When our ancient ancestors ventured out of their caves to find food, I seriously doubt they were concerned about the vitamin and mineral content of their food. After all, if you could forage some roots, then you could eat. And if you could kill an entire animal, then everyone in your clan could eat for weeks. But in this modern age, when most of us have so many eating options that we can choose and be picky, choosing nutritionally-rich food is all the more important. Progresses in modern science have allowed us to very specifically analyze the nutritional contents of foods, as well as test them for their specific phytochemical properties.
As it turns out, many more foods than we thought are rich in nutrition. For example, who would have thought that the bland, starchy, white potato is a very strong source of Vitamin C? But above and beyond healthy foods, is a category known as the superfoods. These are foods that contain a very wide range of a high amount of vitamins and minerals, and that also contain extra chemical properties that have been shown to have a positive effect on human health. This goes to show that food is not only a physical, sensual pleasure, but also a vital part of vibrant living. And some of these foods have such potent health benefits, that I have decided to list them as the world’s top five superfoods. Please keep in mind that there are more than five superfoods, and I have chosen these based on my personal research. They have demonstrated almost supernatural (I said almost) healthful properties. I have also tried to stick to whole foods and not so much on spices and herbs, many of which are also superfoods in their own right, such as those found in Chinese medicine.
1. Sardines, Anchovies, and other Small, Oily, Bony Fish.
No longer just a discarded pizza topping, these small, oily fish are some of the healthiest protein you can eat. They are basically pure protein and fat, but the fat is good fat. Their fishy oil contains unsaturated omega fatty acids that are known to be extremely healthful for the heart. These oils lower the incidence of irregular heart rhythms, lower blood pressure, lower triglyceride levels, reduce arterial plaque, and have other cardiovascular benefits. All fish are healthy for the most part, but the oily fishes have the most omega fatty acids. In fact, in populations who eat large amounts of fish, such as Japan, people have significantly less heart disease, and live longer.
These fish have a strong, oily, salty, oceanic flavor. They can be prepared in many different ways, but one of my favorite is to mix them with Greek kalamata olives, feta cheese, parsley, mint, a hint of olive oil, and some black pepper, and spread the mixture on toasted bread or crackers.
2. Camu Camu.
Camu what? This round, smallish, purple fruit is only found in the Amazon, whose nutritional gems are worthy of their own article. Camu camu comes from a medium-sized tree, and has a rather sour, lemon-like flavor. But like lemons and limes, when sweetened a bit, Camu camu has a lovely, fruity, tropical flavor. This superfruit contain the second-highest Vitamin C content (by weight) of any food in the world: up to fifty times more than an orange! It also contains several other vitamins and minerals, but its real benefit may be its phytochemicals, bioflavonoids, and amino acids. Camu camu is known to lower the level of cortisol in the body, and to also increase the uptake of serotonin, thus directly improving levels of happiness. Camu camu can be served in any sort of sweet, tropical manner. It is lovely in iced drinks, in iced cream, or in gelatin-based desserts.
3. Chili Peppers.
Chiliheads of the world, rejoice! Chili peppers have their own natural, vegetable flavors, but they also all contain capsaicin, the chemical that makes them hot and spicy. Those us of who really love lots of chili in our food can now enjoy them even more, knowing their superfood properties. Chili peppers contain high amounts of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and beta-carotene, three powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants protect our cells from oxidation, which directly leads to aging and disease. Capsaicin is a potent anti-inflammatory, which not only reduces pain in general, but also helps the veins and arteries to be more flexible, thus helping to reduce blood pressure and reduce heart disease, as well as improve circulation. Chili peppers also remove mucus and toxins from the blood. In addition, chili peppers are powerful antimicrobial agents, and heal ulcers in the stomach.
While all chili peppers have capsaicin, they vary greatly in level of heat, as well as in natural vegetable flavor. Some chili peppers have a bright, crisp, fruity flavor, while on the other end of the spectrum, some impart a warm, earthy, smoky flavor. It is great fun to experiment with the different varieties in different dishes, especially in Asian and Indian cuisine.
The humble, unsung red hero that most of us can find all the time, at any market, has incredible health benefits. Packed with Vitamins A and C, as well as potassium, tomatoes really shine when it comes to their lycopene content. Lycopene is a strong antioxidant that has been shown to prevent cells from abnormal growth, a precursor to cancer. In fact, regular tomato consumption is proven to actually reduce the risk and occurrence of breast cancer, as well as colon and prostate cancer. Moreover, tomatoes are also anti-inflammatory in nature.
Cooking with tomatoes is as limitless as the imagination of the cook. I personally love a thick, rich, long-simmering tomato sauce with pasta. Tomatoes are also great raw on salads, on sandwiches, and in various sauces and stews. They impart an acidic, bright, fruity (but not sweet) flavor to almost anything.
5. Bok Choy.
Bok Choy is a leafy Chinese vegetable that is related to cabbage (which also offers some great health benefits). In fact, just about every green, leafy vegetable (like spinach) is packed with vitamins and minerals, especially Vitamin K, which is what causes the blood to clot when you cut yourself (so you do not bleed to death). Bok Choy also is potently high in Vitamins A and C, as well as several antioxidants. One such is kaempferol, which has been shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Bok choy (the name comes from Cantonese) is ubiquitous here in China of course, and is a popular general-purpose ingredient. It fits stir-frying very well. Pour a little vegetable oil and a couple of drops of sesame oil in a hot wok, add a variety of vegetables including copious amounts of bok choy, and finish with a little soy sauce, and you have a delicious, Chinese-flavored, extremely healthy meal.
Obviously, there are many more superfoods that I would like to include, so many in fact that I could not number them. Some that come to mind are blueberries, spinach, red capsicum peppers, various types of beans and legumes, and pomegranate. Most of these superfoods are bright and colorful, which not only improves the presentation of your food, but also adds loads of flavor. Superfoods are part of the reason why I love food so much. Food is so much to all of us. It is not only a necessity of basic life, but it also improves our health, nourishes us back from sickness, even prevents diseases. It is at once gastronomical, cultural, artistic, scientific, and perhaps the most important of all, human.