9 Superfoods That Boost Your Health And Performance
I first read about so-called 'superfoods' in various books about raw and vegan lifestyles.
These foods are, for one, defined as immune system boosters, even legally enhancing performance in endurance sports. So over the past years superfoods have mostly been associated with people living a raw vegan diet.
Many different movements have shaped the raw food world and many interesting foods have been (re)discovered and marketed to a certain extend.
Admittedly, I jumped to the idea immediately of trying some of these superfoods such as chia that I had never heard about before and was curious how these would meet my standards during periods of heavier running training.
Can superfoods let you recover faster and therefore enable you to train harder much sooner? Which amounts contribute to a a better overall health and how do they compare to conventional recovery powders and bars?
David Wolfe also provides thorough background information on a vareity of other interesting foods in his book Superfoods: The Food and Medicine of the Future.
Let's take a look at a selection of the superfoods I have tested extensively and reveal the 'magic' behind them:
Goji Berries 16oz (raw, organic)
- Known as the most nutrient-rich fruits on the planet
- Contain 18 traceable amino acids, vitamin A, B1. B2, C and E
- High content of minerals and micronutrients
- Taste of a mix between cherries and cranberries
- Also called the 'happy berry' because of its mood-enhancing effects
- Goji berries can be eaten as a topping for mueslis, mixed into yogurts or simply enjoy a handful as a snack between meals or mix into a fruit salad
- They are a little harder to chew than raisins so for some, soaking a cup of gojis for half an hour or so will help to soften them
Sometimes I even mix the berries in a food processor with some frozen bananas and carob powder to make ice-cream. The seeds create extra texture and a distinct taste! The berries certainly belong into the group of superfoods because of their energizing effect.
- Amongst all grains millet is the most easily digested
- It has alkalizing effects on the body; an important factor in ultrarunning
- Contains high amounts of vitamin B's, magnesium and essential amino acids, one of them being tryptophan
- Tryptophan is being converted into serotonin, a hormone that influences the mood positively
- Ground brown millet is ideal to sprinkle over mueslis and is also suitable for baking
- It also has healing effects when injured; mix 2-3 tablespoons in juice daily and notice the amazing effects over time
100 g of ground brown millet contain 54 grams of carbohydrates, nearly 10 grams of protein and 4,5 grams of fat.
This is an ideal nutritional profile demonstrating that brown millet is a perfect ingredient for energy bars and real superfood
- Is not actually a grain and contains 8 essential amino acids
- Serves as an excellent source of protein
- Before cooking buckwheat needs to be rinsed thoroughly and can be enjoyed as a meal possibly best topped with cut or pureed fruit
Some health food stores sell sprouted buckwheat bread which is delicious slightly toasted. It tastes even better with avocado spread and nut butters.
- Is an excellent source of protein
- Is high in carbohydrate; one portion (40 g) of amaranth pops contains nearly 23 g of carbs
- Is high in sucrose but low on fructose
- 100 g of amaranth pops contain 308 mg of magnesium which is the recommended daily dose for endurance athletes
- Is a great source for fibres and calcium
- Amaranth pops are ideal to sprinkle over mueslis or serve as a post-workout snack with banana high in fructose and a little agave nectar
- Is very easy to digest and is a staple ingredient in home-made energy bars
Important to know is that amaranth is dairy-, sugar- and glutenfree.
The quality and taste between organic and non-organic amaranth pops is tremendous. Buying organic amaranth for a bit more money is worth it. These taste a lot stronger and have more crunch.
Amaranth is available in health food stores, most drugstores and in well-assorted supermarkets.
- Contains 18 vitamins except for vitamin D including vitamin A, B1, B2, B12, C, E, K
- Great source for folic acid with very alkalizing effects
- Full of enzymes and minerals like selenium, zinc, magnesium, sodium, iron and calcium
- Contains essential amino acids, protein and beta-carotene
- Barley grass has 66(!) times more chlorophyll than spinach
- Chlorophyll has a cleansing effect on the body aiding to remove toxins from the liver
Barley grass is a staple food amongst superfoods and is available in powder and tablet form. Up to 12 tablets a day are recommended to get the desired effects or mix 1-2 tablespoons in a small amount of water. This is known as a shot and can be drunk 1-3 times per day.
