There is a lot of talk of “superfoods” these days. You know the kind of thing: vava berries from one partioholcular tree deep in the rainforest of Suriname can turn Ronan the Librarian into Conan the Barbarian.
It’s usually something you’ve never heard of and the claims are carefully worded (co-written by the marketing and legal departments).
And it’s aimed at nobody in particular, just anyone with a few dollars to spare and a casual interest in becoming slightly healthier. So you buy the vava berries, take them for a week or so and nothing happens.
No harm is done: you’ve just wasted a couple of bucks.
But what about real superfoods which can help people with real health issues?
I became aware of the need for nutritional help when I was in the early stages of recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. And if what I discovered could help the likes of me, imagine what it could do for you.
The punishment an addict gives their body is almost insane, because there is an element of insanity in addiction. You can talk to a user till you’re blue in the face about the damage they’re doing and they won’t take on board anything you say, because if there are side effects from what they’re taking – and they don’t want to hear about it if there are – it’s all in a good cause: the cause of getting their fix.
Nothing else matters.
Drinkers tend to be bloated, while users of certain drugs are emaciated. What they have in common is that they are teeming with toxins that their body doesn’t want. Have a look here for a bit of background on how addiction ravages the body.
By the way, I’m fine now. I went through a successful recovery process, got my life in order and I’m now a fit, healthy, hardworking thirty-something businessman, thriving and living well. And I plan to keep it that way.
But you don’t have to be an addict to be toxic. Everyone is to a certain extent, just through what we eat and drink and the air we breathe.
I’m going to tell you about five foods that can help keep the body in good condition.
There will be no mumbo jumbo, no blinding you with science and no trips to the rainforest. Orchards, yes, and farms and the sea, but we’ll be living in the real world.
1. Nuts and seeds
There are those who will tell you a nut is a fruit and a seed is a nut and it all gets rather complex, but you know what I mean. I mean hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, pecans, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds – all that sort of stuff.
Why nuts and seeds contain so much that is good for us, I don’t know. They just do. Protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals – these little gems have them all, some more than others, so if there is a specific area of nutrition your body needs help with, look up where you can find it.
Nuts and seeds are great for snacks too. Forget the cakes and chocolate bars. Carry a packet of nuts and dried fruit with you and you can satisfy your little cravings without compromising your health or your appetite.
Steer clear of the salty snacks, though. Sodium chloride is something you don’t need too much of. But a bag of fruit and nuts won’t melt in your pocket, won’t ooze or smell, so it’s a good thing to have on you (allergies permitting – read about nut allergies here.
2. Whole grains
What does that even mean? It means grains as nature intended, before some genius decided to remove certain parts to make them smoother or more palatable in breads, breakfast cereals etc.
Grains are, in fact, seeds of plants such as wheat and rye, so they too contain those miraculous combinations of nutrients.
You might have trouble getting a child to eat muesli rather than something sweet and crunchy and possibly chocolate-flavoured, but you are not a child yourself, so enjoy a bowl of oats and nuts and raisins for breakfast with the added bonus of knowing it’s actually doing you good.
Similarly, whole grain bread can be tastier than the mass-market processed abominations that many mainstream bakeries churn out.
It can be hard in some places to find a good alternative to the bland white sliced garbage that, incredibly, is still the popular choice in many societies, but seek and ye shall find.
Bit of an image problem here, I think you’ll agree. When we think about algae we’re not usually thinking about food. And if you look it up you get bogged down in scientific definitions that are neither helpful nor attractive. But seaweed – now we’re getting somewhere. It grows in the sea just like plants grow on the land, and it is loaded with nutrients. You have to know what you’re looking for, of course, but if you’re looking in your local health food shop or the fancy-stuff section of the supermarket you can’t go wrong. Chlorella and spirulina are two super mineral-enriched forms of algae that can flush out harmful toxins.
Seaweed is popular in Japan, so just because your grandma never mentioned it, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
4. Fruit and vegetables
These your grandma probably would recommend, even if her generation tended to cook the vegetables too much. These days you know the drill: just enough water to do the job, because the steam is better anyway. And cook it until it is just done and not falling apart.
A classic example is spinach, one of those foods instinctively and mysteriously disliked by children. Put a little water in a big pan and throw in far more spinach than you think will be enough, and watch it wilt down in seconds to a beautiful dark green pad that you can slice and eat with a knife and fork. A little butter, a touch of salt and pepper. Goodness in the blink of an eye. Iron, several vital antioxidant vitamins like vitamin-A, vitamin-C, and flavonoid polyphenolic antioxidants such as lutein, zeaxanthin, and β-carotene.
Oops, put like that it sounds as mystical as seaweed. But spinach – even better eaten raw in salads, is just one of the common sense superfoods along with broccoli, kale and all the other dark green powerhouse vegetables.
As for fruit, just about everything you can think of is good for you – just be aware that some of those delicious tropical fruits such as mango and guava have a high concentration of sugar, so if you’re somewhere on the diabetic spectrum, maybe you should stick to the apples and oranges and pears and bananas. And strawberries and kiwis and…
5. Oily fish
Another one your grandma would recognise as being good for you: Fish. Salmon, mackerel, sardines – that sort of thing. Rich in omega-3, and also a great source of protein, vitamin D, some of the B vitamins, and selenium (a vital mineral for a healthy body). Cook them quickly and simply, serve with a squeeze of lemon and here’s an easy peasy superfood that’s been right under your nose all these years.
So, not too much that is total news to you, perhaps, but the world is full of “superfoods”, if you just open your eyes. Protein, vitamins, minerals. Calories? Not so much.
If you have a particular favourite with special properties that has helped you, by all means let us know.