What makes a Superfood

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  • posted by sunshine-girl
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    I am currently doing a course via FutureLearn – a free online course provider using Universities from all over the world – the course I am doing is called Superfoods: Myths and Truths. If you are interested in Superfoods I will post some snippets from the course that I find of interest.

    First of all, according to the experts, there is no such thing as a Superfood in law, medicine or science. It is a made up word used by the world of advertising and marketing.
    What makes a food Super, usually it is highly nutritional with lots of antioxidants, minerals etc, and low in calories, sugars and saturated fats. It is also usually difficult or expensive to access.
    Can other foods replace a Superfood. Yes, several examples are: Chia seeds – replace with Flaxseeds for pretty much the same nutrient values. Goji berries – replace with most other berry fruits like blueberries, raspberries etc and get similar nutrients. Kale – replace with spinach for better nutrients and any other green veg like broccoli, chard etc.

    Finally today, an interesting look at how a Superfood becomes a Superfood.
    The story of Kale: How an Animal Feed Crop became a Superfood.
    Around 15 years ago a Kale farmer in the USA tried to encourage people to eat more Kale as his crops were not selling well enough. He made a T-shirt for his toddler daughter with the slogan Eat More Kale and posted it on media sites. However, it did help but didn’t do a very good job. Jump forward to 2012 when a marketing executive called Oberon Sinclair said she would make the world eat kale. She set about on a campaign with T-shirts, getting famous people to wear them (famously Beyonce) and the Kale revolution came about. She went on to develop the American Kale Association and it was all a big and very successful publicity stunt. That is not to say Kale is not full of health giving nutrients and people should be encouraged to eat more greens in general.

    For anyone interested, I will post more as I continue with the course.

  • posted by SunnyB
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    Thanks S-G. It’s interesting that big corporates can promote healthy options as well as poisonous high carb options, when it looks like they can make big out of it isn’t it? It raises more questions about the influence of big corporations though, on how we live and the narrative we are fed. Seems it isn’t just the pharmaceuticals that hold great sway.

    Gosh I’m cynical aren’t I!

  • posted by sunshine-girl
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    Hi Sunny – You will pleased to know that Oberon did the kale promotion just as a challenge like – I bet I can get people to eat kale. She set up the American Kale Association 2 years later so it is not a government initiative. She used it as a platform to get more kale into school meals. It is a non-profit making organisation. Fortunately, Kale is a very healthy and plentiful crop food so it was a good thing to campaign about and an honest campaign. She likened it to Popeye getting kids to eat spinach. The point was she turned an everyday, originally animal feed, into a Superfood. Other so called Superfoods are just a big con and need to be nutritionally compared with other ‘normal’ foods to see if they are worth the sometimes high cost.

  • posted by SunnyB
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    Hi S-G, thank you for the additional information. Good to know that the kale promotion and has had positive impact and the intention was not to make huge profit. Quite heartening actually!

    Will look forward to more nuggets of information on Superfoods.

  • posted by KrysiaD
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    Very interesting post S-G. and good to know that kale really is a superfood. My latest superfood is kalettes – a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts. Very yummy but not available all year round.

  • posted by SunnyB
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    I love kalettes too Krysia, they are delicious. Bought them for Christmas dinner instead of brussels, which I’m not so keen on.

  • posted by sunshine-girl
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    Superfood Myth – Gluten free food is good for you. A gluten free diet should only be undertaken by those with a medical need under the supervision of a doctor and/or nutritionist. This is because gluten-free bakery products often have inferior nutritional characteristics, either due to increased amounts of sugars and fats or to decreased amounts of fibre and other micro-nutrients.

    This next few sentences is taken directly from the course – so not my assessment: You may believe that gluten-free foods are a healthier choice with no disadvantages, but this is the fiction number one. There is no data supporting the presumed health benefits of gluten-free products for healthy people. In fact, the opposite situation might be true. Commercially available gluten-free product frequently contain a greater density of fat and sugar than conventional counterparts. Increased fat and sugar intake may lead to overweight, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome. Elimination of gluten-containing cereals means the elimination of important micro-nutrients such as iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium because cereals are the major source of these nutrients.

