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What are 'superfoods'?

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

'Superfoods' is the name given to foods claimed to have special health benefits, although these are not always scientifically proven. You won't find superfoods on a packaging label as the term is not allowed under advertising rules. What makes a food a 'superfood'? "It's just a food with good PR," says Registered Dietitian Catherine Collins, who reviews diet and nutrition articles for BootsWebMD.

Is there evidence that eating certain things can reduce the risk of developing heart disease, stroke and cancer?

We look at the facts.

Top superfoods: Do their health claims live up to the hype?

Among the foods said to have superfood status are:

  • Beans: Rich in soluble fibre, they can help control cholesterol as part of a heart healthy diet.
  • Blueberries: Rich in anthocyanins, natural plant substances that add colour to fruit. They've been linked to heart health, but the scientific evidence isn't conclusive.
  • Broccoli: Rich in glucosinolates, substances that help the liver produce detoxifying enzymes essential for good health.
  • Oats: A source of beta glucan fibre, which can help lower cholesterol and control blood sugar levels, too.
  • Oranges: Everyone knows about their vitamin C content, but their white pith is rich in dietary fibres too.
  • Salmon: Rich in omega-3 essential fats, salmon is also a good way to boost your vitamin D intake.
  • Soya: A protein and fibre-rich food. Some people can change soy lignans into phyto-oestrogens, which may help reduce the 'hot flushes' of menopause. But this doesn't work for everyone - it depends on the type of bowel bacteria you have.
  • Spinach: The iron in spinach isn't well absorbed, but spinach is a great source of lutein and zeaxanthin - two plant carotenes that are essential for eye health, helping protect the lining of the eye (the retina) from UV light damage.
  • Tea (green or black): Rich in catechins, tea adds plenty of antioxidants to our daily diet because we drink so much of it, so often.
  • Tomatoes: A natural source of lycopene, a plant substance that helps reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men. Cooked tomatoes release more of the lycopene than raw.
  • Walnuts: A rich source of plant omega-3 fats and also vitamin E.
  • Yoghurt: The bacteria used to make yoghurt are natural probiotics - substances that help keep our gut healthy. Yoghurt is a great source of protein and calcium too.

Blueberries: Antioxidant 'superfood'

Packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals, these berries are also high in potassium and vitamin C, making them a top choice of doctors and nutritionists. Not only may they help lower your risk of heart disease and cancer, they are also anti-inflammatory.

Inflammation is thought to be a key driver of many chronic diseases, so blueberries have a host of benefits. When selecting berries, note that the darker they are, the more antioxidants they have. Frozen fruits are just as good as fresh, experts say, but make sure you include a variety of other fruit and vegetables in your diet as well.

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