Chillies, red peppers, sweet potatoes and dark green leaves such as spinach and kale are all superfoods.
Chillies, red peppers, sweet potatoes and dark green leaves such as spinach and kale are all superfoods.

The superfoods craze never seems to end, with hemp, cassava flour, seaweed and tiger nuts trending as this year’s top superfoods. Finding goji berries in specialist health stores may be tricky, but most superfoods are available in the vegetable aisle of your nearest food store or at farmers markets and street vendors.

Superfoods are foods considered to be especially beneficial for your health due to the unusually high levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants or other nutrients. Food For Mzansi’s resident nutritionist Andrea du Plessis explains that superfoods can have health promoting properties such as reducing disease risk or improving any aspect of physical or emotional health.

She says although superfoods such as cacao nibs and goji berries are perceived to be pricey, a number of vegetables that qualify as superfoods – like chillies, ginger and cabbage – are exempt from Value Added Tax (VAT) in South Africa. That makes them much more affordable.

According to Du Plessis, superfoods can be measured in relation to their specific nutritional content or health benefits. Here’s our selection:

Herbs and spices

Ginger:

What are the benefits?

Ginger contains components that can help with the management of coughs and colds, as it can help to can help reduce a fever, reduce inflammation and also helps to thin mucus, helping to expel phlegm from a tight chest.

This superfood is also excellent to help reduce nausea and other symptoms of indigestion. In fact, it is one of the few safe remedies that can be taken during pregnancy to reduce nausea, provided it is used in normal doses, such as you would use to make ginger tea.

Home-made ginger tea

Where to find it:

Ginger root holds the best of the beneficial properties. Fresh ginger roots can be found at most markets and supermarkets, in the same area of the fresh produce where you find garlic and onions.

It can be planted in your own vegetable garden. Next time you buy a piece of ginger root, get an extra one, stick it into the ground in your garden and see how it grows. The health benefits are linked to the roots, not the leaves of the plant. Ginger tea can also be found in many supermarkets.

What about ground ginger? According to Du Plessis ground ginger may still have the same taste, but it does not have the same potency of health benefits compared to fresh ginger.

The best way to use it: Home-made ginger tea: For 500 ml ginger tea, take 2 fingers ginger root, scrape most of the skin off with a spoon, slice thinly and add to a pot / teapot of boiling water, let it steep for 5 minutes and enjoy with a bit of honey and even a slice of lemon.

Superfood sauces: add extra ginger to your curry paste or sauce next time you prepare your favourite curry. Ginger adds a lovely zest to a salad dressing – combine 1 tablespoon minced ginger with 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, a tablespoon honey and 1 tablespoon lemon juice – deliciously tangy.

Turmeric:

What are the benefits?

Turmeric contains a substance called curcumin, which is best known for its effects on inflammation.

Turmeric contains a substance called curcumin, which is known to have various health benefits, but mostly for its effects on inflammation. The medicinal benefits of turmeric have been well used in traditional Indian medicine for thousands of years. In most Indian households, a concoction of milk, turmeric, black pepper, honey and sometimes even a sprinkle of cinnamon has been used as a home-remedy for a sore throat, digestive upsets and general aches and pains.

Where to find it:

The best form to use is the fresh turmeric root. Due to its popularity in cooking and natural medicine, more supermarkets are now stocking turmeric root. Ground turmeric powder is a firm favourite in the curry spice section.

The best way to use it: Add it to milk. If you like, mix in some black pepper, honey or even a sprinkle of cinnamon. Even added into a curry, turmeric still holds the medicinal benefits you would get from drinking turmeric milk. These days you can even find capsules with turmeric, but the beautiful flavour of this spice is best used in a spicy curry.

Garlic:

What are the benefits?

Garlic contains various healing components that have antioxidant and anti-microbial effects, which means they can help the body fight invading germs, such as cold viruses. Garlic also helps to lower cholesterol, thin the blood and may help to lower moderately increased blood pressure.

Where to find it:

The best form to use is the fresh garlic cloves. Due to its aromatic, well-loved flavour, garlic is available from most fresh food stores and supermarkets. Minced garlic is not always a good option, sometimes the crushed garlic you can buy in a tub contains crushed pieces of other vegetables too, which dilutes the health benefits and the flavour.

Garlic contains various healing components that can help the body fight invading germs, such as cold viruses.

