5 Superfoods Under the Microscope of a Nutritionist
By Cynthia Marcotte, nutritionist from the blog Cuisine & Dopamine.
Eating healthy means more than just eating nutrients. It’s about encompassing the entire taste experience - from the environment in which the meal is savoured, to the people with whom we eat and the quality of the ingredients we ingest.
It’s multifactorial. Complex, yet so intuitive and beautiful at the same time. I love food, can you tell?
To be honest, the concept of "superfoods" has never been my favourite. On the other hand, I believe that specific foods do have nutritional "superadvantages" that deserve to be known and added more frequently. Here are five superfoods that have been among my favourites in recent years. They can be added to various recipes, sweet and salty.
I hope they will inspire you!
Turmeric is a spice that comes from the root of the turmeric longa plant, native of South and Southwest Asia. It tastes slightly bitter and spicy, similar to ginger and horseradish. Used since ancient times in Indian cuisine, this spice adds a nice complexity to sauces, seasonings, and curries. It also has a special place in my kitchen, where I use it in my dressings, sauces for Buddha bowls, vegan waffles, and to season my grilled vegetables. Not only is it delicious and versatile, a pinch of turmeric is enough to add a touch of vibrant colour to any meal.
Turmeric contains a wide range of chemical compounds potentially beneficial for health, including several antioxidants. The yellow pigment it contains is called curcumin and represents between 5 to 6.6% of the dry weight of the spice. In supplement form, curcumin (between 1000-2500 mg per day) has had positive effects on reducing inflammation. It also offers promising, but still preliminary results, for the treatment of certain cardiovascular disorders1, pain, arthritis2, anxiety, and depression3. It should be noted that to obtain an equivalent intake of curcumin through the consumption of turmeric powder, it should be consumed at least 20 g per day, which isn’t realistic and could cause nausea. However, that doesn’t mean that turmeric is useless. Several studies demonstrate great results when consuming the spice itself.
The only problem is that the curcumin found in turmeric is not absorbed too well through digestion. Although, it is possible to improve absorption with a little boost from our next food here…
I think a lot of people take pepper for granted these days. After all, it’s the most common spice in the world! It’s so much more interesting than we think4...
Coming from pepper bay, it contains a very special chemical compound called piperine5. In addition to being responsible for the pungent taste of pepper, it slows digestion by directly influencing the intestinal transit. This could have beneficial effects on the absorption of certain compounds, in particular the curcumin present in turmeric (up to 2000%).
In addition, the two flavours blend perfectly! I suggest you try this mixture in fried rice with chickpeas, a creamy squash soup, stuffed peppers or in a hot drink, "golden milk" style.
In addition to adding a slightly nutty flavour to your recipes, flax seeds are highly nutritious. Here are some of their features that I like:
- Good source of protein: very good quality and can be used to enrich a vegan diet.
- Rich in fibre: helps regulate intestinal transit and promote the maintenance of a healthy weight.
- Contains ‘’ALA’’: omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial to human health. Their effects are less established than those of EPA and DHA from fish, but it’s a good alternative for vegans.
These characteristics could potentially have beneficial effects on blood cholesterol levels, blood pressure6, and blood sugar levels7. If you don't already have some at home, now is the time to get it to optimize your health!
Whether golden or brown, these small seeds are practical for their gelling effect. Among other things, I use them as an egg substitute in various recipes (pancakes, waffles, muffins, etc.), which make them ideal for vegans or those who suffer from allergies.
To replace 1 egg => 1 tablespoon of ground flax seeds + 2 ½ spoons of water, then beat until mixture is quite gelatinous.
To conclude, flax seeds are very easy to incorporate into recipes. For example, we can replace a serving of flour in a loaf for ground flax seeds or we can simply add 1-2 tablespoons to our bowl of morning oatmeal. For a more original option, why not add it in your rice with sundried tomatoes or in your zucchini latkes with herbs and spices?
Chia seeds are widely comparable to flax seeds. They are just as rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals and have the same gelling effect.
They are, however, a little higher in fibre, but contain marginally less protein and fat. These seeds are also an interesting source of vegetable omega-38. If you go for ProactivChia, you’ll be getting a good source of bacteria with probiotic properties. If you suffer from small digestive discomfort, this is a feature that will undoubtedly charm you!
If you like the topic, this article including 10 healthy and vegan recipes made with chia seeds should interest you!
Cocoa is native to South America. It is rich in polyphenols, a form of antioxidants that could have beneficial effects on health (cholesterol, blood sugar, inflammation, etc.). You should know that processing and cooking cocoa will have negative impacts on the amount of antioxidants. Another example illustrating the importance of choosing minimally processed products.
Another equally interesting compounds is theobromine, which is said to have anti-asthmatic properties that would relieve certain symptoms associated with asthma attacks9.
It's hard to tell how much cocoa you would need to eat to get positive results, but you certainly don’t lose anything by eating it. Besides, it's absolutely divine! Cocoa is so delicious that you won't regret adding it to your diet, no matter how it affects your respiratory, heart10, and overall health11. It’s also quite easy to introduce into the diet.
This concludes my little presentation of the essential ingredients in my pantry! Feel free to comment and let me know what your favourite recipes are, featuring turmeric, pepper, flax seeds, chia and cocoa powder.
- Efficacy and safety of turmeric and curcumin in lowering blood lipid levels in patients with cardiovascular risk factors: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5637251/pdf/12937_2017_Article_293.pdf
- Dietary supplements for treating osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/bjsports/52/3/167.full.pdf
- Curcumin for depression: a meta-analysis: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408398.2019.1653260?journalCode=bfsn20
- A systematic review on black pepper (Piper nigrum L.): from folk uses to pharmacological applications: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10408398.2019.1565489?scroll=top&needAccess=true
- Phytochemical and pharmacological attributes of piperine: A bioactive ingredient of black pepper: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0223523419303010
- Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Flaxseed ET Effects of flaxseed supplements on blood pressure: A systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled clinical trial.: https://www.clinicalnutritionjournal.com/article/S0261-5614(15)00144-2/pdf
- Dietary Flaxseed as a Strategy for Improving Human Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6567199/pdf/nutrients-11-01171.pdf
- Clinical evidence on dietary supplementation with chia seed (Salvia hispanica L.): a systematic review and meta-analysis: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/29452425/
- Exploring cocoa properties: is theobromine a cognitive modulator?: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00213-019-5172-0
- Blood pressure and cardiovascular risk: what about cocoa and chocolate?: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0003986110001876?via%3Dihub
- Chocolate--guilty pleasure or healthy supplement?: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/jch.12223