What’s so Super about “Superfoods”?

Last updated: 18-Aug-15

Written by Sports Dietician Rin Cobb

What do you think about kale smoothies, should I use cacao over cocoa and what exactly is maca powder? Answering nutrition queries is part and parcel of my daily dietician duties but increasingly these foodie requests are about specific self proclaimed “superfoods”. 

“Superfoods” are described as those that are generally low in calories but high in certain nutrients such as antioxidants and omega 3s and which claim to have additional health benefits. Some of the more common foods that have been elevated to this grand status are blueberries, kale, quinoa, goji berries and more recently chia seeds.  So are these foods all they’re made out to be or are they overrated?

There is no denying these foods are nutritious in their own right, however when it comes to their reported ‘super’ powers the evidence is somewhat lacking. Of those studies that show some glimmers of possibility in protecting against heart disease, cancer and improving immunity if you look closer, these are largely small scale using highly concentrated forms of the nutrient in question which is not what you get behind the counter of your local juice bar.

The EU has banned health claims on packaging unless they’re supported by scientific evidence which is perhaps where the term “superfood” originated from as it makes you believe it’s better for you without stating specific health claims and with no official definition of what constitutes a “superfood”; manufacturers and celebrities alike can use it as they see fit. 

So if these foods are full of goodness, does it matter what title they come with as long as people are including them in their diet? The food industry wants you to believe that eating certain foods or products will help you on your quest to immortality in one way or another as quite simply it’s better for business. Superfoods quite often come with an inflated price tag and need to be bought often to get that daily fix however “superfoods” will not make up for a poor diet and so can be hugely misleading. 

Whilst many of these foods can be included as part of a nourishing and balanced diet, there are also a number of products that have jumped on the “superfood” band wagon and I don’t know about you but I struggle to keep up with what this weeks must have food is, not to mention whether I can really justify the expense for a few grams of powder that I don’t even know what to do with. Take Maca powder for example, promoted for its energy wielding properties and nutritious composition of calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphate. Arguably its high carbohydrate content is what wields the energy and the other listed nutrients are commonly found in milk so do you really need to add in an overpriced powder that’s travelled half way round the world when your normal diet can and most likely is already providing these nutrients?

So my parting point to you is there is no such thing as a “superfood” per se and ultimately it’s your choice whether you buy into the latest in-vogue food but just remember a few nutritious foods will not make up for an overall poor diet and it’s well within your right to question any self-proclaimed benefits. Do you have a so-called “superfood” you’d like reviewed?

"There is no denying these foods are nutritious in their own right, however when it comes to their reported ‘super’ powers the evidence is somewhat lacking"

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