Immune boosting superfoods
Think of the word superfood. What thoughts/images come to your mind?
Is it good health, vitality, an abundance of energy, radiance, youthfulness or perhaps beautiful hair?
Somehow the title of “superfood” almost makes us feel like if we eat one of these foods, we will reach eternal youth and excellent health.
We must remember that all fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices have healing properties and nutritional values. Some have more than others hence the name” superfood“.
“Superfoods” work in conjunction together with a healthy diet and lifestyle. Eating only one “superfood” but not changing our lifestyle and eating habits won’t protect us from diseases. Imagine you have a sedentary lifestyle and diet
- high in trans fats
- low in fibre/protein and nutrients,
and you take a shot of wheatgrass every day. Would that make any difference? Not much.
We are going to look at some of the most talked about “superfoods” and their “superpowers“:
- Blueberries are high in vitamins, and minerals, especially vitamin C. Also high in fibre and packed with plant compounds such as phytochemicals (anthocyanidins, ellagitannins, malic acid), flavanols (quercetin, resveratrol, kaempferol), catechins and phenolic acids.
These plant compounds (apart from having a fancy name) act as antioxidants. Antioxidants help our bodies to cope with free radicals (damaging compounds). A 2009 review outlines the protective effects of these compounds against chronic illnesses (type 2 diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease). (1) Blueberries are famous for their anti-ageing properties, thanks to the polyphenol compounds mentioned above, especially resveratrol. (2)
- Wheatgrass and barley grasshave become very trendy amongst health enthusiasts. You can buy them in juice bars in shot glasses. Alternatively, you can purchase them as frozen juice or in powder form. These are gluten-free if appropriately harvested, and only the grass, not the seeds, were collected. Growing your own takes time and determination, but it is worth it. Both have similar nutritional values and are highly nutritious, with vitamins (A, C, E, and K and folate) and minerals (such as calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium). They contain protein, omega 3 and are rich in chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a compound which gives plants their green colour. Also famous for enhancing the immune system. Some clinical trials suggest that chlorophyll in wheatgrass and barley grass may help counteract chemotherapy side effects and aid type 2 diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. (3)
- Spirulina and chlorella nutritionally are similar to wheatgrass and barley grass, also high in chlorophyll. They have similar benefits, such as immune boosting, blood cleansing, and reducing chemotherapy effects. Some existing research suggests that they have preventative health effects. Such as anti-inflammatory, protect the liver from toxins, and positively affects blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. Probably due to their antioxidant, polysaccharide, vitamin and mineral content. (4)(5)
However, when undergoing chemotherapy, always consult your oncologist if you want to use supplements.
- Bee pollen, also called bee bread, is a wildflower ball/pellet packed by working honeybees. Bees use this as a primary food source for their hive. Perhaps this is the most praised superfood, often called nature’s multivitamin. 50 % of bee pollen is polysaccharides. The rest is protein, simple sugars, lipids, vitamins, minerals and many other phytochemicals. According to a recent review: it has anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-bacterial, antifungal, liver protective, and immune-boosting properties. Long-term bee pollen consumption can improve health, delay ageing and increase mental and physical activity. (6)
- Manuka honey comes from the pollen of the manuka tree. It has antimicrobial properties. Mainly used for an immune boost, to treat sore throat/ upper respiratory infections, and fungal infections. The Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) measures its antimicrobial activity. The higher it is, the higher the antimicrobial activity it has. Be cautious of its sugar content if you have type 2 diabetes. (7)
- Chia seeds are rich in omega 3, minerals (iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc), vitamins (b vitamins, e vitamin), high in fibre, protein, and other antioxidant-rich plant compounds. Helpful in blood sugar regulation, cholesterol, anti-inflammatory, and positively affect gut health. (8) (9)
Have you heard of chia pudding? Why don’t you swap one of your shop-bought sugary treats for a chia pudding? Easy to make. Mix two tablespoons of chia seeds, ½ cup of coconut milk/almond milk and a teaspoon of raw honey or manuka honey. Leave it in the fridge for at least 2 hours or overnight. When ready to eat it, top it with blueberries, strawberries or toasted nuts. Enjoy!
- Tomato, the humble vegetable (botanically speaking, the humble fruit). Tomato didn’t get as much hype as the other “superfood friends”. Although much deserves it. Besides its vitamin and mineral content, it contains hundreds of plant compounds like lycopene. Lycopene is a carotenoid compound which gives veggies and fruits their red colour. Increased lycopene levels are associated with decreased risk of prostate cancer. (10)Lycopene may protect against cardiovascular disease due to its anti-inflammatory properties. (11)
Did you know that lycopene has better absorption from cooked tomatoes (such as tomato paste, tomato juice etc) than fresh tomatoes? (12). However, before you rush to reach out for ketchup, think about its high sugar and salt content. Choose wisely and rather add one tablespoon of tomato paste to your favourite pasta dish, and you have already increased your daily “superfood” intake.
8. Olive oil provides 100% fats, squalene, polyphenols, phytosterols, vitamin E, and K. Eating a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil has been shown to improve metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease. (13) Add a teaspoon of olive oil to your favourite salad!
9. Garlic is a well-known vegetable that belongs to the onion family; however, because of its strong, pungent taste, not many people’s favourite. It is a powerful plant against many illnesses. It is antiviral, antifungal, anti-bacterial and anti-parasitic. Garlic is found to be helpful in metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol and has antimicrobial activity. Allicin, found in garlic, is an organosulphur compound responsible mainly for these healing properties. (14) Did you know that: to get most of the benefits of allicin, you need to crush, chop or chew (huh) garlic? When you crush the garlic, an enzyme called alliinase is released, which has a significant role in the formation of allicin. (15) So don’t forget to chop, cut, or crush garlic before you cook with it and allow time for alliinase to work (approx. 5 minutes).
