"Superfoods" is a phrase used in marketing to describe foods that are supposedly "extra good" for you. While the science behind superfoods is disputed — particularly when it comes to medical cures — there can be no denying that foods stamped with the "super" label are healthy for you. (Examples include berries, nuts, seeds, fish, lentils and dark green vegetables.) You may not realise it, but many takeaway dishes sold in Australia contain one or more of these supposed "miracle" ingredients. Here are ten of the most common — from iron rich duck breast to the old Chinese staple bok choy.
Takeaway picture from Shutterstock
The below list comes from celebrity nutritionist Dr Joanna McMillan in conjunction with Menulog's Healthy+ campaign. According to McMillan, health enhancing foods are not difficult to find in takeaway — and it's not just adding a side of bland veggies. By choosing dishes that use healthy cooking methods and so-called super ingredients, it's possible to order delicious food that won't ruin your diet.
Here are Dr McMillan's top "superfood" suggestions based on typical takeaway dishes. Even if you think the superfood label is a bunch of hokum, these foods should still be part of your diet.
Lentils are protein-rich, they contain low glycaemic carbs, fibre and folate and are one of the best plant sources of iron. Common dishes with lentils include daal, stews/soups, Lebanese side dishes and lentil salads.
Explains McMillan: "I add lentils to my takeaway order to boost my ‘smart carb’ intake. You’ll find them in daal, stews and soups, Lebanese side dishes and lentil salads and they’re a good protein choice in a vegetarian meal."
Duck breast is fatty — but it also contains 80 per cent more iron and 65 per cent more zinc than chicken breast, along with a host of B-group vitamins. Popular duck options include Vietnamese rice paper rolls, Peking duck pancakes and Asian stir fries.
“Much of the fat is under the skin which you can remove - the meat itself is lean - and half of the fat is the healthy monounsaturated kind.”
#3 Bok Choy
Bok Choy is rich in the antioxidant glucosinolates and provides many of the same health benefits as cabbages. Other goodies include B-group vitamins, calcium, iron and zinc. You can get in stir-fries, noodle soups, Pho and various Chinese dishes.
“Order Bok choy in stir-fries, noodle soups, Pho, and Chinese dishes. These are vegies you might not usually cook at home, so this is one way takeaway can boost your superfood intake.”
Cashews contain more iron and zinc than most other nuts and are a common fixture in Thai cuisine. They're rich in both magnesium and healthy monounsaturated fats. You can get them in salads and stir-fries.
“Unless you have an allergy, be sure to get nuts into your daily diet,” Dr Joanna says. “Research shows that a handful of nuts a day dramatically reduces our risk of heart disease. Order them in salads, stir-fries and Thai, Indian and Chinese dishes with cashews.”
Certain spices such as cinnamon and turmeric are rich in antioxidants. According to some studies, they can also boost the detox pathways in your liver and have anti-bacterial qualities. Spice-rich dishes include Indian curries such as Chicken Tikka Masala, Middle Eastern meats with harissa spices, Lebanese kebabs and Indonesian curries.
"Look for dishes that contain cumin, coriander, chili, cinnamon, turmeric and garlic. These are rich in antioxidants, they have anti-bacterial, anti-cancer and anti-viral qualities plus they boost the detox pathways in your liver."
Parsley is packed with vitamins K and C, folate and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin which are linked to eye health. It is commonly found in Middle Eastern tabouli and Mediterranean dishes including pizza, pasta, soups and stews.
"Dishes such as tabouli use the herb liberally so they maximize the amazing nutrition benefits of the plant."
Rocket contains iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, antioxidants, vitamin K and C plus a range of healthy carotenoids. It's a regular fixture in salads, pizzas and pastas.
"Most people need to eat more dark leafy greens such as rocket in their everyday diet. They have a big nutritional bang for each bite."
The humble tomato is a superfood, especially when it’s concentrated or pureed in pizza toppings and pasta sauces. It has high levels of an antioxidant called lycopene. It may block cancer cell growth and reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men.
"That doesn’t make pizza a superfood! But if you choose a wholemeal thin base and add loads of vegie toppings, then yes it can be a healthy dish."
Octopus has more than double the iron of a similar portion of steak and it has 30 per cent fewer kilojoules, hardly any fat and delivers a similar amount of protein. Octopus is also rich in vitamin B6, vitamin B12, phosphorus, copper and selenium. To top it off, it provides good levels of omega-3 fats.
“A BBQ octopus salad is a terrifically healthy dish, or have it in tomato-based sauces – order these from Italian and Greek restaurants.”
This fish is one of the best sources of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats we need for heart and brain health.
“It’s great in green curries, salads, Japanese dishes such as sashimi, teriyaki and sushi or just simply grilled."
Naturally, it's crucial to pay careful attention to the rest of the ingredients in any given dish, as well as the cooking methods employed. Try to avoid deep-fried meats, fatty batters and buttery/sugar-rich sauces. Otherwise those "superfoods" will just be part of a very unhealthy meal.