Last week, we took a look at some popular ‘superfoods’ to see if they are worth the hype, and the price tag. Though admittedly they turned out to be pretty super, packed with nutrients, antioxidants and disease-fighting qualities, this week we’re shouting out to the lesser known heroes. The everyday veggies who fight the forces of disease and poor nutrition without recognition or reward, and we ask – are they just as super as the superfoods?
Let's start with broccoli.
Most people wrinkle their noses, thinking of plain over-boiled green mini-trees they were forced to eat as kids, but when cooked right (or eaten raw with a delicious dip), this veggie is delicious. Not to mention, it’s actually fantastic.
Broccoli combats cancer (1), high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease by reducing cholesterol and triglycerides (2), as well as being a major source of vitamins C, A and K, folate, calcium, fiber, beta-carotene and antioxidants 3-carbinol and sulforaphane. The last of these can prevent the damage that high blood sugar has on small blood vessels, protecting those with diabetes (3), and has cancer-fighting properties. Phew. Not bad.
The original ‘superfood’ and North American darling, blueberries contain vitamin K, C, fiber, manganese and, famously, tons of antioxidants (anthocyanins). Lowering risk of heart disease (4), blueberries may also relax blood vessel walls to prevent atherosclerosis (although more evidence is needed).
Blueberry powder is associated with lowering blood pressure (5) and has been linked to improved cognitive function, though these studies were small. Blueberries antioxidising phenolic compounds earn its reputation as a nutritional winner.
Traditionally used for digestion, fever and skin issues, beetroot has emerged as a powerful root that can lower blood pressure (6), improve cognitive function, memory and dementia (7) and even improve athletic performance.
Beets are a great source of iron and folate, nitrates, betaine, magnesium and other antioxidants like betacyanin, giving it big nutritional bang for your buck. With its sweet flavor, beetroot is great roasted in salads, cooked into casseroles, raw as noodles or grated into a slaw, blended into a smoothie or even pickled. To beetroot newbies, it’s bright pigment does extend to the bathroom - so don’t panic if you notice anything pinker than usual!
Turns out this flavorful little bulb is useful for a lot more than just vampire-free daily living. Research suggests it can be effective against cardiovascular illnesses, high blood pressure (8) and cholesterol (9), poor circulation and some cancers (10). It may even prevent that winter cold (11), although more research is needed.
With vitamin C, B6, manganese, selenium and allicin (a powerful antioxidant), garlic is definitely nutritious, and with its full flavor you can switch it out for unhealthier flavorings such as salts and fats and still have a meal that doesn’t taste of rabbit food.
Not really an everyday food, but since it’s so great we thought we’d throw it in! Seaweed is a surprisingly rich superfood, not only a great source of calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron and potassium, but also one of few plant-based sources of Iodine, which can both prevent and promote healing in breast cancer. Seaweed is rich in omega-3 fatty acids for heart and brain health, although higher in ALA than the harder-to-convert, valuable EPA and DHA. We make these from ALA, but the process isn’t efficient.
The many benefits of seaweed – from high levels of amino acids, vitamins A, B, C and E and fatty acids – are widely studied. Nori is the common sushi type but you can try kombu, hijiki or wakame. Make sure it’s actually seaweed, though – the fried stuff from your local Chinese takeout won’t cut it!
Again, nutritional yeast isn’t exactly an everyday food – but it should be! This cheesy delight is made from deactivated yeast, and when combined with salty flavors makes an irresistible cheese taste without the 70% fat and health risks that come with the real thing. Perfect for cheese sauces, toppings and cauliflower bites.
Nutritional yeast strengthens your immune system (13) and is a fantastic source of protein and fiber. It is often fortified with B vitamins, notably B12 which is difficult to find naturally in a plant-based diet. Nutritional yeast is actually so healthy, it was used to prevent vitamin deficiency in war prisoners! Some research has shown supplementing with B9 (folate) can actually cause harm, though – opinions are divided, but it may be beneficial to buy un-fortified nutritional yeast and supplement the B12.
It’s hard to pick a place to begin with this versatile veggie. Cauliflower is rich in *takes a deep breath * vitamin C, K, protein, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, phosphorus, fiber, B6, magnesium, folate, pantothenic acid, manganese, potassium and antioxidants. With only 25 calories per cup, that’s an extremely nutrient dense veggie!
Cauliflowers contain cancer fighting phytochemicals which prevent damage by carcinogens (14, 15, 16). They may prevent hormone cancers like breast, uterine and cervical cancer (17), reduce stroke risk, improve blood pressure and kidney function (18), are anti-inflammatory, aid digestion and aid detoxification.
They also contain choline, a b-vitamin that has been shown to aid learning, memory and brain development (19). So basically, cauliflower wins.
The humble cabbage is an excellent source of Vitamins K, C, and B6 as well as manganese, potassium, B1, folate, copper, B2, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, selenium, calcium, pantothenic acid and niacin. It also contains several important antioxidants and L Glutamine, which is a key amino acid for digestive health and cardiac and neurological function. Glutamine helps build and maintain muscle mass and can be used for energy. Being full of fibre, cabbage keeps you full and regulates the immune system and inflammation, decreasing the risk of inflammation-related disease.
Another compound, sulforaphane may help protect against cancer (20) and suppress inflammation that may lead to cardiovascular disease. Additionally, 3,3’-diindolylmethane (DIM) has been shown to protect against radiation therapy’s harmful effects. Now go make a giant batch of guilt free plant-based coleslaw and devour it all.
To sum up, then -
Exotic, expensive superfoods have some really great qualities, there’s no denying it. But the regular fruits and veggies are also packed full of crazy benefits, and a well-balanced, nutritious diet should try and get as many of these in as possible. It’s easy to get carried away with fancy foods and supplements, but if your weekly shop comes abundantly from the produce aisle, and you’re including lots of different colours and varieties, your body will soon be feeling pretty super.