    This important for us to know as we avoid cereals and should be aware that these deficiencies may also apply to us. Therefore it is important to know where we can improve our diet and get all the correct nutrients. For example, pseudo-cereals like quinoa, teff, amaranth and buckwheat are high in minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, and zinc and are a good source of vitamins, in particular of riboflavin, folic acid, vitamin C, as well as dietary fibres and bioactive compounds. Finally, legumes are important source of proteins rich in lysine.

    Although we will not be eating foods containing gluten as we do not eat wheat products it is good to know we can still obtain all the nutrients we need by using pseudo grains or legumes.

    Sorry for stealing some of the course content but it makes the reading more authentic.

  • posted by Verano
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    Thank you for that s-g. Really interesting. I’m just sorry they I’m not following this course myself but you are a great teacher s-g!

  • posted by sunshine-girl
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    A true Superfood – what I have learned today. Once again, apologies for stealing some of the words from the course but it is necessary to explain better. Sorry for the plagerism.
    Buckwheat – a little known grain – is as close you can get to a real Superfood. It has a low GI so keeps you full longer. Buckwheat is a good source of proteins, micro and macro elements, vitamins from group B, flavonoids and also D-chiro-inositol. Something that might be of interest to the diabetics on this plan is that D-chiro-inositol is responsible for increasing cell sensitivity to insulin and therefore, it can influence on lowering the sugar content in our blood. It is recommended for people with diabetes type 2. Also contains lots of flavonoids, in particular rutin. Rutin ‘might’ reduce oxidative stress reduce level of bad cholesterol and increase strength of our immune system. Also, it can reduce risk of cardiovascular diseases. I have put the inverted commas around the word MIGHT as might is not exactly a certainty but worth mentioning. Also, buckwheat is gluten free. Buckwheat products are available as bread, biscuits, chappatis or in a natural form as buckwheat sprouts.

    One other advantage of Buckwheat is that nothing goes to waste and the husks and stalks are used for stuffing in mattresses and pillows. Finally, it is allowed on a low carb diet.

    The downside of Buckwheat is that it has a bitter taste. It also has a smell due to high content of polyphenols and tannins whereas volatile compounds such as alcohols, ketones, aldehydes pyrazines are responsible for this aroma. Growers are experimenting to grow strains that do not have either the taste or the smell.

    Think I will have to Google some of the words I am unfamiliar with like rutin and D-chiro-inositol to see what this is all about.

  • posted by sunshine-girl
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    Tomorrow we are studying Quinoa.

  • posted by Verano
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    I made buckwheat blinis once but I guess they weren’t very good as I never made them again! Quinoa is another ‘grain’ that I’ve not tried maybe because it reminds me of couscous which I really don’t like! But thank you for keeping us up to date s-g.

  • posted by Jennie10
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    sunshine-girl – thank you for taking the trouble to post this information. It’s very interesting reading.

  • posted by WoodDuckie
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    Hi SG! Thank you for taking your time to share info 🙂 Always good to find out if we (individually) have more choices – for me Buckwheat is great stuffing for my wheatbag warmers and I LOVE the aroma as it warms in the microwave 🙂 I thought yeah! Maybe a change or additive to the current line up . . . but . . . unfortunately when I checked the Two Big “C”s, their count means it wont be warming its way into my food choices 🙂 Same goes for Quinoa . . . Love it as well BUT too many “BIG C’s” for me 🙁 I LOVE the food for thought though and hope you continue with your course and helpful forum lessons 🙂 All the best 🙂

  • posted by sunshine-girl
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    Hi WoodDuckie, I too will not be rushing out to eat buckwheat or quinoa as I avoid all carby goods, even the good carbs. The purpose of the course is to determine what is or is not a superfood and remembering there is no such term except in advertising or articles pushing a particular food. It explains what makes a superfood a superfood, I.e. someone trying to sell a crop as with kale or someone trying to make a lot of money (there are lots of those foods). It helps you make knowledgeable choices and gives everyday alternatives which are sometimes better and almost certainly cheaper. I.e. chia seeds, very expensive vs flaxseeds which are cheap and readily available. Kale vs spinach where spinach wins hands down on nutrients but kale is still very good for you. And, goji berries which are really a bit of a con. Yes they contain some good nutrients but so do other berries that are a lot cheaper.

