Mesonutrients: putting the ‘super’ in superfoods

22 March 2019

First, we had micronutrients and macronutrients, but what about mesonutrients? These chemical compounds are what give many superfoods their edge – and they’ve recently been getting more attention. With help from our Registered Associate Nutritionist (ANutr) Georgina Camfield, we’re diving into this little-known aspect of nutrition to explore more.

So what exactly are mesonutrients?

We’ve known for some time that nutrients found in certain foods and drinks – like turmeric, blueberries and green tea – have earned them the title of ‘superfoods’, a term first coined by health food marketers that’s since made its way into our everyday vocab. Rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, healthy fats and fibre, superfoods are nutritional powerhouses. But it’s the active compounds within these superfoods that really give them their, well, superpowers. These active compounds are also known as mesonutrients.  

As Georgina explains: “They’re not micronutrients (like vitamins and minerals) and they’re not macronutrients (like carbohydrates or protein) – instead they sit somewhere in between. In fact, ‘meso’ comes from the Greek for ‘middle’.”

What do they do?

Many mesonutrients are identified as being antioxidants or anti-inflammatories, which means they can help to protect cells and DNA from damage caused by natural metabolism, pollution or UV rays[1], and also help to reduce problems associated with inflammation, such as joint pain, immune system problems and digestive issues[2].

But each mesonutrient is also thought to have its own set of unique health benefits. These can range from things like supporting heart health and helping to regulate blood sugar, to improving sleep or reducing anxiety.

Top superfoods and their mesonutrient helpers

Turmeric

“Turmeric is having a real moment”, says Georgina. “It’s hard to miss the recent turmeric craze, with turmeric lattes, turmeric sprays and turmeric shots popping up all over the place. But it’s the active compound, curcumin, that actually does all the hard work. It’s a powerful anti-inflammatory, which is why turmeric is so often used to ease arthritis, improve digestive problems (like Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Inflammatory Bowel Disease) and to boost metabolism.” [1]

Green tea

It’s quite a mouthful, but ‘Epigallocatechin gallate’, or EGCG, is the mesonutrient that has earned green tea its reputation as a healthy alternative to regular brews. As an antioxidant it packs a real punch, and it’s also said to support metabolism[4].

EGCG is also found in matcha – a powdered form of green tea that’s often added to hot milk to create a matcha latte.

Saffron

Saffron is one of the world’s most expensive spices, but its key active compound – safranal – is what could make it so valuable to our health. This mesonutrient is thought to benefit the nervous system, acting as a mild antidepressant – so it may help with low moods, sleep problems or mild anxiety.[5]

Blueberries (and other red and purple fruits)

Blueberries are one of the most talked about superfoods, and now we know that a group of active compounds known as anthocyanins are the reason why. They’re powerful antioxidants, and, according to studies, they’re thought to support heart health, help regulate blood sugar levels and could even prevent insulin resistance. [6]

Georgina says: “Anthocyanins are actually found in loads of purple and red fruits, including blackcurrants, blackberries, cherries, pomegranates and cranberries, so if blueberries aren’t your thing you can still benefit from including other berries in your diet.”

Tomatoes (plus some citrus and tropical fruits)

The humble tomato might not seem that special, but they actually contain the mesonutrient lycopene, a mighty antioxidant that’s thought to promote better heart health, support a healthier balance of cholesterol and help prevent high blood pressure..[7]

Lycopene is also found in a range of fruits, including watermelon, papaya, blood oranges, apricots, pink grapefruit and guava.

 

Georgina’s top tips for getting more mesonutrients into your diet

“If you’ve heard about mesonutrients and perhaps thought ‘is this yet another thing I should be thinking about or buying into?’ then simply put, the answer is no. But if knowing about mesonutrients helps bolster a better understanding about the nutritional value of food and the role it plays in good health, then this info can be handy to consider. There are lots of fantastic foods to explore as part of a healthy, balanced diet, even if they don’t contain mesonutrients.”

Georgina recommends avoiding meso-dosing – taking mesonutrient supplements – because “the natural forms are much easier for your body to absorb and use (and they’re cheaper, too!).”

“Many of the foods above are easily found in the average diet, so boosting your intake shouldn’t be a struggle. However, why not try building these foods into your diet in a way that’s going to be sustainable in the long term?”

 

Top 5 tips to boost your mesonutrients

·         As well as making sure to add turmeric to your curries and stir-fries, you can also add it to smoothies, or treat yourself to a turmeric latte.

·         Swap one of your daily teas or coffees for a green tea. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but you can always try a naturally flavoured version instead – green tea with lemon makes a refreshing afternoon pick-me-up!

·         Add a few strands of saffron to plain rice, risotto or even breads and biscuits. If you’re stuck, try this recipe for Mahi Mahi fish with saffron, pine nuts and raisins.

·         Load up on the berries listed above that are rich in anthocyanins – try adding them to porridge, smoothies, yoghurts and baking, or snack on them as they are.

·         Boost your intake of the mighty antioxidant Lycopene by making a colourful fruit salad full of citrus fruits or even give your leafy salads a twist with some refreshing segments of grapefruit, oranges and tomatoes.

 

Mix your mesos, micros and macros

Just because mesonutrients may have loads of health benefits, doesn’t mean micronutrients and macronutrients stop being important. You still need all your vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, fibre and healthy fats – and you won’t find them all in the foods above.

Georgina adds: “It’s important to remember that no single food holds the key to good health. If you’re interested in eating more superfoods in order to benefit from the mesonutrients they contain, just make sure you do so as part of a healthy, balanced diet, that doesn’t restrict any other food groups.”


For some tips on eating a balanced diet, check out these articles:

Ten ways to develop healthy eating habits

What is intuitive eating and is it right for you?

Energy boosting foods

Eating for good health

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[1] Everything You Should Know About Oxidative Stress https://www.healthline.com/health/oxidative-stress

[2] Inflammatory responses and inflammation-associated diseases in organs https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5805548/

[3] Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5664031/

[4]Effects of green tea and EGCG on cardiovascular and metabolic health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17906191

[5] Safranal: From an Aromatic Natural Product to a Rewarding Pharmacological Agent https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3637901/

[6] Anthocyanidins and anthocyanins: colored pigments as food, pharmaceutical ingredients, and the potential health benefits https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5613902/