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Superfoods; a blast of nutrition

Tuesday August 15, 2017

Supermarket shelves and restaurant menus are filled with superfood messages, and ‘superfood’ is rapidly becoming an over-used term. How can you separate the real superfoods, from those that have been thrown on the bandwagon by over-enthusiastic marketers? From algae to berries, bacteria to seaweeds and vegetables to herbs and spices, a rainbow of superfoods can be found in your local specialist health food store. 

Experts at Viridian Nutrition have picked a few of their favourites, and explain why in these cases, ‘superfood’ really does apply…

Viridian Nutrition’s superfood picks:

Algae can be viewed as the start of the food chain, and as expected research revealed the nutritional values of Spirulina and Chlorella have proven to be densely packed with nutrients, protein, enzymes, chlorophyll and species-specific bio actives.  

Human evidence suggests that spirulina can improve cholesterol levels and fat metabolism[1] [2], while also exerting an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects [Serban1].  Further evidence supporting its superfood status reported a reduction in liver fat whilst exerting liver protection[3] and reduced blood pressure in hypertensive individuals.[4] [5]  Whilst the sporting community are reported to experience improved endurance[6], power[7] and efficient energy production[8].  Spirulina’s primary bio active; phycocyanobilin, makes up about 1% of spirulina and is structurally similar to the body’s bilirubin compound.  Its activity inhibits a deleterious enzyme complex (NADPH oxidase)[9] to provide potent anti-oxidative[10] [11] and anti-inflammatory effects suggested to reduce the effects of ageing.

It is important when choosing a Chlorella product that you purchase broken cell wall Chlorella.  This being that the cell walls are indigestible and so the body cannot release and absorb the nutrients.  Evidence shows that Chlorella can absorb surrounding compounds[12] and when raised in fresh water mineral dense waters the nutritional value is influenced.  Furthermore, this ability adds to its benefits in detoxification, such as binding heavy metals and toxins and eliminating them from the body.[13] [14] [15]  Further human evidence reports Chlorella to be beneficial in increasing red blood cell iron content and improving anaemia, improved blood pressure values in hypertensive patients,[16] reduced pain in a small fibromyalgia group[17] and a protective effect on the kidneys of pregnant women[18] and lungs of smokers.[19]

Organic, wild harvested Kelp is known to be mineral rich, in fact, minerals account for 36% of the dry weight.  Kelp possesses bio actives such as fucose rich polysaccharides, alginic acid and carotenoids.  As a result of such nutrient density, evidence shows that kelp has numerous health benefits; namely improved thyroid activity, reduction in cholesterol values, anti-coagulant and anti-thrombotic[20] effects that contribute to improved heart health and potent anti-oxidant benefits [21] [22].  Further research has suggested anti-obesogenic effects via reduced food intake and blood sugar modulation[23].



Photo caption: Maca is also known as 'Peruvian Ginseng.' 


Traditionally used in its native home country as a tonic, for endurance and reputed for libido, maca is often referred to as ‘Peruvian Ginseng’.  Yet even though it resembles a turnip or parsnip it belongs to the Brassicaceae family and can be found as yellow, red or black maca.[24]  Maca become of interest in the western cultures as research revealed benefits to wellbeing, energy and libido[25] [26] (for both sexes)[27].  Further female health benefits include improved fertility[28], menopausal symptom relief[29] [30] and post-menopausal osteoporosis support[31].  These health benefits are attributed to its constituents especially the mineral density and broad spectrum of polysaccharides.  Additionally, maca releases it phytonutrients in the presence of hot water[32] making it a perfect ingredient for baking, porridge, soups and stews.  If supplementing with maca, an organic extract may be best to deliver a potency that is the equivalent of 3-5 grams thus conforming to that used in research.



Photo caption: Planting tumeric in India.


Probably the most famous spice due to its deep-rooted history of Ayurvedic medicine that soon revealed a myriad of health benefits.   Its use in India and Ayurveda addressed inflammatory conditions, however modern research has reported anti-oxidant, reduced pain[33] and reduced pain perception[34] with findings contributing to exceptional results in patients with chronic conditions.[35] [36] [37]  These benefits are often attributed to the primary group of bio actives; curcuminoids but emerging evidence shows benefits from curcumin-free turmeric that may mean that lesser recognised compounds within turmeric too are responsible.[38]  Therefore, culinary turmeric is encouraged and if supplementing; organic extracts that also contain broad spectrum (whole) turmeric.

Organic superfoods can be a nutritious addition to the diet when western monoculture agricultural practices may leave soils depleted of nutrients[39] if a remineralisation programme is not undertaken.  Additionally, crop exposed to pesticides are likely to harvest contaminated produce.  In terms of health, an increase in chronic disease has been reported since the industrialisation and the increased use of processed foods[40] [41] [42], hence the use of superfoods within a wholefood based diet besides a lifestyle shift may offer a decreased chance of developing chronic diseases.


Author: Jenny Hall is a Nutritional Practitioner and Technical Advisor at Viridian Nutrition. She holds a BSc honours degree in Nutritional Science.


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[2] Lee EH, Park JE, Choi YJ, Huh KB, Kim WY. A randomized study to establish the effects of spirulina in type 2 diabetes mellitus patients. Nutr Res Pract. 2008 Winter;2(4):295-300.

[3] Ferreira-Hermosillo A, Torres-Duran PV, Juarez-Oropeza MA. Hepatoprotective effects of Spirulina maxima in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: a case series. J Med Case Rep. 2010 Apr 7;4:103.

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