Are so-called superfoods really a health panacea? Or is it all just baseless marketing?
by Rosie Russell
History has shown that dieting and nutrition fads come and go, but the health craze of the moment is so-called “superfoods”. The term is thrown around so often that it’s difficult to know how much is true and how much is marketing.
A superfood is a food that is meant to have a lot of vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and nutrients in one small amount. It is essentially a “health food” in its natural, unprocessed form.
Lifestyle dietitian at the Nutrition and Wellbeing Clinic in Castle Hill, Marike Joubert, believes the current media spotlight on superfoods is both good and bad.
“Because they’re sensationalised, it helps the general public to become more aware of health foods in general,” Joubert says. “I think the downside to superfoods is that we put certain foods on a pedestal, when in fact all wholefoods are really super.”
In Joubert’s opinion, every natural food that comes from a plant has “super” nutritional benefits, but they help the body most when eaten in combination with other foods, rather than just one superfood eaten by itself.
When recommending a superfood to a client, Joubert prefers chia seeds.
“I think chia seeds are awesome, because it’s a really easy way to get omega-3 fatty acids into your body but also they’re a great source of antioxidants and dietary fibre,” she says.
“They’re really easy to use, you can just put them on your cereal, in a tub of yoghurt, or add them in a stir fry.”
Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, Milena Katz, cautions against buying into the superfoods hype.
“The things that are often labeled in the media as superfoods are not necessarily the bee’s knees, since there are many other foods that are nutritional powerhouses,” Katz says.
“People are wanting a quick fix. They think ‘if I eat superfoods, all of my transgressions with alcohol, drugs or bad food are going to be wiped out’.”
Katz believes that the term “superfoods” can be misleading for that very reason, implying images of superpowers and superheroes. The key to a healthy, ‘super’ diet is in variety – the more, the better, and Ms Joubert agrees.
“No single food can supply all the nutrients your body needs,” Joubert says.
“There’s no single fix-it-all food or ingredient or magic bullet that can just fix all our ailments and all our diseases. It’s a variety of unrefined wholefoods eaten in their natural form, which provides us with optimal health.”
Walking down any supermarket health food aisle, it is obvious to see that the prices go up as soon as a food is labeled as organic or a superfood.
However, Katz believes that the nutritional benefits found in a superfood can easily be found in everyday fruits and vegetables.
Goji berries are full of antioxidants and can easily be found in a health food shop with an expensive price tag. But Katz advises that more antioxidants can be found in red apples, at a fraction of the price.
“They cost a lot of money and there’s actually other foods that are just as important, that have just as much of the same nutrients, and would be a lot cheaper to buy.”
Ms Joubert, on the other hand, suggests buying in bulk, especially with a family, and making sure to store them properly and effectively.
“Being clever on how you store your wholefoods is going to be important too, so the nutrients that you’re trying to get from the food is maintained and captured and not reduced over time,” Joubert says.
“I really want to emphasise that it is variety, not a sole food or ingredient, that’s going to do the trick.”
What do the professionals think?
Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia
To achieve a balanced and healthy diet, you should be eating 30 to 40 different types of food in a week. While food like sweet potato is great because of its low GI, it is better to eat a variety. Try regular potato, zucchini, corn and a whole range of vegetables.
Lifestyle Dietitian from the Nutrition and Wellbeing Clinic
Instead of eating a few different superfoods alone, make a colourful salad with all different types of vegies, some roasted seeds and a splash of olive oil. All these different nutrients can provide a lot more power and protection than when eaten alone.
Beware of salmon, which has been labeled as a superfood but isn’t always one. When salmon are farmed, their omega-3 content is a lot lower than the Atlantic salmon that