Admittedly, the taste takes getting used to and I have found that mixing the powder with water and one teaspoon of honey or agave nectar makes it more palatable resembling the taste of sugared green tea.
The powdered version always contains other ingredients, too, such as maltodextrose and brown rice. This combination is best absorbed by the body.
By now, barley grass is etablished as a sports drink used by ultrarunners. Mixing 30 grams of barley grass powder with 250-500 ml of coconut water and a squeeze of agave nectar creates a very concentrated sports drink.
Maca (raw, certified organic) 1lb
- Maca is a root vegetable related to the turnip family
- It is known to have helped the Peruvians that worked in the highlands to regenerate after hard physical work
- Today maca is still used for similar purposes in endurance sports and is available in the gelatinized or powder form
- It helps the adrenal glands to recover better from built-up stresses
- Maca has an intense and distinct 'earthy' flavor
- 1-2 teaspoons of maca mixed in mueslis or smoothies nourish your adrenal glands without the stimulating effects caffeine can have on your glands
- Some claim that an overdose of maca of about 4 tablespoons can be harmful but this has not been proven officially yet
- You might find that if you consume maca regularly you'll be able to train harder, recover faster and even lift heavier weights
- Maca is also an useful ingredient in raw energy bars because of its boosting effects
The raw vegan energy bars I use in training and for racing also contain maca. There are about 13 grams of the powder in one bar (60 g) which equals two teaspoons. Certainly enough to keep going and feeling nourished.
Maca can be considered a staple nutrient amongst the superfoods.
- Is a nutrient-dense fruit offering mono-and polyunsaturated fats
- Also contains 20 vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients
- Is very versatile; can be used in soups and salads, as spreads or simply cut up and seasoned with salt and pepper
- As a dessert, mix dates and avocado together until smooth and top with crunched nuts; freeze until firm
Avocados are quite filling and very nourishing. When eaten at lunch time you'll notice more stable energy levels and less cravings throughout the afternoon. They're naturally filling so you can't really overeat on avocados.
I often eat half an avocado for dinner and a variety of other foods and find that I feel very happy and stable every time I've eaten the fruit.
Avocados are well-known for their 'grounding' effects and are also often enjoyed by children.
- Are rich in dietary fibre, vitamin C, vitamin B and beta carotene
- Besides simple starches, sweet potatoes are rich in complex carbohydrates
- Stabilize blood-sugar levels
- Make an excellent carbo-loading meal or post-workout dish compared to 'empty' carbohydrates found in wheat pasta
- Are not directly related to white potatoes and can be eaten raw; simply peel the potatoes, grate and serve with a salad
- Taste deliciously with mango chutney and miso pastes
- Are cooked like potatoes; preferably cut into cubes and steamed for ten minutes sweet potatoes are nicely filling providing energy straight away
- Are nutrient-rich: 100 g contain 111 kcal, 24 g of carbohydrate, 1.6 g of protein, 3.14 g of fibres, 35 mg of calcium and 413 mg of kalium
If you would like to try a different dessert, peel and grate one sweet potato, mix with 1 TBSP of coconut oil, dates or raisins and one banana. Put into food processor until smooth. Serves 1 and makes a great superfood snack.
- Seeds in general are nutrient-rich
- Sunflower seeds contain 20% of protein and combine ideally with salads and tomatoes
- Sesame seeds and Organic Raw Tahini, 16oz, (LivingTree) are high in calcium and essential fatty acids
- Calcium strengthens the bone structure and the teeth
- An uncomplicated way of getting adequate amounts of calcium is to sprinkle the seeds over salads or as salad sauce, mix a few teaspoons of tahini with lemon juice and garlic
- Pumpkin seeds are full of iron, a staple nutrient for the ultrarunner
- Iron keeps red blood cells levels up because naturally during running, iron levels would decrease through sweat
- By always keeping a handful of pumpkin seeds at hand you make sure to refuel on iron; their consistency adds a nice crunch to salads or sprinkled over steamed vegetables
Even though seeds seem more like bird food to some people their beneficial impact on your health is often underestimated.
Therefore they have to be listed as superfoods.
It's an interesting journey to try the different superfoods you can see above. Food itself can't do miracles as such but
integrating some of the superfoods adds to the bigger picture when we're trying to look at our nutrition in detail.
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