Nutritionist Jo Lewin ponders and predicts the health heroes of past, present and future...
While few things beat a balanced diet and there's no 'quick fix' when it comes to health and nutrition, there are a few so-called 'super' foods that can add a nutritional boost to your diet. We've taken a look back over the year at the foods and concepts that really took off in 2013 and peeked into the future at what we think will be the big health-hitters of the year ahead. If you're already a chia champion or coconut convert, or fancy giving goldenberries and baked bugs a try, let us know in the comments whether they live up to the hype...
The health heroes of 2013...
Once a staple of the Aztec diet, Chia seeds seemingly made a comeback in 2013. They are a rich plant source of ALA – an omega-3 fat (but they don’t contain DHA and EPA found in oily fish). Unlike flaxseeds you do not have to grind them to absorb their nutrients. They are nutrient dense – a great source of calcium, protein, manganese and fibre. Their fibre content helps to satiate the appetite, keeping you feeling full. Try them in a smoothie or use them as a crust on baked fish or to thicken meatballs instead of breadcrumbs.
Known as the ‘Tree of Life’, the Baobab is one of the oldest trees in the world. Native to Africa, the fruit of the tree is a great source of vitamins A, C, D and E and are loaded with B-vitamins too. The fruit is most commonly dried and made into a powder, rich in antioxidants, calcium and heart healthy potassium. The fruit contains both soluble and insoluble fibre. The soluble fibre in the fruit exerts a prebiotic effect. This means that it promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the intestines and can help relieve gastrointestinal symptoms. Mix the powder into yogurt, juice or porridge or drink as a tea.
Whether it’s drinking the water, smearing our skin in the oil or popping a spoonful into baking, 2013 has been a huge year for the coconut. Research shows this drupe (not a fruit, nut or seed) can lower cholesterol, boost the immune system and kick-start metabolism. Coconut oil has a higher heating point than other oils so it retains its nutrients during cooking. Coconut yogurt has recently appeared as a dairy-free, lactose-free option and if you're looking for a sensible flour alternative, coconut flour is gluten-free and high in fibre. Coconut water has been branded as having all the electrolytes needed for optimal post-workout recovery.
This year fasting took off in a big way. The rise in popularity of the 5:2 diet (also known as intermittent fasting and the fast diet) left the likes of Atkins and Dukan looking like archaic, overly complicated restrictive regimes.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi are probiotic powerhouses that boost healthy bacteria in the gut, can ease IBS and improve skin. Naturally high in probiotics, foods such as raw sauerkraut provide beneficial enzymes that increase the digestibility of any food. This enhances lactic acid which in turn promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestines as well as preventing the growth of harmful bacteria and increasing nutrient absorption.
Health trend predictions for 2014
Blueberries have long held the title as the ultimate superfood but goldenberries have been hotly tipped as the new berry on the block for 2014. These small, succulent golden nuggets (also known as the Cape gooseberry) are native to Colombia and Peru and are bought dried, like a raisin, or as a juice. With a slight tartness to taste, goldenberries are packed with vitamins, fibre, potassium and zinc to support the immune system and healthy skin. Their potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties make them a worthy alternative to other berries in your morning smoothie, tossed into salads or simply eaten raw as an afternoon snack.
Feeding the ever increasing global population is undoubtedly going to strain agricultural output and natural resources. Advocates of bug eating suggest that chowing down on insects is a sure-fire way to solve the problem of a global food shortage, while benefitting the environment. Insects have been consumed as part of the diet in Asia, Africa and South America for centuries and it is predicted that 2014 could be the year that it becomes ‘cool’ to eat bugs. Many insects such as crickets, silk worms, termites and caterpillars are both protein rich and a great source of vitamins, minerals and fats (at much lower cost than the production of regular meat or fish.) Caterpillars have 35.5mg of iron, compared to the 3.5mg found in minced beef. From scorpions to grasshoppers, termites to weevils, keep an eye out for bugs on the menu this year.
Grown in tropical climates, moringa is a plant with some incredible nutritional qualities. It has four times the calcium of milk and seven times the vitamin C of oranges. The leaves of moringa contain four times more vitamin A than carrots, more iron than spinach, and three times more potassium than bananas. The immature green pods, also called the drumsticks, are prepared similarly to green beans, while the seeds are removed from more mature pods and cooked like peas or roasted like nuts. The leaves are cooked and used like spinach, and they are also dried and powdered for use as a condiment. Add the dry powder, which is just as nutritious as the leaves, to smoothies or sip moringa tea in the morning or before you head to bed.
Polyphenols are naturally occurring chemicals found mostly in plants. In addition to easing oxidative stress, polyphenols may protect our DNA in a way that helps us live longer. A pholphenol in green tea (called epigallocatechin-3-gallate) might provide protection from age related disease. Tea and coffee also contain beneficial polyphenols.
With local honey well-known to be one of nature’s most potent allergy slayers, it may come as no surprise that research suggests bee pollen contains antibiotic substances that are effective against bacterial infections. Bee pollen is full of folic acid, antioxidants and B vitamins that support energy production. Pollen comes dried in whole, broken or powdered form and is typically sprinkled on food (salads, smoothies for example).
The hemp plant is one of the earliest known cultivated crops, with many uses and nutritional qualities that make it one to watch in 2014. High in protein and healthy fats and low in cholesterol, hemp has a brilliant nutritional profile. No other single plant source has the essential amino acids in such an easily digestible form, nor has the essential fatty acids in as perfect a ratio to meet human nutritional needs. Hemp is also a good source of zinc, and a very good source of magnesium. Try using hemp oil in dressings, sprinkle hemp seeds on your cereal or even experiment with dairy-free hemp milk.
Are there any health foods you couldn't live without? Share your favourites below...