    Today I will be learning above quinoa – not got around to it yet – even though I dont eat it or even like it much. It is all about knowing what we are eating. However, I do know now that if I am dragged to a creperie with the grandchildren I can at least have a galette – a crepe made from buckwheat – with a fried egg and ham without feeling too bad as it is a good carb.

    I had to smile at your wheat bag. I have one too and I love the smell. 2 mins in the microwave and I can keep toasty warm.

  • posted by sunshine-girl
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    Todays lesson was about Quinoa. Although it was not about whether or not it is good for you, we have to accept that is undisputed as it is a good source of protein, gluten free and very nutritious. The story of the rise of quinoa comes with the publicity it was given by Oprah Winfrey who publicised it on her programme as being part of her healthy diet. This led to a boom in the purchasing of quinoa from its place of origin which was Peru and Bolivia. This led to a threefold rise in the price of quinoa and the farmers started to become rich. However, the people of these countries who had counted quinoa as a staple of their diet could no longer afford to buy it and turned to cheaper, less nutritious foods like rice and other grains. Also, the people who made more money than they could have ever hoped for also turned away from traditional foods, buying into American processed foods and things like high sugar candies. This had the knock on effect of other food producers became poorer. Fortunately, the boom has continued but quinoa is now grown in many other countries so the economies of Peru and Bolivia have returned to nearer what they were before. The price has dropped back to what it was originally and their traditional way of life and eating is now back on track.

    This shows how food fads, advertising and celebrity endorsements can upset the economies of whole countries and adversely effect the people, their way of eating and change their traditional way of life.

    Interesting. Well, that is week 2 finished. Looking forward to the next week which includes a discussion on our new interest in flavonoids and just how good for us are they???

  • posted by WoodDuckie
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    Oh S-G! Im LOVING reading your posts now Im on the intended wavelength. SO INTERESTING! and Ill be curious and waiting patiently to see if it gets around to margarines . . . something which Ive heard from several sources was a MASSIVE corner stone industry disruption 🙂 Great stuff!!!!

  • posted by sunshine-girl
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    Week 3 – Flavonoids. What is a flavonoid. It is a phytochemical that plants produce to protect themselves from both heat and cold. It acts as a sunscreen and protects against frostbite. They are typically found in fruits, veg, leaves and flowers that have vibrant colours like blueberries. The flavonoids give the plant a vibrant colour to encourage pollinating insects like bees. How were the benefits of flavonoids discovered. A history lesson but I will try to keep it short. Scientists noticed that the Kuna tribe of Panama who lived on a remote island just off Panama had less heart disease and diabetes and lower blood pressure than the Kuna people who lived on the mainland so they set out to discover why this was. Result was that the island Kunas were found to be drinking a very concentrated pure type of cocoa drink every day. Because the cocoa was undamaged by heat or other processing methods which meant they were getting a 900mg a day dose of pure cocoa flavonoids. There were other possibilities like island life being less stressful etc but this one difference seemed to make most sense.

    From this study it was discovered that flavonoids had health giving benefits on the human body. Briefly, the endothelium (a thin layer of cells that lines all the blood vessels) in the body has the effect of controlling the smooth muscles that surround the blood vessels to produce the contraction and the dilation that regulates the flow of blood. The detail how this happens is the endothelium produces a signalling molecule nitric oxide which is actually a gas. It turns out that flavonoids and cocoa flavonoid in particular, in this case, increase the amount of nitric oxide that is produced in the body particularly by the endothelium. This has the effect of greater relaxation of blood vessels and, therefore, greater blood flow. One of the consequences of that is a fall in blood pressure. Scientists got quite excited about that, not just because of the benefits for blood pressure, which obviously helpful in and of themselves, but also because the mechanism that the signalling molecule the nitric oxide has other roles in the body.

    So now we know what effect flavonoids have on the circulatory system but there is more benefit from the nitric oxide on other parts of the bodies functions. More on that on Monday.

    Hope you are enjoying these snippets of information from the course.