The best way to use it:

In traditional medicine, people sometimes put a piece of garlic on a string to hang around a child’s neck when playing outside in cold weather. Thank goodness we now know that this practice holds very little benefit, and that eating the garlic would help a whole lot more in terms of fighting off invading cold viruses.

For those who enjoy garlic, add raw, crushed garlic to your food for extra benefits. For those that do not like garlic but wish to benefit from its healthy attributes: peel a small garlic clove and swallow it like you would a capsule.

Rooibos tea:

What are the benefits?

Rooibos tea is packed with antioxidants and other components that have soothing effects on some conditions. Rooibos tea is known soothe tummy aches and other symptoms of indigestion. It is also known to help reduce skin irritations and even eczema.

Where to find it:

Where you have always been able to find it: on your kitchen shelf! It now comes in a variety of flavours that are sold in most supermarkets. And watch out for all the new rooibos tea skincare concoctions such as soaps and creams.

The best way to use it: Rooibos tea can be enjoyed hot or cold, with or without milk, to get the health benefits. A compress dipped in cold rooibos tea, or strong rooibos tea (no milk) added to a baby’s bath water could be very helpful in soothing an irritated skin.

Fruit:

Fresh guavas: Did you know that fresh guavas contain up to seven times more vitamin C per mass than oranges?

Guavas are rich in vitamin C which is perfect to eat to help ward of colds and flu.

What are the benefits?

The rich vitamin C content of guavas becomes available as winter starts, perfectly timed to help ward of colds and flu. Vitamin C is known to support the body’s immune system in fighting off germs that cause respiratory infections.

Where to find it:

If you’re lucky, you may have a guava tree in your neighbourhood, or even better in your own garden. These days, planting of guava trees is not permitted, as they are invasive and threaten other local species of plants. Guavas can be found in supermarkets in late autumn, early winter.

The best way to use it: Just eat it! By the way, don’t expect to get any of the immune boosting benefits from tinned guavas and custard – the vitamin C is destroyed in the cooking process required to get the guavas preserved in syrup into a tin.

Prunes:

Did you know that prunes are listed as one of the top superfoods? Prunes contain one of the highest antioxidant count measures of all fruits and vegetables.

What are the benefits?

The antioxidants in prunes are mostly found in the dark purple colour of the fruit, which is thankfully not destroyed when it is dried. These antioxidants support overall health and well-being, as the antioxidants help fight the damaging effects of the harsh environment on our body cells.

A bonus: prunes can help bring relief from constipation, without causing a runny tummy. Components within the prunes help to soften digestive waste, making it easier to excrete. (Don’t want to talk about that any longer, but an important message to share!)

Where to find it:

Dried prunes can be found in the dried fruit section in most supermarkets. Baby food in glass tubs sometimes offer pureed prunes – delicious! Prune juice is available from selected supermarkets and health food stores.

The best way to use it: Eating 2-3 dried prunes per day is more than enough to gain the beneficial effects of the antioxidants in prunes.

Vegetables:

  • Chillies and red peppers: rich in antioxidants, including vitamin C, chillies benefit immune health, helping to reduce the risk for infections such as a cold.
  • Dark green leaves such as spinach and kale are packed with nutrients.
    Dark green leaves such as spinach and kale are packed with nutrients.

    Sweet potato: sweet potato is packed with dietary fibres and antioxidants that hold numerous benefits to health and well-being.

  • Dark green leaves such as spinach and kale are packed with nutrients such as magnesium, iron and vitamin C. Spinach is my favourite superfood – it is the only vegetable that grows like weeds – you can hardly stop it growing, which means there is almost always fresh green leaves to add to your next meal.

Pulses, grains, nuts and seeds:

  • Soya beans provide the best quality protein you can hope for from a plant source. It contains double the amount of protein found in chick peas, and it’s packed with vitamins, minerals and even special nutrients called phytochemicals.
  • Brazil nuts represent nature’s best source of selenium, a very important nutrient that is needed for a strong immune system. The concentration of selenium is so high in Brazil nuts, the content is comparable to that found in nutritional supplements.
  • Oats and oat bran: Oats and notably oat bran contain beta-glucan, an ingredient that provides the cholesterol lowering effects of oats and can also help to stabilise blood glucose levels, as it slows down the absorption of glucose in the digestive system.