Superfoods seem to be everywhere, touted as a ticket to a disease-free life. Celebrities, from Cindy Crawford to Rihanna, swear by them, as do many social media influencers. But their definition is fuzzy. What are superfoods, really, and how can we use them to gain the greatest health benefits? There is no regulated definition of a superfood , Harvard University’s T H Chan School of Public Health notes on its website. “Generally, a food is promoted to superfood status when it offers high levels of desirable nutrients, is linked to the prevention of a disease, or is believed to offer several simultaneous health benefits beyond its nutritional value,” it says. Accredited nutritionist Sangamithra Vidyasa Gararaju, of the Singapore Nutrition & Dietetics Association, describes superfoods as “whole, unprocessed, real foods that are nutrient dense in their original form. They are predominantly plant foods, rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants”. Fresh fruits and vegetables, seeds and nuts, which are locally and readily available, are a great way to include superfoods in our everyday diets. “To walk you through a sample daily meal plan studded with superfoods, try chia seed pudding,” Vidyasa Gararaju says. “Chia seeds are a fantastic source of plant-based omega 3 fatty acids – an easy way to include them in your diet would be to make a chia pudding for your breakfast.” She recommends a turmeric-spiked drink to help boost your immune system, a square of dark chocolate for an antioxidant fix, and fibre-rich black bean tortillas with guacamole made from avocados for healthy fats for dinner. ‘Don’t hide fear’: how cancer survivor beat illness – twice Dr Nandita Iyer, a doctor turned writer based in Bangalore, India, is a popular food blogger and chef. She was always keen on learning more about nutrition, “which we hardly spent any time on in our five-and-a-half years of medical studies and internship” she notes on her blog. Her new book, Everyday Superfoods , details 39 superfoods that are indigenous to India, from the ancient grain amaranth in Himachal Pradesh to millet in Karnataka. She provides scientific insights into each of them. It also features 60 recipes that incorporate the superfoods on her list. Iyer admits superfoods is “a buzzword and a marketing ploy more than an actual food group, that every health food brand and store is trying to woo us with. But if we had to describe superfoods, these would comprise foods that are very rich in one or more nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. “Because of their nutrient density, these foods help boost general health, immunity, longevity, or are known for specific benefits.” Here are four ways the experts see superfoods as beneficial. 1. Superfoods and immunity During the coronavirus pandemic , plant-based immunity boosters have become high-priority items on everyday grocery lists. A recent study in the journal Current Research in Nutrition and Food Science suggests that including superfoods in the daily diet can help lower the risk of degenerative diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, neurological conditions and cancer. Superfoods are not a magic pill to bring about instant results, according to Vidyasa Gararaju, who stresses that a healthy lifestyle combined with regular superfood intake are essential for them to work in our favour. “Expecting superfoods to act like a silver bullet is [unrealistic]. Instead, the focus must be on eating a varied and balanced diet, according to your health and lifestyle conditions. Superfoods are not a panacea,” she cautions. 2. Superfoods for weight loss Iyer says that several antioxidant-rich superfoods are low in carbohydrates and calories, making them a great value-add in a weight-loss diet. “Fill up on dishes made from low-calorie vegetables, like cauliflower, broccoli, bell peppers, mushrooms , bean sprouts, cabbage, gourds and squashes, aubergine and green leafy vegetables,” she says. She says eating beans, lentils, and fruits that are high in fibre, which also balance blood sugar levels, are a great way to keep weight in check. Iyer shares some tips for maintaining regular bowel movements while watching your waistline: Foods such as green bananas, legumes, rice and potatoes can be refrigerated overnight after cooking to increase their resistant starch content. This starch resists digestion in the small intestine and ferments in the large intestine. As the fibres ferment, they act as a prebiotic and feed the good bacteria in the gut. Consuming these helps reduce appetite and makes one feel fuller for longer. Foods rich in B vitamins are important, as they are essential for metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Iron-rich foods help in endurance and improving exercise capacity. Magnesium-rich foods such as seeds, nuts and leafy greens play a role in blood glucose metabolism. What is the microbiome? Doctors explain how gut bacteria regulate body 3. Superfoods as prebiotics Iyer notes that gut bacteria can influence our mood, thoughts, and brain, adding that they not only help with digestion, but also in the absorption of vital nutrients, and the synthesis of vitamins. She suggests including easily available superfoods – such as cabbage, cauliflower, black-eyed peas, flaxseed, garlic and onions – in our everyday diet, because they are excellent prebiotics that feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics are a type of fibre that the human body cannot digest that serve as food for probiotics, tiny living microorganisms, including bacteria. 4. Superfoods and mindful eating This excerpt from Iyer’s book highlights the importance of mindful eating and self-care, both key to an overall mind-body balance, especially during stressful times: Before eating, ask yourself if you are really hungry or is it thirst, boredom or something else? Plate your food so that it looks appealing. Serve yourself a smaller portion to start with. You can always get seconds if you are still hungry. Sit down to eat – be it a full meal or a snack. Take a moment to be grateful for the food in front of you. Take small bites and chew each bite well. Let a few seconds pass before you take the next bite. This intentional slowing down will help make slow eating a habit.