  • posted by sunshine-girl
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    Flavonoids. On the last lesson it looked at the effect flavonoids have on the circulatory system and how they increase the elasticity of veins and arteries making it easier for the blood to flow. This results in lower blood pressure and less heart disease. Also that it helped reduced blood glucose and ‘helps’ prevent diabetes.

    I thought today was going to be about the effect it has on the brain but instead it was an explanation of other flavonoid rich foods. Chocolate is has a high flavonoid content but mainly in its purest state so milk chocolate aint gonna do you no good 🙂 however, 70% and over are really good for you. If you dont want to get your health from chocolate then the very best Superfood for flavonoids is green tea. It is different from black or red tea as they have been processed and most of the antioxidants destroyed but green tea is in a much purer for, almost like the original leaves. Up to 5 cups a day is recommended. As previously discussed, any brightly coloured fruit or veg will be high in flavonoids and therefore good for you. Surprisingly, one very easily available fruit with a high flavonoid content are apples, but only apples with red skins and the skins must be eaten as that is where the flavonoids are stored.

    In a non-scientific technical sense all these foods are in fact, Superfoods. Lets not forget red wine too, if you must.

    Just noticed the next part of the course is about the effect on the brain and cognitive functions.

  • posted by Verano
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    Oh thank you! I’m quite happy to get my health from chocolate!!!
    In fact I have now given up all types of sweet stuff to have with my coffee in favour of Lindt 90%. I realise that I’m only having 1.4 g of carbs per sqare compared with seven ish for an oat biscuit and I get far more mouth appeal/feel.
    Very interesting s-g thanks for keeping us up to date with the course.

  • posted by sunshine-girl
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    Here’s one for Verano. It is a proven fact that the countries where more chocolate is eaten have won the most Nobel Prizes. Conclusion, flavonoids increase intelligence. Unfortunately, the 2 things dont necessarily mean anything and the evidence is not proven scientifically. Never mind, it has been proven that people who eat more flavonoid rich foods have a larger release of serotonin and dopamine which create a feel good factor and are therefore, happier. When you consider we are talking about chocolate and red wine, it is not surprising. As to whether flavonoids have any real effect on our cognitive functions, the jury is still out. Oh well, nice try.

  • posted by sunshine-girl
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    Flavonoids and the brain. Although there is little evidence that flavonoids increase cognitive ability like intelligence or puzzle solving type tests there are some physiological changes to the brain that make it worth carrying out deeper studies. For example, it was once believed that you were born with a specific number of brain cells and as you age and they die off they can never be replaced. This accounted for things like memory loss or older people finding it difficult to learn new things. This is now know to not be true.

    Flavonoids increase the blood flow to vessels in the body and reduce blood pressure but they also have the same effect on brain cells. Under MRI scan, after eating one flavonoid rich food, changes take place to the blood flow in the brain, particularly in the hippocampus where memories are stored. So maybe (just maybe) they can help prevent dementia symptoms or delay them.

    Another result from flavonoids is that brain neurons do not die off so quickly and they form extra connective links with other parts of the brain. This got very technical but overall it showed that eating a diet rich in flavonoids was very beneficial to brain function.

  • posted by KrysiaD
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    SG – very interesting course. Like Verano I am very happy to get my flavonoids from dark chocolate. I also love berries . Shame I am allergic to red wine and don’t like green tea. was very interested to read the info about nitric oxide.

  • posted by sunshine-girl
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    Thanks Krysia, I am all for getting the facts rather than the hype and it seems we dont have to pay out for expensive ingredients to get all the good benefits. On the subject of the nitric oxide, I too was hoping they would say more about that but seem to have skipped over it. Tomorrow (if I get round to it) we are doing Omega-3’s and brain function. Got a couple of days to catch up to finish this week and then still another week of study so hoping it will continue to be enlightening.

  • posted by Verano
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    Krysia a girl after my own heart! Not really looking for a Nobel prize but theb’feel good’ factor definitely kicks after a square of chocolate!
    Looking forward to the omega -3s as I rake a supplement everyday. Probably gave been fooling myself for years!
    Thanks once again s-g.

  • posted by sunshine-girl
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    Omega-3 the truth and the myths.

