We’ve all seen the word bandied about: ‘Superfood’ is the latest word in the food marketing lexicon, with all sorts of health miracles being proclaimed as a result of regular consumption. Anyone who values the contents of their wallet ought to be asking themselves if they’re really getting value for money, as some of these faddish fares are imported, extracted and specially cultivated at great expense, particularly in supplemental form from your local pharmacy or health food store.
Are quinoa and chia seeds the answer to becoming a centenarian, or are broccoli and beets still serving our nutritional requirements perfectly well, thank you very much? And is the definition of a “super” food one that is “super” expensive? We debunk a number of ‘superfood’ claims so you can separate fact from food marketing fiction.
1. If a food or supplement company is allowed to market “super” foods, they must have the evidence to back it up, right?
Well, not exactly. What these companies are allowed to do is spruik non-specific benefits. If they make “curative” claims, then they really have to back it up with comprehensive evidence. But what you’ll commonly see are the words “supports”, “may”, “assist” and “improves”. Unless they’re stating that their product will cure your diabetes or your cancer, they are almost immune to scrutiny (see what I did there?). When proof is not required, always remain sceptical and examine the best available research for yourself, and remember that a balanced diet with plenty of bright, fresh produce will almost certainly leave you nutritionally balanced
2. Kale stimulates immune response
Kale is nutrient-rich, versatile for the creative cook, and packs a good vitamin and mineral punch. So far, so good. In fact, there is nothing at all to discourage you from eating kale, but so little research has been done on it that it’s nearly impossible to track down a good study on any health effect. In the absence of definitive advice, it’s probably just as beneficial to tuck into cabbage, spinach, collards, broccoli, endives, or any other green, cruciferous veggie. Kale has the benefit of being one of the more accessible “super” foods, so we shouldn’t judge it too harshly.
3. Green tea stops hunger and boosts metabolism
Green tea can be wonderfully soothing on a cold day, but do the miracle weight loss claims really stack up? Green tea, from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant, does contain a number of ingredients which have been studied to varying degrees. Marketers of green tea state its benefits extend to reduced hunger and food cravings because of the compound epigallocatechin gallate (best remembered as EGCG), which they say boosts the hormone responsible for making you feel full. Oddly enough, then, that a meta-analysis of the available research concluded that green tea had no effects on obesity.
4. Chia seeds help with weight loss
The claim is that the special properties of chia, an herb, help to block fat absorption in the body, which in turn promotes weight loss. Chia is a soluble fibre that also contains omega 3 fatty acids. While this indicates it’s a good source of nutrients, it has not been extensively studies, and the data that does exist found no weight loss properties in the seed. There may be benefits to cholesterol levels through regular consumption, but they are likely to be less significant than consuming cold water fatty fish like salmon and mackerel.
5. Quinoa – pronouncing it is only half the problem
If you haven’t heard of quinoa yet, it shouldn’t be long before you do. In the Andes region of South America, it has been a protein staple since the time of the Incas, providing villagers with 100% of their protein requirements when animal proteins were scarce. Sadly, the rural agricultural workers who produce quinoa have been priced out of their own market, with first world popularity driving up prices to the point where the former dietary staple is now a luxury. The worst part? Marketers fail to tell you that a good serving of beans and rice will provide you with the equivalent nutrition.
6. Goji – berry expensive, but what do they do?
Goji is the “Himalayan superfruit”, a region that has suddenly risen to mystical proportions in the agricultural world (think Himalayan pink salt). Odd then, that most of the commercial produce comes from industrial regions in China. Perhaps some of the wildest superfood claims out there are in praise of the humble goji, with longevity and anti-ageing properties the most common. A lot of effort has gone into marketing these claims, and very little effort has been made to verify them beyond cells grown in a lab. The very few human studies have shown the subjects to have an increase in anti-oxidants, but no measurable effects beyond this. Also, reports that goji berries contain hundreds of times the vitamin C levels of an orange is untrue – they offer similar amounts.
The final word
Nutritionists and academics alike claim that no single food item can offer ‘superpowers’ to replace a healthy, balanced diet. A diet that’s high in fruits, vegetables and grains while avoiding refined foods, sugar and alcohol, will offer a far healthier lifestyle than living off just one superfood. If you’re still worried about your diet, head to a nutritionist. Their trained dietary guidance is much better than Googling superfoods! Some health care providers offer dietary as an additional extra on your cover, so you can claim back on your visits. Compare providers to get the best deal and stay happy, healthy and sensible.