Surprise superfoods: Forget blueberries.
Dieticians say popcorn and pork scratchings are bursting with nutrients – and could be GOOD for you There’s no doubt broccoli, watercress and acai berries are overflowing with healthy vitamins and minerals, but what about the foods we actually want to eat?
As a new study reveals that the once-demonised egg should be regarded as a ‘superfood’ (it’s packed with vital antioxidants and nutrients), we uncover the other surprising wonderfoods sitting right under our noses…
The humble cinema snack could prevent cancer and help dieters. ‘Most people don’t know that popcorn is a wholegrain shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, and just a 30g serving – that’s half a small box of popcorn in the cinema – is equivalent to one daily portion of brown rice or wholewheat pasta,’ says Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George’s hospital in London.
Popcorn also contains three times more fibre by weight than sunflower seeds, keeping you feeling fuller for longer, as well as balancing your blood sugar levels (so no mood swings or cravings for sweet snacks) and helping to lower ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol. It even has a dose of B vitamins to boost your energy levels.
A study presented last August to the American Chemical Society suggests the real health benefits could lie more in its ‘surprisingly large’ polyphenol content, antioxidants thought to mop up free radicals, the potentially damaging chemicals that cause diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Just be careful of doing more harm than good by adding excess salt or sugar to your homemade version.
Peanut butter is one of the richest sources of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats – it’s also low in saturated fat and an excellent source of protein to keep you feeling full for longer, fibre for bowel health and folate which can protect against colon cancer and heart disease, says Collins.
The nuts are thought to help reduce inflammation in the body and boost the health of blood vessels around the heart. In fact, Harvard Medical School researchers recently reported that snacking on peanut butter five days a week can nearly halve the risk of a heart attack.
Even better, these health benefits seem to occur without also promoting weight gain – researchers found that people eat less after a snack of peanut butter compared with other snacks.
The humble baked bean is a nutritional powerhouse of protein, fibre, iron and calcium. Its combination of high protein, which also keeps your muscles and bones healthy, and low-GI carbohydrates, which release their energy slowly, keep you feeling fuller for longer. ‘As well as keeping your blood sugar levels steady and lowering your cholesterol, the insoluble fibre in baked beans moves into the large intestine, or colon, where bacteria act on it,’ says Collins.
This produces fatty acids that are thought to nourish the colon lining and protect it from cancer. An 80g portion constitutes around a fifth of a woman’s recommended daily intake of fibre, a tenth of her protein intake and a quarter of her iron.
Meanwhile, the tomato sauce itself is an excellent source of lycopene, a pwoerful antioxidant shown to help prevent heart disease and prostate cancer. Beans count towards the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day – one portion is around three heaped tablespoons. ‘But tinned baked beans can be high in sugar and fat, so opt for low-sugar, low-salt varieties,’ advises Collins.
Pectin, a natural gelling agent used to help marmalade and jam set, relieves constipation and sore throats, according to a study by the institute of Food Research. it’s also been found to inhibit tumour growth. Meanwhile, antioxidants in the citrus peel help lower levels of LDL cholesterol.
Marmalade also contains natural sugars, which are more beneficial than those found in most other preserves and jams. And with 20 times more antioxidants in 1g of marmalade than in your ordinary glass of orange juice, it could be a better choice. ‘Despite the recent trend to opt for honey – due to the well-publicised health benefits of the Manuka variety – marmalade is arguably healthier as it contains vitamins and antioxidants from the fruit,’ says Rebecca Foster of the British nutrition Foundation.
Many brands contain more than 50 per cent sugar, so if low-sugar versions aren’t available, be moderate.
A Russet potato contains more potassium than a banana, which helps prevent high blood pressure, is a great source of soluble fibre which helps maintain bowel and heart health, and has no fat or cholesterol. In fact, one baked, medium Russet has only 135 calories and around a fifth of your recommended daily intake of protein and fibre.
‘Eaten with the skin, a medium potato contains half your recommended daily intake of vitamin C, as well as vitamin B6 to boost mood, folate to lower the risk of cancer, beta carotene to boost skin and eye health, plus iron,’ says Collins.
A U.S. study which compared the antioxidant content of fruits and vegetables found that the Russet potato had a total antioxidant capacity of 13.2, ranking higher than carrot, kiwi, watermelon, cantaloupe, radish and even tomato.
‘Fry it or add spoonfuls of butter or cream and you’re not doing yourself any favours, but eaten as part of a balanced diet, there are significant health benefits,’ says Collins.
The bar snack we all want to have but are too embarrassed to ask for is actually packed with goodness. ‘Two-thirds of all its fat is actually mono and polyunsaturated fats, beneficial for heart health, with 13 per cent of its fat coming from stearic acid, a type of saturated fat that doesn’t raise cholesterol levels,’ says Collins.
‘Because what you’re eating is effectively concentrated collagen from skin, it has an amazingly high protein content to keep you feeling full, and benefits muscle and bone health.’ One 20g bag contains 2g more protein than an egg, or about a fifth of your recommended daily allowance. They also have very little sugar and just 0.3g carbohydrates in a packet.
The main health concern is its salt content, so moderate your consumption.
Nutella contains lecithin, a soy extract that is high in protein, calcium and iron, protecting your bones, boosting energy and helping you feel full for longer, says dietician Dr Sonia Kakar. ‘It’s also lower in calories than many jams, is lower-Gi for slower-release energy and contains calcium from skimmed milk for healthy bones.’
Meanwhile, the antioxidants in cocoa help balance blood pressure and reduce blood clotting. the hazelnuts are an excellent source of heart-healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, vitamin E to boost the immune system and B vitamins to aid energy production and improve mood, as well as being a good source of potassium, calcium and magnesium to maintain a healthy blood pressure.
‘Nutella is high in sugar and fat, so intake should be moderated,’ Dr Kakar says.
Cheese provides 25 per cent of the calcium in the British diet, according to the British nutrition Foundation. Cheddar also contains a large amount of other essential nutrients such as phosphorous for strong teeth and bones, zinc for healthy skin, a strong immune system and fertility, riboflavin and vitamin B12 for energy and vitamin A for healthy skin and eyes.
A cube of cheddar after a meal will neutralise the acids in your mouth and increase saliva production to aid food clearance, both of which help prevent tooth decay. But its high fat content means eat in moderation.
During my sick days I used to munch on cubes of cheddar cheese (sharp). I used to think it was bad for me, but apparently it wasn’t!