· Health foods in fashion
Celebrities are endorsing them, supermarkets are stocking them and fancy restaurants are putting them on the menu. But are these health food fads actually good for you? From quinoa to kale, we examine their benefits…
Pronounced “keen-waa”, quinoa is a good substitute for rice or couscous and has become increasingly popular. Last year, Holland & Barrett reported a 44% increase in sales.
Strictly speaking, quinoa is a seed rather than a grain. It is also one of the best sources of protein you’ll find in the plant kingdom and is the only plant that contains all eight essential amino acids. It’s rich in minerals, such as calcium, magnesium and potassium, and provides nearly the entire spectrum of B–vitamins, which are needed to boost energy.
Traditionally grown in the dry climate of the Andes (mainly in Bolivia, Equador and Peru), Nasa hails quinoa as the perfect nourishment for long–distance flights because of its life–sustaining nutrients.
Marks & Spencer and Pret à Manger sell kale crisps, on Amazon there are at least five newly launched books containing kale–only recipes, and you can find out how to make kale juice and kale chips on Gwyneth Paltrow’s online lifestyle magazine, Goop. Little wonder, then, that last year sales of kale were up by 40%.
A member of the cabbage family, kale comes in plain or curly varieties and is packed with nutrients, including beta carotene, folate, vitamin C, iron, magnesium and potassium. It’s low in fat, high in fibre and is one of the richest vegetable sources of calcium.
The evidence that kale is good for you is pretty convincing. Researchers have found that it contains 45 flavonoids, with lots of antioxidant and anti–inflammatory effects. It has also been shown to lower cholesterol and, in one laboratory study, inhibited the production of existing colon cancer cells.
3. Chia seeds
A member of the mint family from Mexico and South America, the flowering chia plant can sprout in days, but it’s the seeds that pack a nutritional punch. In the US, chia seeds are found in sweets, snack foods, seasonings, yogurt and even baby food. Here, they’re found in bread products, baked goods and breakfast cereals, and in fruit, nut and seed mixes. And their popularity is growing. Over the past four years, sales of chia seeds have doubled each year.
Advocates say that, pound for pound, chia seeds have up to eight times more omega–3 than salmon, as well as a wealth of antioxidants, minerals, protein and fibre. They’re said to reduce inflammation, improve heart health and stabilise blood sugar levels. Some converts even say chia seeds can aid weight loss because they swell up when they’re mixed with water, helping your stomach to feel fuller for longer. Research is limited, though, and the UK Foods Standards Agency is currently looking into setting a recommended daily limit of 15g.
4. Coconut water
Lots of Hollywood celebrities, including Madonna, swear by the health benefits of coconut water: the clear liquid found inside young coconuts. In the past couple of years, UK sales have soared. With naturally high levels of electrolytes, including potassium, calcium and magnesium, as well as a long list of other nutrients, coconut water is often touted as a good low–sugar sports drink.
Converts also say it contains cytokinins, a group of nutrients that may slow ageing and lower the risk of cancer, and that it can reduce the risk of cardiac disease, boost circulation, improve digestion and reduce stomach pain.
A word of caution, though. Drinking too much can cause a laxative and diuretic effect. And it’s not cheap — a litre costs around £3.50.
Grown in the Bolivian rainforest, popular in Australia and brought to the UK by Marks & Spencer in February this year, this small, orange–coloured fruit has been labelled the ultimate new superfood.
With a “sorbet–like” texture and “melon–like” flavour, achacha pulp and soft seeds can be eaten fresh or frozen; and the peel can be used to make a nutritious drink, which the Bolivians have used for centuries as an appetite suppressant.
Low in sugar and rich in antioxidants, such as vitamin C, potassium and riboflavin, achacha is also high in folate, a naturally occurring form of folic acid that promotes healthy blood cell formation and circulation, and is particularly recommended for pregnant women.
Most nutritionists agree that while it’s true that some foods are higher in nutrients than others, no single food can provide us with everything we need. In other words, it’s best to enjoy these so–called superfoods as part of a healthy, balanced diet, not instead of one.