    The truth – omega-3s fatty acids have received a lot of attention when it comes to both cardiovascular and cognitive health. The fatty acid concerned with health are called alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). This is essential to bodily functions and cardiovascular health. Other omega-3 are not necessary as they can be made by the body using the ALA fatty acids. ALA can be found in foods, especially oily fish but also found in chia and flax seeds, oils like olive oil and rapeseed and walnuts. Other nuts do not have enough of the essential fatty acid to be relevant but have other health giving factors.
    The myth. There is some truth that supplement of omega-3 help with depression and dementia (something I hadn’t heard before) but this is in coordination with anti depressants and other treatments. The evidence to support the brain function claims is variable and more work needs to be done. Where omega-3 can help the brain would come from the good effects to the cardio system in that lower blood pressure could mean less incidence of stroke and increased blood flow could help things like concentration. However, this is only a ‘could’ – the jury is still out.

    So V, keep taking the supplements, especially if, like me, you dont like fish. Although from previous reading, it is flavonoids that have the best effect of brain function.

  • posted by sunshine-girl
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    Week 4 is going to look at the ‘dark side’ of so called Superfoods.

  • posted by Verano
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    Thanks s-g really interesting. I will keep taking the ‘pills’ even though I adore fish, especially the oily ones like mackerel, herrings and salmon! Looking forward to the ‘dark side’. I’m intrigued!

  • posted by alliecat
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    Good morning, V.! On the subject of Omega3’s, I greatly increased my knowledge by listening
    to Eric Berg. There are actually 3, EPA, DHA and ALA. Only the latter is derived from plant based
    sources, and while ALA can convert to the other far more powerful ones for cardiovascular protection,
    it only does so at a low %, and often doesn’t do so at all.
    Perhaps the critical balance between omega3 and omega6 has already been discussed here,
    but if it has, I obviously missed it! The correlation I believe is 2:1. What makes the typical
    Western diet so deadly is that it is overloaded with omega6’s. If you might like to use your
    time in recuperation to get a full picture, please google “Dr. Eric Berg + Omega3” and you
    will find an entire series of you tube videos that are easy to understand and very informative.
    Of all the research I did when my husband was diagnosed with stage3 congestive heart failure,
    I found Berg’s work the most credible. I learned elsewhere that you’ve begun to reduce your
    pain meds! That’s wonderful 🙂 Things are looking very positive for your upcoming holiday!

  • posted by Verano
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    Thanks Allie! Good to see you around again!
    I have read quite a few articles about Omega 3/6s but I must admit I just take supplements willy nilly without really knowing why, but everyday without fail. I take a high strength cod liver oil, a co-enzyme Q10, a turmeric with peperine and a vitamin D complex. I’m sure there was a reason, at the time, for each of these supplements but now it’s just out of habit!
    Yes I’m working towards mid April but for the moment I still have to take things very easy. Hopefully in a couple of weeks I’ll be able to start ‘walking’ therapy. I’m determined to go on holiday even if I have to rely on a wheelchair. Life’s too short to let accidents get in the way!
    Good luck with your reorganising, such a great sense of satisfaction when it’s complete.

  • posted by alliecat
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    Your supplements are the ones that I favor too, V.! You have got this together 🙂 Smart lady!

  • posted by sunshine-girl
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    Final week on Superfoods. I must say I am a bit disappointed that it promised to talk about the ‘dark side’ of supplements and superfoods and so far I can only report a small amount of information.
    Many foods that contain the good things we know that make up superfoods like antioxidants or anti-inflammatory benefits or flavonoids may not we the same as we get when we decide to take them as supplements due to difficulty of access, distance to transport or cost. A few examples, curcumin found in turmeric has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits but taking it in capsule form the curcumin is mainly badly absorbed and quickly excreted. However, it is interesting to note if it is taken with piperine – a micronutrient found in black pepper, the two combined are effective. It doesn’t explain any more. Garlic, has been touted as a treatment for cancer but there is no evidence for this. It is however, good for lowering blood pressure. Again, taking supplements lose a lot of the active ingredients that are of benefit. Bromelain, found in pineapples, can be used for its anti-inflammatory properties, the active ingredient is destroyed in the process of turning it into a supplement. The same applies to eating tinned pineapple as it will have been heat treated. (Note: It is effective in the treatment of burns if used topically so I assume can be found in a cream). I think the message here is that, when eaten for their medicative properties, most superfoods have a good effect on the body in some ways. It would be difficult to eat enough of any one superfood to get any real benefit. However, the use of supplements of the same compounds is not seen as being of any use and they are either adulterated or just not the same active ingredient.

