Type the word “superfood” into your search engine and prepare to be baffled. With the nation wanting quicker and easier ways to get fit and healthy and to look more beautiful – eating your way to good health seems like the Holy Grail.
And this is partly why so many food producers and manufacturers claim their products have special health benefits to the consumer, cashing in on the natural benefits many foods have on offer.
If there is scientific backing to what makes a particular food group healthy then all the better for the supplier.
Take for example the popular condiment Marmite, a yeast extract high in vitamin B3 (niacin). A study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation labeled the sticky brown stuff as a superfood thanks to its apparent ability to keep infection at bay.
According to the study, high amounts of niacin produce neutrophilis, a white blood cell that fights bacteria and increases the immune system's ability to fight infection up to 1,000 times.
However the NHS Choices website highlights that the research was carried out in mice and may not work on humans in quite the same way. The site strongly advises people not to take high doses of vitamin B3 unless specifically prescribed by their doctor.
But regardless of whether or not the research is conclusive, the label “superfood” will do nothing to slow the sales of Marmite – boosting its reputation further.
Other products which have seen soaring sales thanks to their superfood status have included Greek yoghurt, said to boost the immune system - along with other probiotic yoghurt varieties; acai berries and supplements including acai berry, said to contain high levels of antioxidant; blueberries, said to prevent Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and Manuka honey which has anti-bacterial properties and can command a hefty price tag.
The list doesn’t stop there – any food with natural ingredients as a base can be tailored to some form of superfood, and new revelations are constantly being made about foods we never thought of as particularly special. Think of sushi – raw fish, once thought of in no particular high regard, but now held in high esteem thanks to the news that fish is high in essential omega-3 oils and can lower cholestrol and improve the skin.
The latest research being carried out by scientists includes clinical trials to determine whether or not women who eat more vitamin E rich foods during pregnancy can prevent childhood asthma in the unborn baby.
Studies suggest that women who eat soups naturally high in the vitamin may promote lung growth in the developing foetus as children born with good lung function are less likely to develop asthma.
So which foods have a high level of vitamin E?
Oils such as wheat germ, sunflower and safflower all have high levels of the vitamin as well as nut and nut oils such as almond, hazelnut and palm oil.
Spinach, turnip, beetroot, avocado, kiwi, broccoli and tomatoes all contain high levels of the vitamin.
Depending on what you are hoping to achieve in terms of fitness or beauty outcomes there will be a food out there marketed to your particular needs. And practically anything can be sold with the label of having health benefits. The list is long and you might get a shock as to how many things can come under the superfood banner – but if you don’t have time to trawl the internet searching for the best – here are a few suggestions.
Blueberries: One of the more popular and well-known of the superfoods, blueberries help protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia
Pomegranate juice: With potent antioxidant benefits, pomegranate juice is said to protect the brain from the damage of free radicals.
Beans: Any beans will do. They stabilise glucose levels on which the brain is dependent for fuel. Brain food at its best.
Avocados: Avocados are almost as good as blueberries in promoting brain health. High in monounsaturated fat they contribute to healthy blood flow – equalling a health brain.
Nuts and seeds: A great source of vitamin E, nuts and seeds can prevent cognitive decline as you get older. Raw or roasted, it doesn’t matter, but buy unsalted nuts.
Salmon: Deep-water fish, including salmon, are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are essential for brain function. Omega-3s also contain anti-inflammatory substances. Other oily fish that provide the benefits of omega-3s are sardines mackerel.
Freshly brewed tea: A couple of cups a day contain a modest amount of caffeine which can enhance brain function, memory, mood and focus. It has powerful antioxidants in it which can promote healthy blood flow- but teabags don’t count. You need fresh tea leaves.
Dark chocolate: Everyone loves chocolate, so what better food to finish on? Dark chocolate has powerful antioxidant properties and it contains several natural stimulants, including caffeine, which enhance focus and concentration. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, which help to improve your mood. Do you need any more convincing?