Functional foods – our superfood heroes
More than likely you have heard the term ‘superfood’ bandied about. I don’t know about you, but I envision a cape-bearing foodstuff set to rescue the world’s health needs. But what exactly constitutes a food to be ‘super’ and why is it so freely thrown around?
A superfood needn’t be a food harvested only by Peruvian virgins by full moon; or be ludicrously expensive. They can be goodies we find at our every day grocery store or farmers market, PACKED full of nutrients and compounds that are aching to help us look and feel great. In this sense, they should be referred to as functional foods – foods whose supportive constituents serve a great function in our body. Awesome!
Such foods include berries, dark leafy greens, tomatoes, raw cacao, and flaxseeds and there are many, many more. Each has its own benefit for regular inclusion in a diet long term.
One key component of a functional food is its ability to quench free radical activity as an antioxidant. You may have heard of the term, but what does ‘antioxidant’ actually mean?
Antioxidants and free radicals – frenemies
When we breathe, we inhale oxygen. The oxygen molecule, along with impacts from too much sugar, too much meat, hydrogenated fats, artificial foods and flavourings, stress (emotional and physical), drugs, alcohol, cleaning chemicals, pollution and more, contribute to free radical creation. Long term, when the body does not have enough antioxidants to quench free radicals, we consider the body to be in a state of oxidative stress.
Now, free radicals can be considered the villains in this picture – but only when in excess or when you are deficient in hero activity. Some free radical activity is normal. Like most things in life, antioxidants and free radicals should exist in balance – like yin and yang, salty and sweet, good and bad.
Should the balance be out of whack, cellular aging occurs, enzymes can be destroyed, and DNA can be harmed. This can be attributed to heart disease, premature aging, Alzheimer’s disease, and even cancer. (1) Ick.
So how can we best support this balanced relationship between antioxidants and free radicals? It is good to remember that we are constantly exposed to processes and substances that create free radicals causing damage to our wee cells. We are more likely to be in a state of oxidative stress than drowning in antioxidants. Therefore is it important to mitigate this by eating colourful, real food, including functional foods with high antioxidant content.
Can functional foods make all my troubles go away?
Functional foods offer high levels of health supportive properties, and many have been touted as miracle cures for various issues in health, such as heart disease, eyesight, libido, aging, even cancer. However, singling out one food and eating it five times in a day in the hopes that will ameliorate issues is a lot to ask the little guy.
Instead, incorporate such foods into a way of eating high in real food that is as close to its true form as possible. This way, the superhero activity of foods certain foods would be supported by a nutrient dense, whole food diet, helping you to feel good and power on.
Who would have thought there was so much power in such fabulous foods? Well, Hippocrates knew it. Oprah knows it. And we want you to know it. So please tune in over coming weeks as we share with you the benefits of functional foods we consider super, to incorporate into your diet, alongside a balanced plate full of delicious, whole and real food.
- S. Department of Agriculture 2010, USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, Release 2, viewed 22 February 2016