Food doesn't have to travel half way around the world to be a 'superfood'

Goji berries, raw cacao and acai berries have been lauded as superfoods but I prefer to look a little closer to home, to foods that don’t have to travel hundreds or thousands of food miles to reach our breakfast bowl, lunch box or dinner plate for superfoods packed full of nutrition.

The dictionary definition of a superfood is: a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and wellbeing. It seems to me that most foods classed as a superfood are either something you have never heard of before, or something so expensive that we can’t afford to eat them every day.

So here is my list of no-nonsense, down-to-earth, everyday superfoods:

:: Cabbage: Part of the brassica family that includes kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, rocket, watercress, turnip, bok choi, pak choi and others, cabbage is an unassuming superfood. This group of vegetables contains a smorgasbord of phytochemicals including indoles, thiocyanates, and nitriles, which may prevent against some types of cancer.

:: Onions: A store-cupboard essential with layers of benefits, onions, scallions, leeks, garlic and shallots are thought to have immune-protective benefits, support cardiovascular health and have antimicrobial properties too.

:: Carrot: Since childhood we have been told to eat carrots to help us see in the dark. Although this is an old wives’ tale, the orange colour of carrots is thanks to a group of antioxidants called carotenoids that are important for eye health, immune protection and cardiovascular function.

:: Beetroot: A good source of iron and folate, beetroot also contains nitrates, betaine, magnesium and antioxidants. Recently beetroot consumption has been associated with helping to reduce blood pressure, boost exercise performance and prevent dementia.

:: Rosemary: This everyday herb has possible health benefits that include improved concentration, digestion, and reduced brain aging. Try growing your own in a pot on the back door step, so it is close to hand for adding to roasted vegetables, casseroles, soups and stews. Team with thyme and garlic for an even more powerful punch.

:: Salmon: Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, trout and sardines are packed with omega 3 essential fats. Associated with heart health, mental wellbeing and joint health, these fats also have anti-inflammatory properties. Aim to eat oily fish two or three times a week.

:: Tomato puree: Tomatoes contain a chemical called lycopene that research has associated with reduced risk of prostate and breast cancer. It seems that when tomatoes are eaten with a generous drizzle of olive oil, or cooked and concentrated into tomato puree, this helps to maximise the absorption rate of lycopene.

:: Tea: In particular, green tea has been known for some time to have potential health benefits. Although it contains caffeine, it has less of a stimulatory effect on the nervous system than black tea thanks to an ingredient called theanine. This amino acid has calming properties, making green tea the perfect cuppa for busy days.

:: Yoghurt: Not the over-processed, low fat, flavoured varieties that most of us favour, but natural, live yoghurt. This stuff contains beneficial probiotic bacteria that have been associated with everything from digestive support to cognitive function. Look out for ‘live’, ‘probiotic’ or ‘bio’ to make sure you get the beneficial bugs.

The term superfood is often overhyped. It seems the more variety we can get into our diet the better. If there is something on my list of everyday superfoods that you haven’t eaten for some time, then pack it into your trolley next time you are in the supermarket and make it a regular habit again.

This blog post first appeared as an article in The Irish News on Saturday 24 November 2018.