You can see what unique nutritional value and health benefits these foods have individually. Imagine when you combine them! As for calling some of them superfoods, I think all herbs/spices, vegetables and fruits deserve the “superfood” title! All are unique in their own way and add something different to our diet. We should not expect them to cure any disease but rather use them as a preventative option to stay healthy, energetic, and youthful!
Did you count how many of the above are part of your diet?
Always make sure you eat a variable diet, try to include most of these superfoods and when you feel you need extra help especially wintertime, take Immunity.
Bee healthy and happy! 😊
DipCNM, mBANT, rCNHC
- Pandey KB, Rizvi SI. Plant polyphenols as dietary antioxidants in human health and disease. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2009 Nov-Dec;2(5):270-8. doi: 10.4161/oxim.2.5.9498. PMID: 20716914; PMCID: PMC2835915.
- Dhalaria R, Verma R, Kumar D, Puri S, Tapwal A, Kumar V, Nepovimova E, Kuca K. Bioactive Compounds of Edible Fruits with Their Anti-Aging Properties: A Comprehensive Review to Prolong Human Life. Antioxidants (Basel). 2020 Nov 13;9(11):1123. doi: 10.3390/antiox9111123. PMID: 33202871; PMCID: PMC7698232.
- Zeng Y, Pu X, Yang J, Du J, Yang X, Li X, Li L, Zhou Y, Yang T. Preventive and Therapeutic Role of Functional Ingredients of Barley Grass for Chronic Diseases in Human Beings. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2018 Apr 4;2018:3232080. doi: 10.1155/2018/3232080. PMID: 29849880; PMCID: PMC5904770.
- Finamore A, Palmery M, Bensehaila S, Peluso I. Antioxidant, Immunomodulating, and Microbial-Modulating Activities of the Sustainable and Ecofriendly Spirulina. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2017;2017:3247528. doi: 10.1155/2017/3247528. Epub 2017 Jan 15. PMID: 28182098; PMCID: PMC5274660.
- Bito T, Okumura E, Fujishima M, Watanabe F. Potential of Chlorella as a Dietary Supplement to Promote Human Health. Nutrients. 2020 Aug 20;12(9):2524. doi: 10.3390/nu12092524. PMID: 32825362; PMCID: PMC7551956.
- Khalifa SAM, Elashal MH, Yosri N, Du M, Musharraf SG, Nahar L, Sarker SD, Guo Z, Cao W, Zou X, Abd El-Wahed AA, Xiao J, Omar HA, Hegazy MF, El-Seedi HR. Bee Pollen: Current Status and Therapeutic Potential. Nutrients. 2021 May 31;13(6):1876. doi: 10.3390/nu13061876. PMID: 34072636; PMCID: PMC8230257.
- Girma A, Seo W, She RC. Antibacterial activity of varying UMF-graded Manuka honeys. PLoS One. 2019 Oct 25;14(10):e0224495. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0224495. PMID: 31652284; PMCID: PMC6814216.
- Enes BN, Moreira LPD, Silva BP, Grancieri M, Lúcio HG, Venâncio VP, Mertens-Talcott SU, Rosa COB, Martino HSD. Chia seed (Salvia hispanica L.) effects and their molecular mechanisms on unbalanced diet experimental studies: A systematic review. J Food Sci. 2020 Feb;85(2):226-239. doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.15003. Epub 2020 Jan 23. PMID: 31972052.
- Pereira da Silva B, Kolba N, Stampini Duarte Martino H, Hart J, Tako E. Soluble Extracts from Chia Seed (Salvia hispanica) Affect Brush Border Membrane Functionality, Morphology and Intestinal Bacterial Populations In Vivo (Gallus gallus). Nutrients. 2019 Oct 14;11(10):2457. doi: 10.3390/nu11102457. PMID: 31615146; PMCID: PMC6835468.
- Mahdi Mirahmadi, Shayan Azimi-Hashemi, Ehsan Saburi, Hossein Kamali, Mandana Pishbin, Farzin Hadizadeh, Potential inhibitory effect of lycopene on prostate cancer, Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, Volume 129, 2020, 110459, ISSN 0753-3322,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopha.2020.110459. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0753332220306521)
- Thies F, Mills LM, Moir S, Masson LF. Cardiovascular benefits of lycopene: fantasy or reality? Proc Nutr Soc. 2017 May;76(2):122-129. doi: 10.1017/S0029665116000744. Epub 2016 Sep 9. PMID: 27609297.
- Perdomo F, Cabrera Fránquiz F, Cabrera J, Serra-Majem L. Influencia del procedimiento culinario sobre la biodisponibilidad del licopeno en el tomate [Influence of cooking procedure on the bioavailability of lycopene in tomatoes]. Nutr Hosp. 2012 Sep-Oct;27(5):1542-6. Spanish. doi: 10.3305/nh.2012.27.5.5908. PMID: 23478703.
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- Bayan L, Koulivand PH, Gorji A. Garlic: a review of potential therapeutic effects. Avicenna J Phytomed. 2014 Jan;4(1):1-14. PMID: 25050296; PMCID: PMC4103721
- Borlinghaus J, Albrecht F, Gruhlke MC, Nwachukwu ID, Slusarenko AJ. Allicin: chemistry and biological properties. Molecules. 2014 Aug 19;19(8):12591-618. doi: 10.3390/molecules190812591. PMID: 25153873; PMCID: PMC6271412.