Ailsa Brogan-Hewitt

The Truth about 'Superfoods'

The superfood trend is bigger than ever, the word ‘superfood’ is thrown around like confetti and it’s hailed as a miracle cure for your health. It’s claimed that these foods can super-charge your diet, lower your risk of disease, give you more energy and boost your mood. There are also claims from the food industry that eating some foods can slow down the ageing process, lift depression, boost our physical ability, and even our intelligence. So where’s the evidence? (a question we must always ask when it comes to radical food claims). In short, there isn’t any yet.

There is no official definition of a “superfood”, so much so that the EU has banned health claims on packaging unless those claims are supported by scientific evidence. It is simply a PR term designed to make us feel like if we’re not eating them we’re not being as healthy as we can be. Many of us want to believe (or rather the food industry want us to believe) that eating a single fruit or vegetable containing a certain antioxidant will instantly kill a diseased cell. However, the problem is that most research on superfoods is carried out on the chemicals and extracts in concentrations of food, not in the food in its natural state. For example, garlic contains a nutrient alleged to help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, but we’d have to eat up to 28 cloves a day to match the doses used in a lab.

Foods that have been tagged to the superfood status in recent years include those rich in antioxidants (such as beta-carotene, vitamins A, C, E, flavanoids and selenium) and omega-3 fatty acids. Antioxidants are chemicals thought to protect against the harmful effects of free radicals (which are chemicals naturally produced in every living cell and known to cause cell damage). However, evidence about this and other health benefits of antioxidants is inconclusive. In a review the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) found “no evidence that the antioxidant action on free radicals observed in the lab was of any benefit to human health.”

Most foods which are branded a “superfood” are pretty expensive too, but if you enjoy them and can afford them, then they are usually a pretty great addition to your diet. However, all vegetables fruits are super. We don’t need trend based or expensive foods in our diet to make it healthy or balanced. And in fact, the NHS say: “while the concept of “miracle foods” remains a fantasy, it’s pretty well-established that obesity and alcohol are the two most common causes of major long-term illness and increased risk of premature death.”

So what is the best food to eat to stay healthy? A balance of all foods, even the ones that are deemed not as nutritious as others are completely fine in moderation. Head to the NHS website to find out more about what constitutes as a healthy balanced diet.

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