Catherine Saxelby’s Top 20 super foods

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Tuesday, 09 November 2010.
Tagged: antioxidants, balanced diet, food variety, fresh food, healthy eating, super foods, vegetables, vitamins

Catherine Saxelby’s Top 20 super foods
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Add these 20 superstars to your daily diet to give your body a recharge and help protect your future health. Identifying nutrient-rich, health-promoting star performers isn't difficult! What’s tough is narrowing it down to only this handful. Read why I’ve selected these and how they can benefit your health and wellbeing without adding weight.


Why these 20?

I’ve made my list of what I regard as the top 20 super foods. They represent the healthiest foods from each of the food groups including vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, proteins, dairy, herbs and spices, fats and oils. You don’t need to include all 20 each and every day but try to include them as often as you can. Give preference to them when you shop and when you eat out.

Within each food group, there are always a number of super foods. I’ve decided to focus on those foods that are the star performers for the fewest kilojoules/calories.  You eat well and nourish your body without overeating.

With obesity a major health problem, it’s worth making each kilojoule count. We need to get those vitamins, minerals and health-protecting antioxidants without overloading our system with excess.

Taking a supplement won’t give you everything that’s in food.  Research into the three best-known antioxidant supplements - vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene - have failed to show clear benefits in intervention trials. But vitamins from natural food works differently.


Balance from all the food groups

I’ve selected my 20 super foods from each food group so you get balance and can pull together a balanced diet. Obviously there’s more of an emphasis on vegetables and fruits which are generally low in kilojoules, natural, unprocessed and packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.  But you can't eat just super foods in isolation. Round them off with super stars from protein, grains, nuts and seeds, dairy and fats to get the balance right.

What about the rest?

My list doesn’t mean that other foods aren’t worth eating – they are! Variety remains an important part of good nutrition. You wouldn’t want to eat ONLY oranges as your fruit day after day. But if you’re only eating two fruits on any given day to manage your weight, choosing an orange as one of the two fruits will boost your nutrition intake enormously.

Close contenders

I’ve also listed foods that have similar nutrient profile (“almost super”) aren't quite up to the mark or not quite as convenient to make the 20 on the list. So you have alternatives if you don’t like eating certain foods (say sardines instead of salmon) and for times when fresh produce is out of season or wildly expensive. For example, in the berry world, blueberry is king but other berries are just a lap behind and make good substitute.

Super food sprinkles

I have two super foods that are what I call the ‘sprinkles’ - flaxseed and wheatgerm. Wonderful foods but not always convenient for busy lives. Firstly you have to buy a bucket load, then you have to figure out ways to work them into your food and you have to store them in the fridge to stop them going rancid. I've found the two best ways to incorporate them into a busy routine:

  1. Sprinkle them over your muesli or breakfast cereal  (try my easy home-made muesli recipe now)
  2. Whirl them into a banana or berry smoothie (I have a nice one here).



The Top 20

Here are my top 20 (it was tough). But these 20 are nutrient-dense powerhouses that turn up again and again on different list of the super foods (in no particular order):


Broccoli (and other Cruciferous such as cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts)

Spinach (and its cousin silverbeer aka Swiss chard)


Bok Choy (and other Asian greens)

Close contenders: any leafy green vegetable such as rocket (aragula), sorrel or watercress, dark-green lettuces such as mignonette or mesclun salad mix, fresh herbs like basil and parsley.


Grapefruit (and other citrus like oranges, lemons, mandarins or tangellos)

Blueberries (and other berries, not forgetting frozen mixed berries)

Close contenders: Kiwi fruit, pomegranate




Close contenders: dark rye bread, pumpernickel, wholegrain crispbread, brown rice, quinoa.





Close contenders: walnuts, pecans, Brazils.



Pink salmon

Close contenders: any other oily fish such as fresh tuna, fresh sardine, trout, mullet, mackerel, canned sardines, canned tuna (check label for claim about omega-3 as not all canned tuna is a rich source).



Close contenders: soft cultured cheeses




Oregano, thyme, basil and similar hardy green herbs





Close contenders: many dried spices including turmeric (really most curry powers), cloves, star anise, cumin. Many dried herbs including peppermint, sage, rosemary, lemon verbena, parsley, marjoram.