Superfood not always new - hype of some proves not high value

Stay healthy | 2018

Prof. Dr. Werner Seebauer is, Dean of Studies – Association of German Preventologists, Head of Preventive Medicine Department of Institute of Transcultural Health Sciences (European University Viadrina) and Head of Preventive Medicine – NESA (The New European Surgical Academy).

Since 2000, prof. dr. Werner Seebauer worked only in preventive medicine, after ten years spent at the Frankfurt University Hospital. He is also involved in the medical professionals training for nutrition and prevention.

MediHelp International, together with LAMP Insurance, and in collaboration with NESA has created the NESAcard based on the wish to offer access to high standards medical services to patients all over Europe.

This way, MediHelp contributes to the medical science development and is actively involved in the international social responsibility advocacy.

The term superfood is a marketing idea and not scientifically based. Only some of them offer very high levels of potent protective nutrients and have produced evidence for health benefits. You probably already know these foods anyway. These are foods rich in compounds (such as phytochemicals, fiber, or special fatty acids).

The phytochemicals are particularly important because they are the most potent antioxidants and they protect the organism from excessive oxidative stress. Too much oxidative stress causes damage to the body cells and gene strands and can cause cancer, as well as faster aging.

Examples of foods that can be called superfood, as they often provided the above-mentioned health promotion evidence in controlled trials:

1. Berries: especially blueberries and blackberry, but also other berries and especially dark-colored fruit such as dark violet cherries are high in potent phytochemicals.

2. Onions, Garlic and Pepper Seeds; Chilies, Ginger: they contain mostly phytochemicals that have antibacterial effects and improve circulation factors (can reduce cardiovascular risks). They are ideal as a flavor (piquancy) and valuable ingredient for many dishes. Pepper can also improve the absorption of certain nutrients.

3. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts: These vegetables and other cruciferous vegetables such as Cauliflower, Cabbage, Garden Cress, Bok Choy have a lot of bioactive compounds that promote health.
You should pay attention to their preparation, as too much heat destroys a part of their compounds. Broccoli should only be steamed (remaining crisp) - you can also eat it raw!

Cabbage contains heat-stable phytochemicals, but when boiled, they flow into the water. Therefore, you should consume it best along with the cooking water - in hot pot or soup, cabbages are ideal. Garden cress should be eaten raw, such as in a salad.

A part of the phytochemicals of these vegetables are carotenoids, of which we now know over 700 different types. Carotenoids are best absorbed when combined with fat. Olive oil, which also contains valuable phytochemicals, is ideal for this and it also reduces the bitter taste of the Brussels sprout.

4. Nuts: not only do they deliver a lot of phytochemicals that have proven heart protection in many ways, but they also contain very valuable fatty acids and a good range of protein components (essential amino acids). With nuts, however, you should pay attention to their calorie content, which is considerable (100g of nuts provide over 600 kcal; a handful of nuts, depending on the size, corresponds to about 30 to 60g nuts; so approximately between 180 to 360 kcal).

If you are not overweight and you have enough physical activity, do not worry. Eat the nuts with dark chocolate (over 75% cocoa) and with berries. This potentiates the protective effects.

Even if you are a bit overweight, you can eat nuts every day. This is much better than many other things that are consumed so often; and, after all, nuts reduce cardiovascular risks. But then, make sure that you eat less of other unhealthy foods and reduce the overall calories (for example, reduce food such as fatty meat, cream products, cheese, etc.). With nuts, you must always be careful that they are not moldy.

5. Salmon, Herring: This oily fish is rich in valuable essential omega-3 fatty acids and in healthy protein. This has benefits for your heart and your brain. Aim to eat it at least once a week. Instead of the often-eaten salmon, it can also be other fat fish (e.g. herring is good). However, it should only rarely be larger predatory fish (such as tuna).

As shown in the newsletter about fish, omega-3 fatty acids are particularly valuable for brain development during pregnancy. With fish, you should always pay special attention to where it comes from and that it has been exposed to less pollution.

6. Legumes (Beans, Lentils, Peas, Chickpeas, Soybean): they have very valuable phytochemicals and, among plant-based food, the best protein composition. Vegans definitely need them in their diet, but in other diets they should also be on the menu several times a week. They are available in various forms of preparation.

It does not always have to be pure of beans or lentils or chickpeas. Thus, certain finished products, such as bars or shake powder from legumes are good superfood for snacks or on the go after sports.

7. Plain yogurt: this gives you good probiotics, which are healthy bacteria that your intestines need for working properly, and contribute to better health. Yogurt has good proteins, calcium, vitamin B12, and some more compounds for healthy nutrition. You should prefer plain yogurts, they are much better than sweetened yoghurts. Use yogurts, e.g. also for salad dressings, for shakes or smoothies, in fruit salads and with cereals (muesli).

The combination of yoghurt and berries makes it even better.

Muesli is superfood, if it is well-composed, consisting of whole grains (e.g. oats, or amaranth, quinoa, etc.), nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Many ready-made cereals in supermarkets are far from such a good assortment.


Unfortunately, such instant foods and also certain exotic things (some teas, herbs, supplements, etc.) are sold as superfood, which did not provide any scientifically controlled proof of a benefit. Occasionally, the products are even risky.

Of course, you should also pay attention to where the Superfood comes from and that it is not contaminated with pollutants. For example, Goji-Berries from China often showed high levels of pesticides and heavy metals (arsenic and cadmium). Algae or dried plants have been found to contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (carcinogenic pollutants) or seeds with molds and mineral oil.
You should choose organic foods!

Marketing terms such as "from nature" do not necessarily mean that there is no pollution. Therefore, certain berries or other fruits from the forests or fields located right next to a highway or in the catchment area of chemical industry, often contain high pollutant loads.

Insofar as certain foods, known to be beneficial to health, have been processed into convenient products (e.g. bars or shake powders), this can be good if the processing does not destroy the nutrients. But do not automatically grab a product called superfood. Instead, focus on creating a varied diet with as many different healthy and flavorful foods as possible; foods that have been widely known as healthy for a long time. It is better if their processing does not destroy the nutrients.

On top of that, it is better for products to be low-processed foods with no additives, as they are often better than highly processed products, which usually contain many industrially produced additives.

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