Joshua Shum, HK BioTek Intern
Since ancient times, people have been finding food that keeps the doctor away. Hippocrates, a Greek physician and the father of medicine, promoted the idea of “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. Now, we do have food that can be our medicine, and we call them “superfoods”.
What is a “Superfood”?
Superfood is food that is found to be beneficial towards our health in multiple aspects. Most of these food is also considered as functional food. They are no different from other conventional food in appearance, but contain bioactive components that are found to have direct linkage in minimizing the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as cancer, heart diseases, and diabetes. Below are the top 3 superfoods you can easily incorporate in your daily diet to help you stay healthy.
Drinking tea is a vital part of our Asian heritage. This is because tea is a good source for the bioactive compound catechin that gives tea various health benefits. Oolong tea is a semi-fermented tea that acts as an intermediate choice between unfermented tea (Green Tea) and completely fermented tea (Black Tea).
Among the catechin present in oolong tea, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is the dominant catechin present with levels at 25.73mg/100ml (63% of all catechin). Since this is an unstable compound, it will transform to theasinensins A that shows to help prevent the development of heart related diseases. This is because theasinensins A inhibits the pancreas from producing lipase, an enzyme that helps with lipid digestion, into the small intestine during the process of digestion. The lipid ingested from our diet will remain as an undigested molecule that is too large for our body to absorb. As a result, these excess oil will be excreted as waste.
With decreased lipid absorption, researcher found oolong tea is more effective than green tea and black tea in suppressing the growth of fat cells in our body and reducing the levels of triacylglycerol in our blood vessels. This greatly lowers the risk in developing obesity, high blood pressure, stroke and cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Watercress belongs to the family of cruciferous vegetables. Besides having essential minerals such as potassium, iron, and manganese, watercress is also a good source of the bioactive compound glucosinolate. Glucosinolate can be converted into 2 other bioactive compounds (Isothiocyanates and sulforaphane) that are found to have anti-cancer properties. They are able to inhibit enzymes in our body that are responsible for activating carcinogens that lead to the development of tumors. In addition, they are able to initiate the process of cell death for tumor cells. As a result, not only they can prevent the development and growth of cancer cells, they have the potential of eliminating cancer cells as well.
You may argue why broccoli is not introduced when it is also a member of cruciferous vegetables. This is because broccoli contains epithiospecifier protein (ESP), which converts some of the bioactive compounds to other compounds that do not have anti-cancer properties. On the contrary, research shows watercress shows no sign of ESP activity, meaning glucosinolate in watercress can be transformed to our desired compound with anti-cancer property efficiently.
Inflammation is a natural defense mechanism of our body to kill pathogens and repair damaged tissue, yet excessive fat stored in our body leads to long-term inflammation that is harmful to our healthy tissue, which eventually lead to internal scarring, and possibly cancer.
A study conducted by Japan Public Health Center with 41,575 participants discovered that people who have a fish-rich diet (They eat fish 8 times a week) have 40% lower chance in developing CVD. This is because eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic aicd (DHA), which is rich in fish, are able to increase adiponectin secretion, which is a hormone that has anti-inflammatory property, to combat the damages caused by inflammation.
Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acid, especially for EPA (816.5mg/100g) and DHA (1000.4mg/100g). These 2 fatty acids are classified as essential fatty acids since they cannot be synthesized by our body and must be obtained from our diet. As a result, having more salmon could increase adiponectin secretion, lowering the chance of developing CVD, obesity, and the occurrence of heart attack.
Although salmon is rich in EPA and DHA, it is advised not to drink tea if you would like to adsorb the nutritious omega-3 fatty acids. This is because oolong tea is effective in limiting lipid adsorption as discussed. Just like taking your medications, you only take them according to your needs, and you won’t take them with other substance (Like you won’t drink milk while taking your pills). More importantly, having a balanced diet and designing your meals wisely is the greatest key to good health.