    I will continue with the final days of the course but nothing is clearly explained and is a bit ad hoc – Verano to note for the future.

  • posted by Verano
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    Thanks s-g. Deep down I ‘know’ that the supplements I take may be of little value although my turmeric is mixed with piperine! I am just too frightened to stop taking them after all these years in case I wake up tomorrow with a wrinkled face and body!!!

  • posted by sunshine-girl
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    Well in that case your turmeric will be giving you some of the good effects. Most of the supplements do no harm, some are just a waste of time, like vitamin C – you only need around 60mg the equivalent of one small tomato or a teaspoon of lemon/lime/orange juice and the tablets are typically 1000mg. Fortunately, in that case the body excretes the excess in the urine but, as one doctor put it, very expensive pee. However, some can be taken to excess and are not excreted and can build up in the body. That is my next lesson – Supplements That Can Harm. Will let you know how it goes.

  • posted by Verano
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    Looking forward to the next instalment!

  • posted by sunshine-girl
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    Final couple of days but some important information.
    Generally it is not possible to overdose on micro or macro nutrients just from eating foods (Superfoods) high in particular elements so you should not worry.
    There are a couple of exceptions where eating too much of a particular food along with taking supplements can cause risks. It is possible to eat too much Kale or other rich leafy greens along with taking high dose Vit K supplements. The Vitamin K is a blood thinner and can cause bleeds when people are already on blood thinning medication like warfarin.
    Another supplement which can interfere with someone taking blood thinner is omega 3. I was also surprised that it can also interfere with some diabetic medications – will need to look into that a bit more.
    Exceeding the recommended daily dose of Vitamin A can be toxic to the liver. Foods rich in Vit A should be avoided by certain sections of the population i.e. pregnant women for example. Particularly liver and Cod Liver Oil.
    There is a craze for eating gut healthy foods, in particular the fermented type like kombucha, spirulina, sauerkraut and kimchi. These pose a threat to general health due to the high incidence of these becoming contaminated with bacteria. They are bacteria producing foods but can easily become contaminated if you are making them at home and not under sterile conditions. Shop bought versions of these foods should be safe if they are from a well recognised source / producer.
    It is possible to overdose on Vitamin B3 (niacin) when using supplements and the problems caused range from skin redness, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, itching, nausea, stomach pains, diarrhoea and gout.
    Grapefruit – not to be eaten or juice drunk if you are on certain medications, particularly statins. They prevent the release of the medication into the blood stream so the tablets will be doing no good but, when the grapefruit is stopped, the medication that has been stopped will suddenly flood into the blood stream causing an overdose.
    Again, it is rare to overdose on any nutrients just by eating food but with the possibility of certain foods interfering with medications or being over consumed by taking extra supplements, there can be a risk.

  • posted by sunshine-girl
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    Is there such a thing as a superfood. From the conclusion at the end of the course, the answer is no. There is no one food that has miraculous or medicinal properties. None will extend your life or give you wrinkle free skin. However, there are foods that are good for you. Foods full of antioxidants and flavonoids. A diet which includes such foods will be a healthier diet, however, eating more will not be even healthier and could have the opposite effect. For example, you can overdose on good nutrients so my husband has a current fad for oranges/satsumas/mandarins. He thinks because they are good for him he should eat 2 or 3 a day. He now has a build up of uric acid in the blood which can counter the good effects of flavonoids i.e. softening of the blood vessels from flavonoids, the increased rigidity of the vessels from the uric acid. In other words BALANCE is the key.

    I would say if you normally have cake after lunch and change to an apple or orange, common sense will tell you it is better for you. Eating goji berries or chia seeds is no better than eating raspberries or walnuts. So the superfood nutrients we pay a fortune for are readily available in spinach, kale, broccoli, berry fruits etc. Just try to eat a balanced diet of healthy foods.

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