Let’s talk superfoods – one of the hypes and trends in social media and nutrition. It feels like the hype towards superfoods is slightly dying, or maybe that is just in my social media circle and following. People are realising that you don’t need to spend money on superfoods to be healthy and live a long life and that super foods aren’t all that they are made up to be.
Let’s start off with what super foods actually are….
Well the term super food is actually a marketing term and not an actual nutrition term. Businesses began marketing certain foods with the term “superfood” as they are very high in antioxidants or vitamins compared to other foods, and is a way to sell more of their products… just like the terms “low fat, high in fiber, low sugar etc”.
There is however a term called “functional food” (or so called nutraceuticals) which is a nutrition term for certain foods that have certain extra healthy properties – such as oatmeal with beta glucans that can lower cholesterol, soy products because of the phytochemicals that have health benefits such as lowering cholesterol and good for heart health. (There are many different phytochemicals in different fruits and veggies and have a range of different health benefits, however there are also phytonutrients [antinutrients] which are toxic and can interfere with the absorption of different vitamins and minerals. Antinutrients are found on raw and uncooked beans, hence why you don’t eat them raw/dry :)). Garlic is another functional food as it contains a component/nutrient that boosts the immune system. Basically fruits and veggies and certain fortifed foods such as eggs with extra omega 3 or orange juice enriched with calcium can be called functional foods because of their extra nutritional value.
Nutrition terms and food labelling are strictly controlled in each country and making a false claim about a food product can lead to a huge fine/law suit if it proves to be wrong or falsely marketed. And the terms superfood and functional foods don’t really have a definition or aren’t “true” nutrition terms. There are certain rules for how much sugar a product can contain to be marketed as low in sugar, and the same goes for fat and fiber. And you can do an overall analyses of certain foods and if your food has more or less than the average you can make a claim that it has more or less than other products in the same category. But it is all strictly regulated – however, reading ingredients and nutritional values can be a good idea anyway.
Also important to note, that food recommendations and labels are all based on research and studies of the food or product. I.e you can’t claim that a food is high in vitamin C or antioxidants if the product infact has very little of those… and many foods are tested or ingredients of the food are tested to make sure they are safe and that they contain what they say they contain.
Ok, onto super foods….. what are they?
There are super foods like kale, sweet potato, goji berries, chia seeds, spirulina, acai, green tea, wheat grass and the list goes on.
There is no set definition of what a superfood is, but they are supposed to make you live longer, optimize health and contain a whole bunch of antioxidants for optimal health. Some even claim that they reduce the risk of cancer, increase intelligence and relieve depression. However…. those claims aren’t really “allowed” as you can not promote a food and say that it will boost intelligence, get rid of cancer and depression when that infact isn’t true and is false marketing. The companies would need to do tests on their products to prove that those statements infact are true if they are going to make those claims.
However, companies can have influencers or ambassadors or other people talk about their products and how healthy they are and how the product made them lose 15kg, get clear skin and get rid of depression. Because word of mouth is ok… people can talk about food or products however they like and make false claims, but the company can not write it as a statement or try to sell the product with false claims.
Superfoods are claimed to be “better” than other foods.
And the fact is that Yes, certain “superfoods” such as spirulina, chlorella, kale, chia seeds and goji berries are packed with nutrients. For a small amount you get a whole bunch of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and in the case of spirulina and chia seeds you get essential fatty acids (and spirulina does have b12, however it is not a reliable source of b12 for a vegan!) . So yes, these foods are “powerhouses” and packed with nutrients.
However, they are not an essential part of your diet. Or essential to being healthy.
Sweet potatoes may have more vitamin A and C than normal potatoes, but they aren’t necessarily better than regular white potatoes. Read more HERE
Goji berries are claimed to be the most antioxidant berry, however blueberries are just as good and have alot of antioxidants as well. If you live in a country where you can pick blueberries in the nature – then that is a much better option than spending money on goji berries (Unless you like goji berries – then go for it 🙂 Eat them and enjoy them!)
And kale is seen to be the best type of “salad”, however it isn’t better than any other salad… well apart from maybe lettuce which is mostly water and very little nutrients. Infact, eating other darky leafy greens is just as good as eating kale and the fact is that you most likely don’t eat enough kale for it to have any “super effect” on your health. A balanced diet with many other dark leafy vegetables is the best.
What about avocado? Well, i guess you could say i am biased in this one because i LOVE avocado. However, it is also an expensive fruit which you don’t need in your diet. It is rich in vitamins such as vitamin E and monounsaturated fats, however you can also consume nuts or nut butters which are cheaper (in terms of how much you get/servings) or even oil which can give you monounsaturated fats and vitamin E.
The overall advice is a balanced diet with lots of different fruit, vegetables and grains. No one food will make you super healthy or decrease your risk of cancer or depression. No one food will clear your skin and make you always happy.
Instead, an overall balanced diet is key (as well as drinking lots of water, having a regular sleep routine and exercising!!). You don’t need to spend money on expensive and exotic foods if you don’t want to. If you like them and you think they add flavour to your food or just look good on photos – then go for it, it is your money! But know that you don’t have to consume them and that just regular foods like spinach, potatoes, oranges, blueberries nd beetroot with its high amount of nitrates which can lower blood pressure, work just as well for an extra boost of vitamins!
However, i would like to note that certain foods such as spirulina, chia seeds & dark cacao (Or dark chocolate which has antioxidants [and is delicious]) are some good foods to have in your diet – if you can afford them – because of their nutritional density. HOWEVER, just eating a balanced diet is key!!!
Note, i am writing this post because i have been asked to review some “superfood powders” which i will be doing next week! I am looking forward to trying them, however i also feel that as someone who is studying nutrition – i need to make the claim that superfoods aren’t necessarily “better” than other foods and that a balanced and varied diet is key. HOWEVER i personally do consume spirulina weekly and if i find chia seeds or goji berries on sale i do buy and eat them because i like them and their nutritional value and components are very good i.e doesn’t hurt with some extra omega 3 from chia seeds!