Superfoods: Myth or Marvel?

There seems to be a new superfood grabbing headlines every week. With eye-catching claims of providing “all the essential vitamins and nutrients”, it’s easy to be persuaded into splashing out on packets of powders which will supposedly transform your health and fitness. But do they really deliver on their promises?

The hashtag #superfood currently has close to 2 million posts on Instagram and over 20 million results on Google; clearly there is a lot of attention surrounding these dietary supplements. It is certainly “trendy” to eat salads, smoothie bowls, cereals and soups, all of which claim to be full of superfoods, but I am skeptical as to how many of these foods are truly beneficial.

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Take chia seeds for example, they are often purported to be incredibly healthy due to their omega-3 content. However, I am fairly certain that the majority of people aren’t aware that the form of these omega-3 fatty acids is ALA (alpha-linoleic acid), which humans cannot process and absorb efficiently. We can only convert about 8% of ALA to DHA (docosahexaenoic acid); the beneficial form which maintains healthy functioning of the nervous system and provides anti-inflammatory benefits1. Chia seeds do provide a high amount of fibre and an acceptable amount of protein, but they are not the superfood I choose in order to help keep my omega-6:omega-3 ratio balanced.

Although supposed superfoods such as berries, quinoa, nuts and seeds possess some beneficial properties, I believe they are frequently exaggerated, even sugar-coated!

My superfood choices

  • Oily fish > chia seeds – EPA and DHA are found in animal sources, making them a more efficient sources of omega-3 fats2.
  • Chocolate > berries – Blueberries are famous for their polyphenol content, but not wanting to eat a lot of fruit daily, dark chocolate is my favourite source of polyphenols and antioxidants3.
  • High quality fats – I rarely read that high-quality fats are superfoods, which is not surprising since many still believe fat is the devil’s food. But let us not forget that Eve ate from the forbidden fruit tree, not a pot of ghee.
  • Steamed leafy green vegetables > raw kale smoothies – Most cafés have jumped on the bandwagon, offering raw juices and smoothies. A green drink in hand often suggests optimal health. But, consumption of raw brassicas such as kale can disrupt thyroid function4; not quite so trendy.
  • Avocados > sugary fruits – I use avocados over apples for energy-boosts as they are very low in sugar and high in fat, a ratio that prevents energy-crashes.
  • Bulletproof Coffee > pressed juices – Although pressed juices likely contain high amounts of antioxidants, I have yet to find a drink as satiating as Bulletproof Coffee. It provides me with optimal focus and energy, sustaining me until I eat lunch, which is when I pack in my antioxidants and micronutrients.
  • Spirulina – I have only started using spirulina recently, mainly for boosted energy and to help detoxification5. Having researched it thoroughly I believe it can work wonders.

I agree that some superfoods are, indeed, “super” due to their numerous health benefits but it is always worth taking the time to research how much of a superfood you would have to eat to obtain the benefits, and at what cost.

 

G.

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