“Superfood” is a popular buzzword you’ve probably seen on health blogs, in grocery stores, and from well-meaning friends. And every year, there’s a new trending “superfood”. Whether the latest fad is a rare fruit from the Amazon or a seed that cures every disease known to man, most superfoods build on hype, not evidence of real health benefits.
So although there’s no such thing as a “superfood”, we’ve put together a shortlist of four foods that have substantial evidence behind them.
Garlic has strong evidence to suggest it can improve cardiovascular health by reducing blood pressure and improving cholesterol profiles. Garlic also provides antioxidant benefits because it supports the activity of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant. There is also evidence to suggest garlic consumption may help lower fasting blood glucose levels. Including cloves of garlic in your diet is one of the healthiest habits you can have.
Dark berries, including blueberries, are a rich source of phytochemicals and pterostilbene. Anthocyanins are thought to be the probable reason why dark berries can influence brain activity. Older people can eat dark berries to improve memory. The mechanism behind this effect — increasing a growth factor called BDNF — could potentially work for young people as well, although this area of research is preliminary.
Spirulina is a blue-green alga with a 55–70% complete protein content that gained notoriety after NASA began investigating it for use in space missions. Additionally, spirulina contains a hefty dose of beta-carotene, several trace minerals, vitamins, and pro- and pseudo-vitamins. It boasts a good safety profile and has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
Studies suggest that supplementing spirulina can dramatically decrease LDL-C, triglycerides, and total cholesterol while raising HDL-C. Animal research suggests that spirulina may also be neuroprotective, but human studies are needed to confirm this effect.
Unfortunately, spirulina is the worst-tasting supplement on this list.
Leafy green vegetables contain high levels of nitrate, as do beetroot. In fact, beetroot has so much nitrate that it can serve as a potential ergogenic aid and pre-workout supplement in the form of beetroot juice.
Nitrates improve blood flow by dilating blood vessels. Eating daily nitrate-rich vegetables (such as arugula/rocket, collard greens, dill, turnip greens, and beetroot) can help lower blood pressure over time.
“New” superfoods are almost always too good to be true. Don’t rely on the media to tell you about new discoveries in the world of food and nutrition. Read the study, and not just the abstract!
Avoiding fads and hype will save you money in the long run. Instead of looking for a shortcut, consider adding a couple of these foods to your diet and making progressive changes to your lifestyle.
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- Effects of Allium sativum (Garlic) on systolic and diastolic blood pressure in patients with essential hypertension. Pak J Pharm Sci. (2013) Ashraf R, et al.
- Effect of garlic on serum lipids: an updated meta-analysis. Nutr Rev. (2013) Ried K, Toben C, Fakler P.
- Garlic intake lowers fasting blood glucose: meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. (2015) Hou LQ, Liu YH, Zhang YY.
- Enhanced task-related brain activation and resting perfusion in healthy older adults after chronic blueberry supplementation. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. (2017) Bowtell JL, et al.
- Blueberry supplementation improves memory in older adults. J Agric Food Chem. (2010) Krikorian R, et al.
- Blueberry supplementation induces spatial memory improvements and region-specific regulation of hippocampal BDNF mRNA expression in young rats. Psychopharmacology (Berl). (2012) Rendeiro C, et al.
- Cognitive effects following acute wild blueberry supplementation in 7- to 10-year-old children. Eur J Nutr. (2016) Whyte AR, Schafer G, Williams CM.
- Potential health benefits of spirulina microalgae.
- Characterization of Spirulina Biomass for CELSS Diet Potential.
- United States pharmacopeia safety evaluation of spirulina. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. (2011) Marles RJ, et al.
- The antioxidant, immunomodulatory, and anti-inflammatory activities of Spirulina: an overview. Arch Toxicol. (2016) Wu Q, et al.
- A systematic review and meta-analysis of the impact of Spirulina supplementation on plasma lipid concentrations. Clin Nutr. (2016) Serban MC, et al.
- Dietary nitrate as modulator of physical performance and cardiovascular health. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. (2017) Kerley CP.
- Inorganic nitrate and beetroot juice supplementation reduces blood pressure in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Nutr. (2013) Siervo M, et al.