Superfoods - nature's concentrated nutrients.
You may not know what superfoods are, but that doesn't mean you have never heard of them. From cranberries to goji berries, the kakadu plum to the illawarra plum, nature has provided us with many examples of nutritional powerhouses that put conventional nutritional supplements to shame.
In its simplest form, the word superfoods is used to identify naturally occurring produce (frequently, but not always fruits and berries) that have higher than average levels of one, or sometimes several useful nutrients. Depending on what those nutients are, different nutrient dense foods can be useful in different situations. In the days of sailing ships, limes would have been considered superfoods because of their ability to prevent scurvy because of their high Vitamin C content. At the time, Vitamin C was still to be discovered, but the connection had already been made between a particular food and its ability to prevent or modify the course of a disease process (something that is denied by many medical people and even the FDA today)
One of the beautiful things about finding things that fit the nutrient dense category is that nature tends to package things fairly well, so that if you need a particular mineral in order to absorb a vitamin, you tend to find them together. Compare this to modern pharmaceuticals where, for example, calcium carbonate tablets are given to women to "prevent" osteoporosis . . . what is often ignored is that, unless those women have dangerously high levels of stomach acid, they will never be able to break down the calcium carbonate to absorb the calcium, making the entire exercise pointless. Nature simply doesn't do this.
The most useful superfoods, however, are those that contain high levels of not just one, but several important nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids or enzymes. When used appropriately, these natural packages of intense nutrition can refill missing reserves in the body, enabling it to correct problems it might not otherwise be able to fix, or even (in the case of, for example, antioxidants) directly neutralise and remove toxic substances (in the case of antioxidants, the toxic compounds would be free radicals - chemical compounds that steal electrons from tissues and other substances, causing damage and disease).
Why do superfoods end up with extra-high levels of nutrients?
The answer to this question will be slightly different depending on which superfood we consider. For example, some highly nutrition foods might grow best in remote areas, where farming isn't common and so the ground hasn't been stripped bare of all its nutrients over generations of neglect, leaving behind depleted soils.
In other cases, such as the kakadu plum, the plant lives in what can be a pretty hostile environment, where things can be pretty harsh for prolonged periods. In this case, the tree uses the fruit (the kakadu plum) to store nutrients in good times, that it might need if times get rough.If things get worse, it can them reabsorb the nutrients from the fruit, enabling it to survive in some the worst climates imaginable.
Complete Superfood Nutrition - a health food shop in a bottle!
This raises a couple of important ethical questions - does harvesting superfoods cause damage to the plants they come from and is it sustainable?
The answer is - it depends how you harvest! Most traditional methods of harvesting superfoods have been in use for not just generations but hundreds, even thousands of years. They have been developed so that there is always enough left to sustain the plant if it needs the nutrients. In the case of the kakadu plum we mentioned above, this means that the traditional aboriginal families that harvest the fruit always leave at least 40% on the tree. This ensures not just the survival of the tree itself, but it allows the tree to thrive and prosper.
In other examples, it may be appropriate to help the plant along by providing it with the nutrients IT needs - in their most natural form, of course. This could be done by removing competing plants or perhaps by companion planting, where one species helps another by discouraging its pests (such as happens if you plant garlic with roses).
Whichever approach it is used, we need to make sure we look after the plants that look after us and none are more important than the plants from which we get the superfoods we rely on!
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