What is a superfood?
Superfoods are foods that are said to provide a substantial amount of nutrients and very few calories. Recent foods to attain this honoured title include kefir, chia seeds, kimchi, coconut water and turmeric. Celebrated in press and championed by nutritionists and celebrities, they present a convincing case. But are superfoods really ‘super’?
Is there such a thing as a superfood?
While it is true that certain foods contain higher levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, the term ‘superfood’ is in fact a lucrative marketing term used by manufacturers to sell products. The last time you looked at the nutritional label of a food product did it say ‘superfood’? The answer is no, because the EU banned the use of the term (unless supported by an authorised health claim) as it has no legal definition. The NHS do not support the term, directing people instead to the importance of a balanced diet.
Why do we need a balanced diet?
The human body is not designed to depend on just a few types of food as no single food contains all the essential nutrients we need to stay healthy. Over millennia, we have evolved to eat a variety of whole foods (‘whole foods’ are unprocessed, unrefined plant foods that haven’t been interfered with) to unlock the rich source of vitamins and minerals they contain.
When considering how you can improve your diet, it really helps to remember that our bodies crave the vitamins and minerals found in whole foods because, quite simply, they are the foods that we are designed to eat. If you want to lose or maintain weight, feel better, be happier, healthier and have more energy, then the easiest way to do this is a eat a balanced diet full of fresh whole foods.
What is a balanced diet?
Carbohydrates, fats and proteins are the essential macronutrients that the human body needs in order to survive. Macronutrients can be further subdivided into micronutrients which relates to the vitamins and minerals contained within these foods.
To embrace a balanced diet, it’s important to make sure you’re eating a wide variety of foods that cover all the macro and micronutrients your body needs.
Carbs are often given a bad reputation, but they are essential for our bodies to function well. Carbohydrates can be defined as organic compounds in plants that are broken down when digested and converted into glucose, which the body uses for energy. However, not all carbohydrates are nutritionally equal and for a healthy diet we need to consume more ‘complex carbohydrates’, those that release their energy more slowly and keep us feeling fuller for longer.
Complex carbohydrates are found in whole grains, vegetables and legumes (beans and lentils). ‘Simple carbohydrates’, such as white bread, white rice and sugar, which are converted to glucose and released into the bloodstream quickly are best avoided as they can cause a rise and fall in the blood sugar levels, leading to fluctuating energy levels, cravings, and ultimately weight gain.
Protein is crucial for a healthy body. Consisting of essential amino acids that we cannot produce ourselves, it helps repair and build the body’s tissues, facilitates metabolic functions (such as digestion and blood clotting) and bolsters the immune system. Pretty powerful stuff. Incorporate lean protein into your diet such as poultry, venison, fish, nuts, pulses and tofu and enjoy feeling stronger, energised and fuller for longer.
Fats are a food group we often avoid but not all of them are bad. As with carbohydrates, fats fall into two categories – good and bad. Good fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which contain Omega-6 and Omega-3. These fats can help lower the risk of heart disease and strokes. Good sources include olive oil, organic eggs, avocados, nuts, good quality meat, oily fish, soya beans and seeds. Aim to eat a thumb-sized portion of essential fats each day. As for “bad” fats, definitely try cut back on saturated and trans fats which include full-fat dairy products, cakes, cookies, margarine, fast-food and milk-chocolates.
Eat the rainbow
Eating a variety of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables helps to support gut health, ward off illness, and prevent premature ageing. Ideally, you should aim to eat all the colours – reds, greens, yellows, blues and purples. Look for produce that is bright and shiny. Each colour has its own superpower:
- Red – berries – contain high levels of anthocyanins, which are thought to be effective in fighting cancer, bacterial infections and neurological diseases
- Orange – carrots, oranges, squashes and sweet potatoes – are high in carotenoids, crucial for maintaining a good immune system and supporting cell repair and healthy vision
- Yellow – corn, pineapple and squashes – contain large amounts of bioflavonoids, which fight infection and reduce inflammation
- Green – broccoli, cabbage and spinach – contain nutrients including lutein, lycopene, zeaxanthin, folic acid and glucosinolates – all of which have been associated with lowering the risk of cancer
- Blue and purple – blueberries, blackberries, grapes and purple sprouting broccoli – are extremely high in antioxidants, promote healthy blood, and are thought to have anti-ageing properties
The rule of palm
At the Pure Package, many of our clients tell us they eat the right thing, just too much of it. The key to achieving a healthy body size and strong energy levels is to recognise that how much we eat is just as important as what we eat.
The Rule of Palm is a straightforward method for determining how much we should be eating for optimal health.
A balanced meal should consist of three key components: protein, complex carbohydrates, and fruit and vegetables. For a balanced meal, you should fill your plate using this formula, an easy-to-remember approach to eating and portion control:
- 1 palm-size portion of protein
- 1 palm-size portion of complex carbohydrates
- 2 palm-sized portions of vegetables or fruit
While there is no doubt that foods described as ‘superfoods’ are good for you, a healthy balanced diet incorporating a wide range of fresh, colourful whole foods, plus portion control and exercise is best. Applying these tips and cooking from scratch, with fresh and seasonal produce is always going to be the best thing for us, but with busy lives, this can sometimes feel like an impossible task.
That is why The Pure Package was created. Our award-winning team of chefs and experienced nutritionists combines science and research with innovative cooking to create balanced meals that help you feel energised and happy in your body. Whether you’re looking to lose weight, support your training regime, slow the signs of ageing or boost health and nutrition in pregnancy and beyond, we can help you reach your goals with healthy, nutritionally balanced meals, delivered straight to the door. As we’re based in the heart of New Covent Garden Market, we are blessed to have access to the very best seasonal produce which we turn into delicious meals that look good and taste great. Take a look at our meal programmes to see how we can help you.