Superfood for a super you
21 June 2008 KHALEEJ TIMES
A week scarcely passes without us being told about yet another 'superfood'. Recently we've learnt tomatoes prevent sunburn and premature wrinkles, purple grapes boost memory, while rhubarb is good for kidney disease.
But do all superfoods match up to their 'super' status? To help you sort the wheat from the chaff, leading American dietician, David Grotto reveals the foods that really are worth eating
Obesity: Women who'd eaten a serving of almonds had higher levels of cholecystokinin (a hormone which helps you feel full) than men did, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. So while almonds may leave both women and men with a feeling of 'satisfaction', women may stay full longer.
Alzheimer's: Mice with an Alzheimer's-like disease were fed an almond-rich diet. After four months, those animals did much better on memory tests than those fed the usual food.
Heart health: American research has found that eating almonds reduces the risk of heart disease as effectively as some statins.
Top tips: Make sure you are buying 'the real McCoy' -- many imported almonds are not almonds at all, they're apricot kernels; these look similar but the taste and health benefits are not the same. Also look for almonds in the shell that don't rattle when you shake them. Rattling may be a sign that the almonds are old.
Digestive health: Asparagus contains inulin, a carbohydrate that is not digested but promotes friendly bacteria in the large intestine. Asparagine, a natural chemical in asparagus, encourages the body to excrete water.
Diabetes: A study reported in the British Journal of Medicine found that an extract of asparagus significantly increased the action of insulin, which helps mop up excess blood sugar.
Heart health: Just one serving of asparagus supplies almost 60 per cent of the daily recommended intake of folate, one of the B vitamins. Folate helps reduce levels of homocysteine, a substance in the blood, which at high levels can increase the risk of heart disease
Top tips: Trim off some of the bottom of the asparagus and store upright in a container with a little water to keep it fresh.
Cancer: Cauliflower contains a compound called indole-3-carinol (I3C) which has cancer fighting properties. Scientists have also found that the chemical sulphoraphane, found in cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, stopped lung cancer cells in an animal trial, and helped kill off and stop the growth of prostate cancer cells in a test tube study on human cells.
Dandruff: Biotin, a water-soluble vitamin found in cauliflower, has been shown to control dandruff.
Arthritis: A team of researchers who followed a group of women for more than ten years found those who ate more cruciferous vegetables had a decreased risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
Top tips: Munching crunchy foods such as cauliflower before bed may help stop jaw-clenching while sleeping.
Vision: According to one study, people who ate foods high in the natural chemicals lutein and zeaxanthin had a 20 per cent reduction in developing cataracts and a 40 per cent reduction in developing macular degeneration, an eye disease that affects the retina and is more common in the over-60s. Eggs are a good source of these chemicals.
Obesity: The hunger fighting power of eggs means an egg first thing in the morning may lead to reduced calorie consumption for the rest of the day, according to a report in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
Top tips: Keep your eggs in the fridge and they will stay good for a month. The quality of egg protein is the highest of any whole food product, second only to human breast milk.
Skin disorders: Figs contain a substance that, when combined with exposure to ultraviolet light, was found to help several skin diseases and certain forms of lymphoma in some studies.
Diabetes: Figs are higher in fibre than any other fresh or dried fruit per serving, containing about five to six grams per portion of three figs. The type of fibre found in figs may reduce the risk of developing adult-onset diabetes (type 2) by slowing down the digestion and absorption of sugars in foods.
Top tips: The white 'frost' that occurs on dried figs is called 'sugaring'. It's caused by the sugars from the fig rising to the surface. Keep refrigerated to reduce frost.
Diabetes: Diabetic mice who received guava juice for four weeks experienced a reduction in glucose of nearly 25 per cent.
Heart health: Guava has been shown to markedly reduce bad cholesterol and improve the good kind and reduce blood pressure as well.
Antibacterial: Guava leaves have antibacterial properties and have been shown to have a highly lethal effect on salmonella and other harmful bacteria.
Top tips: Ripe guava bruise easily and are highly perishable. They must be eaten within a few days.
Heart disease: Norwegian scientists have found kiwi fruit helps a component of red blood cells called platelets become less sticky.
Cancer: Eating kiwi fruit daily can protect DNA against damage that may lead to cancer. More significantly, kiwi seems to help repair the damage caused to DNA. A variety of naturally occurring substances have also been discovered in kiwi fruit that are effective in killing oral tumour cells.
Macular degeneration: Kiwi is an excellent source of lutein and zeaxanthin, natural chemicals found in the human eye. Diets rich in lutein are protective against cataracts and other forms of macular degeneration.
Top tips: The skin is an excellent source of nutrients and fibre.
Prostate cancer: Many mushrooms contain large amounts of selenium, a cancer-busting mineral. In studies, white button mushroom extract suppressed the growth of prostate cancer cells and decreased tumour size.
Immune system: Mushrooms contain substances that may help the immune system remove abnormal cells that cause disease.
Migranes: Psilocybin, originally an extract of certain psychedelic mushrooms, is being studied for migraine headaches.
Top Tips: Don't wash mushrooms, they act like sponge and can soak up water. Gently wipe them with a damp cloth or soft brush instead.
Cancer: A tablespoon of oregano packs the same antioxidant strength as an apple. It also contains important phenolic acids that might prevent certain types of cancers from forming.
Antibacterial: Oregano has been found to damage E. coli bacteria and Giardia lamblia, a nasty parasite that causes diarrhoea and abdominal pain.
Top tips: Fresh oregano can be kept in the fridge for up to three days.
Cancer: They contain proteins called lectins, which inhibit tumour growth.
Diabetes: Potato peel added to the diet of diabetic rats significantly reduced blood sugar levels.
Top tips: It's a myth that all the nutrition is within the skin of the potato; more than 50 per cent of the overall nutrition content can be found in the potato itself! Washing your face with cool potato juice clears up blemishes.
Weight management: Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) refers to the seed, about the size of millet, of the Chenopodium or 'Goosefoot' plant. It contains more protein than any other grain. Quinoa makes you feel fuller than rice and wheat, so it's good for fighting obesity.
Vaccine helper: Research has shown the potential of quinoa as a 'helper' for vaccines. Quinoa enhances antibody responses in mice.
Top tips: Be careful not to add too much water or cook it too long, since quinoa can become mushy; it takes only 15 minutes to cook.
Anti-inflammatory: Strawberries block the enzymes responsible for promoting inflammation in the body.
Diabetes: Strawberries help control type 2 diabetes by reducing blood glucose levels after a starchy meal.
Thrombosis: An animal study found strawberries had a powerful anti-clotting effect.
Top tips: Don't remove the stalks until after washing, or the berries will absorb excess water, damaging their flavour and texture.
Cancer: Tea contains antioxidants that help prevent certain types of cancer, such as oral, skin, digestive, ovarian and lung.
Obesity: Japanese research has found drinking green tea might reduce body fat.
Top tips: Teabag tea tends to be ground finer, providing more surface area to extract more antioxidants when submerged in hot water.
Cancer: Walnuts are packed with a form of vitamin E that may help fight breast, prostate and lung cancer.
Diabetes: They might improve insulin resistance in those with type 2 diabetes.
Walnuts contain a powerful antioxidant melatonin, which promotes restful sleep. A U.S. study found eating walnuts increased blood levels of melatonin three-fold.
Top tip: Shake the nut; if it rattles or feels light it may be withered. Shelled walnuts will stay fresh for up to three weeks if refrigerated in a tightly covered container.
Extracted from 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life by David Grotto, published by Bantam