A Very British Superfood
By Eva Humphries DipION mBANT CNHC Nutritional Therapist
From the latest green juices to spirulina and coconut water, the health food industry is teeming with an array of exotic “superfoods”. They have become so popular, it’s now impossible to pass a gym or cafe without spotting a yoga-gear-clad individual attached to a bottle of the latest health boost.These novel food items, mostly flown across the globe from a distant country, promise an array of benefits.
Could shellfish make it onto the list of superfoods? Registered nutritional therapist, Eva Humphries looks at the evidence.
If you aren’t the smoothie-sipping type, you’ll be forgiven for being oblivious to the existence of superfoods, so here is a simplified breakdown.
The term superfood refers to a nutrient-rich food that is considered to be especially beneficial for health. Put simply, these foods can enhance our existing diets by adding high concentrations of essential vitamins and minerals that would otherwise be harder to obtain.
Spirulina, a type of blue-green algae, for example, is amongst the most popular, prized for its high protein content and detox-boosting nutrients.
Then there are the exotic fruits, such as camu camu, an antioxidant rich berry from the Amazon, baobab from the African tree of life and goji berries from China, all of which promise a large boost of Vitamin C.
If the quantity of nutrients is the main consideration for the superfood category, shellfish may well be a future contender. In fact, the mineral zinc is so abundant in crab, oysters, lobster and other shellfish that no other plant or food can compete. This is kind of a big deal, since zinc is required for the essential processes of repair, digestion and the correct functioning of the immune system to name just a few. Zinc is needed for just about everything the human body does and this is precisely where shellfish shines.
Oysters contain a whopping six times more zinc than the next plant based equivalent, even other meat based sources are inferior.
The nutritional good news doesn’t just stop with the zinc content either, because selenium, another essential immune boosting nutrient is particularly abundant in shellfish. This time, the top award goes to clams with oysters and cuttlefish following behind.
What is particularly important about both of these nutrients is the UK population is running low. Marginal deficiencies in zinc and selenium are well recognised in scientific literature as a growing concern. Cue British shellfish.
Between 2014 and 2002, new research on Omega 3 fatty acids propelled the sales of nutritional supplements to 1.15 billion US dollars in America alone and they are just as popular on our shores. Globally, the Omega 3 market is estimated at 33 billion US dollars at the last count (2016).
From improvements in cardiovascular health to reducing inflammation and joint pain to anti-ageing, Omega 3s are touted to solve just about every ailment going, consequently its popularity is hardly surprising.
What is lesser know, however, is supplements aren’t necessarily the best absorbed, meaning actually eating Omega 3 containing foods remains the optimum way to obtain this essential fat.The human body is generally good at making fat, mostly from things that we’d rather not turn into extra body weight, but Omega fats are a special group that we fail to synthesise.
Brain function, normal growth and development are just some of the processes that rely on Omega 3s, so in a nutshell, we need to eat Omega 3 containing foods to stay healthy.
Fish and shellfish remain the most superior sources of Omega 3 fatty acids with few other foods of plant or animal origin containing comparable levels. Mussels, oysters, brown shrimp and crab are especially abundant but other shellfish also contain adequate levels that are easy to absorb.
Lastly, there is the all important protein, the very building block of human structures. Largely thanks to the overhyped sports nutrition market, our general recognition of protein is changing from food to something that comes in powder form. Yes, it may be far easier to add to a smoothie this way but
just like with the Omega 3s, real food sources may well be better absorbed. Needless to say, shellfish is a fantastic source of lean protein but perhaps the lack of advertising campaigns and social media presence is responsible for failing to highlight it as such.
Whilst we are on the topic of marketing, one British product is worth a mention as a success story. Kale, the leafy looking and odd tasting cousin of cabbage was mere animal fodder prior to 2010. Search for kale now and it’s in every hipsters cupboard and supermarkets are struggling to keep up with demand. The world famous singer, Beyonce, even sported a jumper with the slogan “kale” printed across it in recent music video. Kale has become that trendy there is even a day dedicated to it.
The popularity of kale isn’t exactly the result of genius British advertising, but one of a PR agent hailing from New York city. She simply liked kale, believed in the nutritional benefits and started talking about it.
Shellfish may not be as fancy sounding as the latest berry from the Amazon or that over-marketed protein powder, but gram for gram it delivers exceptional nutritional value. Other superfoods shine, at most, in only one, maybe two categories but shellfish ticks boxes in essential nutrients, healthy fats and protein content.
Isn’t it time we propel and promote our humble shellfish as the next British superfood?