Spain: Fount of Superfoods
When looking for nutrient-rich “superfoods,” look no further than Spain for abundance, variety, health and flavor.
When it comes to good health and nutrition, getting plenty of fruits and vegetables in our daily diets is a must. And although experts don’t always agree how much is enough, they do seem to be on the same page when it comes to the fact that eating less than five servings of these foods a day can be detrimental to our health, given that our bodies depend on the different vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, fiber and other nutrients found in fruits and vegetables to prevent diseases and keep us feeling good.
However, not all fruits and vegetables are created equal, and in recent years a lot of attention has been given to so-called “superfoods” – foods that are packed with extra nutritional super powers in the form of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and more. Think dark leafy greens that are rich in folate, zinc, calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin C and fiber; protein and vitamin-packed legumes and nuts; antioxidant-rich berries like strawberries and raspberries; anti-inflammatory garlic; nutrient-dense avocados, with their healthy monounsaturated fat (oleic acid) and high fiber content.... Now, think about something else that these foods have in common. Yes, you guessed it, they’re all produced in Spain.
This country is blessed with a bountiful and varied selection of home-grown superfoods, the crowning glory of which is undoubtedly its extra virgin olive oil. Let’s take a look at some of Spain’s most talked-about superfoods, as well as a few newer products that are gaining in fame everyday.
Superfoods: Green is for goodness
Spain boasts nearly 30,000 hectares dedicated to cultivating broccoli, with an annual production of around 430,000 tons – approximately half of which is grown in Murcia. It is also the world’s biggest exporter of this dark, leafy vegetable, which is an excellent source of vitamin C, Folic acid, fiber and other vitamins and minerals. Additionally, this country also cultivates spinach (introduced by the Moors), chard, curly kale, and a variety of other healthy greens.
But there are other, perhaps lesser-known, green superfoods in the Spanish pantry, such as the different varieties of seaweed that Spanish companies on both the northern and southern coasts have been harvesting and selling for some two decades. These nutritionally dense marine plants are rich in minerals and antioxidants... not to mention wonderfully flavorful.
Speaking of green superfoods, Spain is the European leader in the production of avocados, which are exported from here throughout Europe and as far away as the United States. The majority of Spain’s annual crop of approximately 92 million metric tons of avocados comes from the Mediterranean coast of Andalusia, as well as parts of the Valencian Community. As previously mentioned, avocados are prized for their high quantities of folic acid, Omega 3, magnesium, potassium, lutein and fiber, as well as rich in vitamins A, C, D, E, K and B, and minerals like copper, manganese and iron. Among other things, avocados are delicious on toast or on their own with a drop of Spanish extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of sea salt.
Superfoods: Pinks and purples, reds and blues
The superfood powers of Spanish berries are uncontested, with Spain being the world’s number two producer and number one exporter of strawberries. To get to the source of these antioxidant-rich fruits – whose high levels of anthocyanin can help prevent cancer, stroke and heart disease – head to the Andalusian province of Huelva, where more than 90% of Spanish strawberries are grown. Here you will also find blueberries, raspberries and other healthy Spanish “fruits of the forest,” (frutas del bosque).
Another superfood, the pomegranate, has been a part of people’s diets on the Iberian Peninsula since around the 8th century, with the arrival of the Moors. Today, this product is so valued for its quality that the pomegranates produced in the fertile soils along the Mediterranean coast in Alicante have Protected Denomination of Origin Granada Mollar de Elche status. Treasured for their wonderful sweetness and soft and juicy seeds, these historic Spanish fruits boast high levels of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, which help explain why this fruit is making a comeback in an increasingly health-conscious society.
For its part, garlic has been cultivated throughout the Mediterranean basin for over 4,000 years. Attributed with curative and medicinal properties, it continues to be a key ingredient in Spanish cuisine. And although we might think “white” when we think of garlic, one of the most important Spanish varieties is in fact the purple Morados de Cuenca garlic, which is grown in various parts of Castile-La Mancha and covered by the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) Ajo Morado de las Pedroñeras.
Superfoods: White, beige, brown, yellow...
By now everyone has probably heard about the nutrient-rich properties of nuts, but what people might not realize is that Spanish Marcona almonds are considered one of the best varieties in the world. These nuts, which are key ingredients in a range of traditional Spanish sweets like turrón and mazapán – both of which date back over a thousand years to the Arab settlement on the Iberian Peninsula – are not only delicious, but also brimming with plant proteins, healthy fats, vitamin E antioxidants, fiber, riboflavin, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, manganese, calcium, and much more.
Another way to reap the nutritional benefits of Spanish nuts is by eating Spain’s delectable 100% Ibérico bellota ham. Made from Ibérico pigs that have stuffed themselves on acorns while roaming this country’s woodland forests known as dehesas, the ham preserves the beneficial oleic acids found in the acorns, as well as their antioxidant properties.
Other superfood sources of plant protein cultivated in Spain are the wide variety of legumes (pulses) that are not only grown in this country (lentils, broad beans, navy beans, garbanzos, peas, etc.), but that also play an extremely important role in traditional Spanish soups and stews. Not only are they high in protein, but they also boast major nutritional benefits as good sources of iron, phosphorus, folate and fiber, among other things.
Superfoods: Pure Spanish gold
Without a doubt, the most famous of Spain’s superfoods has got to be its extra virgin olive oil, of which this country is the world’s number one producer. The health benefits of this product are myriad, and include helping to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes. In addition to being rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids and vitamins A, E and K, extra virgin olive oils are also packed with antioxidants, which make them powerful allies against illnesses including some cancers, high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Spanish extra virgin olive oil is also a staple of the much-lauded Mediterranean Diet. According to a study by PREDIMED published in the New England Journal of Medicine, when supplemented with extra virgin olive oil, following a Mediterranean Diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases by 30%, in comparison with a low-fat diet. It doesn't get much more “super” than that!
Text: Adrienne Smith / @ICEX
Photos: Toya Legido & Tomás Zarza / @ICEX, Fernando Madariaga / @ICEX, iStock.
Videos: Multimedia Department / @ICEX.
Photos: @ICEX, @IStock