Superfood for thought

Living in the 21 century where vast majorities of our foods are genetically modified or grown in fields where pesticides and herbicides are frequently used, the nutrient quality of our foods has deteriorated. Many of the animals farmed for our vital protein sources are given hormone supplements or force fed for quick growth to meet the high demand for food in the world today. Many people ask the question, are we still receiving genuine goodness from the foods we are eating?

Without advocating eating organic foods because, although organic is better for us, most of us cannot afford to live on organic foods, what are the avenues we need to venture down to ensure that we are choosing foods that are providing us with sustenance and wholesome goodness? We are living in an era where time seems of the essence to most of us and any quick-pick-up-and-go meal suits our lifestyle; where our supermarkets are sprinkled with the latest supplements, replacement drinks and natural remedies; where we are exposed daily to the latest medical findings that some say work and others say avoid. Who do we believe? Ensuring we make educated choices in the actual foods we choose to eat; and those we choose to avoid is an easy way of ensuring optimal health without having to take too many supplements. Everybody knows that we need to eat diets low in fats and high in fruits and vegetables but do we really know why?

What do high saturated and trans fat diets actually do to our bodies? It is a fact that saturated and trans fats are detrimental to your health. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that saturated fats negatively affect cholesterol profiles, which predisposes people to heart disease, and recommends avoiding saturated fats in order to reduce the risk of a cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of saturated fats you eat to less than 7 percent of total daily calories. That means, for example, if you need about 2,000 calories a day, no more than 140 of them should come from saturated fats. That’s about 16 grams of saturated fats a day!

Trans fatty acids, which originated from animals fats (such as cattle and sheep) on the other hand, provide no known benefit to human health. Today, the largest amount of consumed trans fats are created by the processed food industry. As an ingredient in foods, trans fats lengthen the shelf life and form of a food product and this is why they are so often used in today’s foods. Both saturated fats and trans fats increase levels of LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol), trans fats also lower levels of HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol), therefore increasing the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in 2006 stated in a scientific review that "from a nutritional standpoint, the consumption of trans fatty acids results in considerable potential harm but no apparent benefit.” So therefore, there is no safe level of trans fat ingestion.

So saturated fats and trans fats increase our risk of heart disease by increasing our cholesterol levels and clogging up our arteries. Ensure that you read the labels of the foods you purchase, a ‘low-saturated fat’ food is a food that contains 1g or less of saturated fats per serving. There is no reference for trans fats as they are harmful to our bodies in any concentration.

What do fruits and vegetables contain that make them so good for us? Fruit and vegetables are foods which contain many nutrients which our bodies cannot make on their own. It is therefore a 100% necessary that we receive these vital nutrients in the food that we eat. Knowing what foods contain what vitamins, will help you in your quest for optimum health. There are 2 main groups of vitamins, fat soluble and water soluble vitamins. Vitamins A, D, E, K are the 4 fat soluble vitamins. All red, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamin A. Vitamin E can be found in most raw vegetable oils, avocados and most seeds. All green leafy vegetables and fruits are rich sources of vitamin K and our main source of vitamin D is the sun.

When it comes to the water soluble vitamins, those are the B vitamins and vitamin C. The important ones are those with antioxidant potential. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and plays a big role in keeping our immune systems strong. Vitamin C also ensures we have strong bones and teeth and it aids in the absorption of iron which can prevent us becoming anemic (So drink a glass of orange juice with your meal to aid in iron absorption from your food!). Vitamin C can be found in all green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, red, green and yellow peppers as well as all berries! There are many vitamin B complexes (B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine) and B12 (folate))and they are all involved in our body’s metabolism and functioning. Vitamin B’s are mainly found in green leafy vegetables and fruits.

Fruits and vegetables also contain minerals. Minerals either form part of structural body components or they are needed in ensuring specific body functions. Iron and calcium are two examples of essential minerals. Iron is important as it is needed in the manufacturing of haemoglobin which is the ‘oxygen carrier’ in our bodies. Fruits and vegetables contain a form of iron called, non-haem iron which is not a potent as the iron found in animal products (haem-iron). Haem iron is taken up more easily by the body and used to produce haemoglobin more efficiently than non haem iron. Sources of non-haem iron (plant iron) can be found in green leafy vegetables and dried fruits. Calcium, along with vitamin D, helps to keep or bones strong. It also interestingly, activates enzymes such as lipase enzymes which are the fat-splitting enzymes. Figs, broccoli, beans and some citrus fruits contain dietary sources of calcium.

Certain fruit and vegetables are rich sources of phytonutrients. These foods are commonly know as SUPERFOODS. Phytonutrients are edible plant or fruit derived chemicals which may reduce the risk of cancer, possibly due to their dietary fibers, their antioxidant potential and/or their anti-inflammatory effects. Studies have suggested that the phytochemical, lycopene, which is found in tomatoes can reduce the risk of cancer especially prostate cancer in men. Interestingly evidence shows that more concentrated forms of tomato like pasta sauce and tomato sauce contain more lycopene than fresh tomatoes. Other foods rich in phytonutrients are soya, broccoli, garlic, blue berries, citrus fruits and chilli peppers.

Our diets need to be boosted with Superfoods to ensure we are receiving adequate nutrients to meet our daily needs and to protect us from the harmful substances we are expose to unknowingly in so many of our foods today. Our bodies were designed to metabolize foods and so we need to give our bodies foods containing nutrients it can readily use to then optimally perform. We need to keep in mind that during the primitive days when people ate from the land, the prevalence of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes were infinitely lower than they are today. It can only be the deterioration of the quality of the food that we are now eating that has contributed to this dangerous epidemic.

Kelly Lynch Registered Dietician