The ‘Superfood’ label is taking over the world one dish at a time, with quinoa, kale, goji berries, chia seeds and coconut oil leading the way. People spend and consume a large amount on these superfoods in the hope that it will cure diseases including cancers, but unfortunately there isn’t a lot of scientific evidence to back these super claims.
There is a lot of evidence showing that a balanced diet that includes a range of food groups including grains, veggies, fruits, dairy, meat and meat alternatives, are not only cheap to buy but can also significantly improve your overall health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases and certain cancers. This information doesn’t hit the press that often.
To find some examples of foods categorised as ‘Super’ we explore some of the myths.
Can they really protect against heart disease and certain cancers and boost immunity? The research performed on these berries is very small scale, with specific concentrated extracts and not conclusive on a large scale. Research has shown that eating two serves a day (1 serve is half a cup or 2 small fruits) of colourful fruits in your diet is beneficial to health and vital for keeping your immune system running effectively. You will be lucky to buy a 1kg bag of goji berries for under $50, yet for the same price you could buy a large variety of fruits from the supermarket or local market.
Chia seeds have been hyped by a range of A-list celebrities who promote their health benefits from the perspective of high omega-3 content. The omega-3 you get from them isn’t as bioavailable as oily fish, which research has shown time and time again to have signification impact in reducing risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Flax seeds also have a similar nutrition profile to chia seeds but are three times cheaper, however to release some of the omega-3 goodness inside they need to be blended or ground down before consuming.
Kale and spinach are getting a lot of hype currently for their nutritional properties, and we believe that any consumption of dark green leafy veg is a good thing. Enjoy them in smoothies, salads, steamed or oven cooked. If you are looking for cheaper alternatives try lettuce, Brussels or Swiss chard – all have a similar nutrition profile and are cheaper when in season.
Coconut oil is everywhere nowadays. It has had so much press in the last few years due to the paleo diet explosion, but is it as good as we think it is? To call coconut oil a superfood is a dangerous title, as coconut oil has a high saturated fat content, which when consumed in large amounts can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. The field of research involving coconut oil has shown some benefits seen in improving skin care, antifungal properties and is a stable oil to use for cooking, however overconsumption can cause weight gain and increased risk of heart disease and stroke. The heart foundation advise using unsaturated oils such as virgin olive oil as an alternative to high saturated fat oils, which research has shown to improve our heart health alongside a healthy balanced diet. In comparison per 100g coconut oil has 86g of saturated compared to 14g for olive oil, as well as being cheaper per 100ml.
Quinoa sales have sky rocketed after the United Nations declared 2013 as ‘International Year of Quinoa’. The majority of its production is from Bolivia and Peru, France and the US. However there are some real pluses to Quinoa, as its original popularity across the world reduced food insecurities in certain countries suffering malnutrition such as Niger and Chad. Quinoa is able to grow in areas of drought and poor soil and does bring to the table a range of nutritional benefits such as good protein content, plus it's high in fibre, healthy fats and minerals. Unfortunately due to the recent high demand for Quinoa the price per kg is now too high for locals who produce it to purchase it, and so food insecurities have started to rise again.
So the next time you are encouraged to buy a ‘superfood’ for its supposed health benefits, try check the information with your local health care professional to get an evidence-based opinion.