Despite having access to an abundance of top quality fresh food here in Australia, it may come as a surprise to hear that there are still a number of 'superfoods' that the average Aussie does not get enough of. Superfoods are foods that offer especially high levels of key nutrients, nutrients that have been shown to have specific health benefits when they are included in the diet regularly.
As we start a hopefully bright and shiny New Year, here is the dietitian's superfood checklist to help you work towards a healthier 2021.
Extra virgin olive oil
There is much debate about which oil is best for what, but when you take a closer look at the health benefits of different oils, you cannot go past Australian extra virgin olive oil. With exceptionally high levels of antioxidants that help to protect our cells from damage, olive oil has one of the highest proportions of monounsaturated fat and lowest proportion of saturated fat of all the cooking oils available.
While it is often considered a poor choice for cooking at high temperatures, the truth is that the high quality of Australian extra virgin olive oil means that it can be used in most dishes whilst still retaining its quality thanks to its especially high antioxidant content. The fresher the olive oil, the higher the antioxidant content so replace your olive oil every two to three months.
Also keep in mind that 'light' varieties are not lighter in fat or calories and spray varieties lack the nutrient quality of fresh oil. Research suggests that including as much as two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil each day is associated with a range of health benefits including healthier blood fats and lower levels of inflammation.
Eat more leafy greens, like broccoli, for better health. Photo: William Meppem
Cruciferous Vegetables (aka 'leafy greens')
Sometimes referred to as 'leafy greens', specifically it is vegetables from the Brassica family including broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale that are often referred to as superfoods - and for good reason. It is the glucosinolates found in cruciferous vegetables that appear to have powerful anti-cancer effects actively protecting the cells from damage, and even potentially acting as toxins to malignant cells.
While research as to these benefits is still in early stages, there are plenty of other benefits this group of leafy greens offer including acting as natural anti-inflammatories, helping to eliminate toxins from cells and helping to regulate blood glucose levels, which make them a daily must in every diet. Enjoy them both cooked and raw to reap the wide range of nutritional benefits they offer.
The glorious greens recipe collection
Hellenic Republic's popular Cypriot grain salad is packed with protein-packed lentils. Photo: Guy Evans
Legumes including chickpeas, lentils, as well as all beans including baked beans have made somewhat of a comeback in recent years. All beans are extremely nutritious as they contain a mix of low glycaemic index carbohydrates, dietary fibre and protein, and their relatively high protein content makes them a popular meat substitute for vegetarians.
The soluble fibre found in beans has been shown to help lower blood cholesterol levels while they also contain high levels of B-group vitamins, iron, calcium, phosphorous, zinc and magnesium as well as folate. While legumes are often used as the base of meals for vegetarians, beans can also be used in range of meals including mince, soups and salads for extra bulk and an extra nutrition hit. Best of all, legumes are an extremely cheap source of protein.
Salmon is packed with omega 3 fats which have multiple benefits. Photo: Katrina Meynink
One of the richest natural sources of long chain omega 3 fats, a single serve of fresh salmon each day will give you your entire daily recommended intake of these essential fats known to have multiple health benefits. Specifically, it is the EPA and DHA fats found in Atlantic salmon that have the profound effects on heart health, ranging from decreasing triglyceride levels — an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease — to reducing the risk of sudden death from heart attacks by almost 50 per cent.
Fewer than one in five Aussies get their recommended intake of these important fats, and eating more salmon — both fresh and tinned — is one of the easiest ways to do it.
Give your gut a dose of the live cultures it needs with a serve of milk kefir. Photo: Supplied
Of all the nutritional advances made in recent years, it is our understanding of the key role the health of our gut plays in influencing our overall health and wellbeing that has been most groundbreaking. While many of us are aware of the importance of 'feeding' our gut with good bacteria, our day-to-day food choices are not always conducive to this.
One of the easiest ways to ensure you are giving your gut a dose of the live cultures it needs is via a serve of fermented dairy. Fermented dairy including kefir, probiotic yoghurts and quark, a spreadable white cheese, are rich natural sources of probiotics and can easily be enjoyed as supplementary foods or as additions to your favourite smoothie or cereal mix.
Walnuts especially pack a big nutritional punch. Photo: Marek Brzezinski
With recent Australian data published in the journal Public Health Nutrition finding that just two per cent of Australians get the recommended 30g (or roughly 10-15 depending on size) of nuts each day, it appears many of us could do with a handful of nuts or seeds each day to reap the range of nutritional benefits they offer.
Packed full of good fats, Vitamin E, dietary fibre and protein, all nuts have positive nutritional properties, and walnuts and Brazil nuts in particular packed a hearty nutrient punch. Seeds, too, including pepitas, sunflower seeds and linseeds are great options as additions to bread, baking and salads. If you opt for nut and seed spreads, make sure you are choosing 100 per cent nut and seed varieties and remember that one tablespoon is a serve.