Originally published in SIX magazine issue 5– ADVENTURE
There Are No
Written by Cassia Geller
They don’t exist. No Batman, no Wonder Woman, and almost certainly no Powerpuff Girls. There are, equally, no superfoods. No cure for cancer, no solution for brittle bones and no IQ-boosting free-pass-to-MENSA at the heart of a single berry. Not even at the base of an entire punnet. Yet, there are still foods that perform nutritional wonders.
Neither legally nor medically regulated, officially, the term “superfood” doesn’t mean a thing. As such, adroit advertisers have few hoops through which to jump before they plaster the tempting title onto products and have us tearing them off supermarket shelves faster than we can say ‘goji berry’.
To Catherine Collins, ICU dietician for the NHS, the term “superfoods” is ‘at best meaningless, and at worst harmful’, prompting people to forgo a healthy lifestyle and assuage their guilt by gorging on the superfood du jour. However, we have reached something of an impasse with the anti-superfoods brigade; the halo may have slipped of late, but the proffered substitute for piling your plate with antioxidants is to avoid oxidants.
Moreover, while the institutional dictionary has scorned superfoods, the OED definition doesn’t seem so scary: ‘a food considered especially nutritious or otherwise beneficial to health and well-being’. So…like fruit? Or vegetables? It doesn’t sound like an evil marketing ploy, but it’s hardly groundbreaking. The point, though, is that some are substantially higher in phytonutrients, lower in calories and lower in fat than others. They are, by all accounts, ‘super’.
While these include kale, blueberries, and a host of homegrown goodies, there is a plethora of foods that have been quietly fortifying civilisations for centuries. Foods that may not have had as much hype, but still perform nutritional wonders. Unprocessed and unpretentious, they’re the super foods without the super egos.
Peru – Maca
Like the over-sexed parents of a pack of prodigies, the fertile lands of Central and South America have spawned foodie favourites acai, chia, spirulina and cacao – and now, maca. Bursting with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, legend has it that the Incan soldiers who consumed maca for strength before battle avoided it afterwards to protect lucky ladies from their alarming virility (cough). Nowadays, it’s simply seen as a highly nutritious, energy-imbuing mood elevator.
Africa – Baobab
One of the earth’s oldest trees, the revered baobab is widely used in traditional African medicine. Incredibly high in fibre, powder made from its fruit has around six times more vitamin C than oranges, more antioxidants than blueberries, more potassium than bananas, double the antioxidants of goji berries, more calcium than milk, and more iron than red meat.
India – Turmeric
A key player in Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric’s superpowers stem from photonutrient curcumin. With powerful anti-oxidising, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin is thought to tackle everything from IBS to arthritis. It doesn’t break down in cooking so you can consume it in your curry or through the skin; turmeric paste works wonders on skin conditions and slows the signs of ageing.
The Amazon – Cupuaçu
Back to arable South America for what is fondly known as ‘the food of the Gods’. Believed better than acai berries, capauçu also has less impact on the rainforest, giving you sustainable points whilst stuffing you with vitamins and minerals and stimulating the immune system. It also contains theacrine, which provides the energy-increasing properties of caffeine, naturally.
Southeast Asia – Coconut water
On the purity scale, coconut water is bettered only by spring water. Why not, then, stick with water? Because it’s unsullied depths are chock full of electrolytes, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Touted as nature’s sports drink, it’s super hydrating, fat and cholesterol-free, and so much more interesting than water.
Scotland – Aronia berry
Finally, we couldn’t journey through the mystical world of superfoods without stopping for some local goodness. The super-berry market might be bursting, but these little beauties are said to contain more antioxidants than heavyweights goji, acai and blueberries. All this, and they’re now cultivated in Scotland.