Growing superfoods

Turn your garden into a powerhouse of nutrition by nurturing nature’s overachievers.

Words: Kahu de Beer. Illustrations: Lisa Lodge

There’s been so much publicity about superfoods in the last few years it would be almost impossible to have not noticed how popular and fashionable they have become. This trend has certainly caught on in our household. Whether it’s kale in our smoothies, cacao nibs sprinkled on granola, or microgreens and petals in our salads – we go for the heavy hitters when it comes to what we eat. Although all fruits and vegetables are nourishing for you and contain many benefits, there are some that just stand out a little more for their high nutrient density. These are often labelled ‘superfoods’.

When we eat these types of foods that are high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants our bodies are given a boost and it can help us to feel good, ward off diseases and even live longer. The key though is variety; while a particular food may be all the rage right now, it’s still a great idea to include lots of different colours and varieties of fruits and vegetables. Eating organically and seasonally is also optimal and will help you to get the most goodness out of your food.

Although we often think of a superfood as being some exotic berry from the amazon jungle (which is sometimes true) many of the most nutrient-rich foods can be grown in your own backyard. Not only will you have ready access to some of the healthiest foods on the planet, you’ll also save money by growing them at home.

You’ve probably heard me raving about sprouts before but I just have to mention them again here. Sprouts are high in protein, amino acids, essential vitamins and minerals. They help to lower cholesterol, improve blood sugar levels and digestion, and help with kidney issues.

One of the high performing greens, broccoli is rich in carotenoids which help your body rid itself of harmful compounds, it also promotes digestive health with it’s fibre content and has high levels of sulforaphane which flush cancer-causing chemicals from the body.

Blackcurrants contain four times the amount of vitamin C as oranges, and double the amount of antioxidants as blueberries. These large amounts of antioxidants have been shown to protect nerve cells and help to regenerate the body’s own defence systems.

One of the leading superfoods, kale is beneficial to the entire body. It’s high vitamin C content boosts natural collagen, which increases skin elasticity. Kale is also high in copper which protects your skin from exposure and inflammation. The omega-3 fatty acids promote brain health and cognition.

Like broccoli and kale, spinach is loaded with nutrients that promote health across your entire body. Spinach contains over a dozen flavonoids that are beneficial in fighting cancer and inflammation in the body. Other benefits include protection against eye disease, strengthening bones, and alkalising the body.

Tomatoes contain a large variety of phytochemicals that boast a long list of health benefits. They are a particularly concentrated source of lycopene – a powerful antioxidant which fuels disease-fighting capability in the body and is thought to significantly lower your risk of stroke and cancer.

Garlic’s antiviral properties help to boost the immune system. It can also help with weight control as well as lowering cholesterol levels, helping to prevent heart disease.

The betalains contained in beetroot (which give it it’s colour) have shown to help to ward off cancer and other degenerative diseases. Nitrate compounds in beetroot convert into nitric acid in the blood which helps to widen and relax blood vessels – lowering blood pressure.

The humble apple is actually thought to be amongst the top three healthiest fruits in the world. Apples are packed full of fibre and antioxidants. They can reduce the risk of asthma, heart attacks and even improve our memory.

Lemons are rich in vitamin C, aid digestion, help with weight loss and boost energy. They can also protect against anemia by improving absorption of iron from plant foods.

Watercress ranks at the top of the nutrition density chart. It fights against DNA breakdown and blood cell damage. It is particularly helpful in suppressing breast cancer cells because of the compound phenylethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), which has significant anti-cancer properties.

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