also has solid amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
The verdict: Spirulina is pretty super, and if possible, incorporating it into your diet on a regular basis would be good thing.
Acai is a berry found on Amazonian palm trees, and dare we say, is the highest flying superfood of the moment. It has a kind of earthy, nutty flavor and is not all that sweet. Like many things new to western culture, it has been a staple part of local and indigenous diets long before it ever made it's way up to us - acai bowls, drinks, smoothies, etc are just as much a part of life in Brazil as Coke and McDonalds are in the US.
Multiple sources indicate that acai has the highest antioxidant concentrations of any fruit measured today. That's saying a lot with all the hype and buzz around antioxidants as a new staple for any diet. Is the exact effect of these antioxidant compounds known? Not really. But we do know that antioxidants do good things within the body, and this fruit is very rich in them.
Acai is also a good source of fiber, vitamin A, and calcium.
We are starting to see it quite a bit in the US market, but often just as a flavored beverage with actual compounds and antioxidant quantities in question. One of our favorite sources of acai around comes from Trader Joe's in little frozen pouches of pure acai puree that can be easily added to your smoothie. We highly recommend!
The Verdict: Give it a go. We're not sure you will see immediate, life changing effects, but the antioxidant concentration can't be beaten.
Goji berries are another foreign superfood du jour, though instead of the Amazon, they originate in China and have long been used for traditional Chinese medicine. They are high in fiber, vitamin A, riboflavin, iron, copper, and selenium. Goji berries contain a decent amount of known antioxidants and phytonutrients, but "good" science mostly seems to be lacking on the plant. They have an earthy taste which we find quite appealing and a fair amount of plant protein, but also contain natural sugars so should be eaten with this in mind.
The verdict: They have some antioxidants and other benefits, but other than being relatively exotic, we don't find them that much more "super" than many other berries and plants.
A few other honorable mention superfoods:
Microgreens (micro broccoli) - we LOVE. Read about it here.
Cocoa - high in antioxidants and if using unsweetened cocoa, is relatively low in calories and will make anything chocolately!
Any other traditional leafy green veggies like kale, chard, and spinach. They are great for you, and you can't have too much!