‘Superfoods’ are on everyone’s lips lately, but are they really all that? bmag decided to investigate.
The Oxford dictionary defines superfoods as “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and wellbeing”.
The National Health and Medical Research Council, however, argues there is no such thing: “No single food – with the exception of breast milk for about the first 6 months of life – can provide all the nutrients in the amounts needed for good health.”
Regardless, many companies choose to pull the wool over our eyes and market certain foods as superfoods. The even sneakier thing is there are actually no guidelines as to what makes a superfood! Marketers can label a food ‘super’ without any proof.
“A lot of them actually lack the scientific research behind them to make a lot of the claims that they make,” says Natasha Murray, spokesperson for the Dietitians’ Association of Australia. “There are some foods that are fantastic. Blueberries are great, quinoa’s great, but there is no one food that you can rely on to meet all of your dietary requirements. It’s a super diet, not a super food, that you should be looking at, and eating a variety of foods really is the way to get a super diet.”
They may not be as sexy as superfoods, but common fruits and vegetables you’ve been eating all your life are often just as healthy — if not healthier — than their more fashionable alternatives.
“Kale is a great example,” Murray says. “It’s so popular at the moment that there’s actually a worldwide shortage of kale now, but what people don’t realise is that broccoli actually has a lot of the same nutrients as kale, and it’s far, far cheaper, as well.
“The thing to remember is that you should be eating a wide variety of foods from all of the food groups, and when it comes to fruits and veggies, you should be eating a variety of colours. I work a lot with kids, and I tend to talk about a rainbow — if you’re eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables with all the different colours, you’re going to be getting vitamins and minerals across your diet. They’re much better than popping a pill, as well!”
Consumer watchdog Choice investigated some popular superfoods and their alleged ‘powers’, and their findings hewed closely to what Murray told us.
Acai has four times the amount of antioxidants of non-berry fruits and 10 times more than vegetables. However, claims that the acai berry can aid in weight loss are untrue. Studies done on rats showed no weight change.
Fans of chia seeds believe they can improve poor cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol. While there is no evidence to substantiate this particular claim, chia seeds are high in fibre and omega-3 fatty acids which is good for your body.
Many people believe that coconut oil is much healthier and better for you than vegetable oil. What they don’t know is that it is made up of 85% saturated fat! Saturated fats, especially in such high levels, are not good for your health.
Goji berries are labelled as a “life tonic” but research has in fact shown that these wonder berries may harm the liver and decrease its ability to absorb and breakdown medications.
The green pigment found in plants apparently improves energy levels and general well-being. However, health experts warn that chlorophyll can instead cause stomach cramps and loose bowel movements. You’re better off sticking with the plain old green vegetables!
While these superfoods may not be all that super, these everyday ‘superfoods’ have proven benefits:
Blueberries are rich in dietary fibre, vitamin C and antioxidants. Studies show that blueberries may help in slowing the speed of cognitive decline. There is also evidence that fruit may decrease the risk of certain cancers.
Oily fish such as salmon and tuna are the best! They contain high amounts of nutrients as well as omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. These fats can lower the risk of both heart disease and diabetes and can help relieve arthritis pain.
Ginger and Chilli
Ginger is thought to help relieve dizziness, menstrual pain, arthritis and morning sickness. It also can help lower cholesterol levels. Chillis on the other hand are rich in vitamin C, potassium and beta-carotene — a very important antioxidant which the human body converts into vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for our immune system, good vision and healthy skin.
Legumes and Pulses
Legumes and pulses (the edible seeds of within a legume) are high in fibre and iron. They are a great alternative to meat that is also low in saturated fat. Legumes and pulses also have a low glycaemic index which means after eating them we feel fuller for longer.
Spinach and broccoli are the stand outs of the green vegetables. Spinach is very high in vitamin A, while broccoli provides twice the recommended daily intake of vitamin C in just 100 grams. Research also shows that broccoli contains a chemical that fights cancer cells!
Wholegrains such as brown rice, barley and oats are low in saturated fats and carbohydrates and are a much healthier alternative to processed grains. Wholegrains have been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease and weight gain.
Yoghurt is packed full of good bacteria! It contains calcium and probiotics — live organisms that can aid digestive issues. Research shows that having two or more serves of low fat dairy per day can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Olive oil has monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). MUFAs can help to lower the risk of heart disease and play a ‘protective’ role against certain types of cancer such as breast, lung and skin cancers.
While superfoods can be high in nutrients that can be good for you, they are mostly hyped up by marketing companies. Instead, try looking closer to home — there are plenty of foods we should be eating every day that are really super.