Superfoods: Can You Believe the Hype?

Nutrition // Sarah Link // 3 October 2014

 

You’ve heard about superfoods – those magical, mysterious (usually expensive) foods that promise boundless energy, weight loss, a boosted immune system and more. But are they really super? Or just a marketing ploy?

The Australian Science Media Centre looked at whether superfoods are the answer to winter colds and flus, or whether it’s all just marketing hype.

Leading health experts, Dr Rosemary Stanton, a Visiting Fellow at the University of New South Wales School of Medical Sciences and Associate Professor Paul Lewandowski from the School of Medicine at Deakin University shared their opinions, and dispelled many of the myths surrounding this latest fads.

The Superfood Hype

So what’s all the hype around superfoods? Rosemary Stanton says it’s usually due to some clever marketing departments: “Superfoods are basically promoted as a marketing exercise. People are always looking for a magic bullet.”

Rosemary is concerned about the influence superfoods can have on an unbalanced diet. She says the risk is when people eat a ‘superfood’ hoping it will negate poorer food choices. Rosemary and Paul agree that the super-est thing you can do for your body is to nourish it with a balanced diet that’s heavy on fruits, vegies, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Zap Colds and Flu the Healthy Way

When it comes to fighting colds and flu, the experts agree grandma’s good old-fashioned advice is the best. Rosemary says getting some sunshine in winter months, adequate sleep, exercise and washing hands before meals is more important than any specific ‘superfood’ that claims to boost your immune system.

When it comes to fruit and vegies, the main thing is to eat the rainbow. “What we want is for people to eat a whole range of vegies – and certainly different colours! Choose five servings of vegetables a day – that’s the best advice,” says Rosemary.

So get to the market, choose a range of vegies (try a new one!) and play with some new recipes.

Is Chocolate Good for You?

Chocolate has been marketed as an antioxidant-rich superfood (which we can’t complain about), but is it really good for you? Paul says yes, chocolate contains antioxidants, but the benefit isn’t as simple as it seems.

Fact: It’s the cocoa that holds the antioxidants. Next fact: Cocoa and chocolate aren’t the same thing. Says Paul, “Milk chocolate is confectionary, with very low levels of cocoa. Dark chocolate, if consumed in moderation, will not harm you, but there’s no hard evidence it will help your immune system.”

So stick to dark chocolate – with 70% cocoa or above being a good choice – eat it in moderation and balance it with lots of fresh produce and wholefoods.

Superfood Shouldn’t Be Super Expensive

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Mad for maca? Crazy for kombucha? These quirky superfoods may be hot right now, but the real superhero foods that are good for you are ones you’d recognise – and don’t have to spend a packet on. Last year we looked at some popular supermarket superfoods on the 12WBT blog.

Mish explains all in the intro to her Superfoods Cookbook:

“These are the ingredients that really pack a punch in terms of their nutritional content. Incorporated into a healthy, balanced diet, they will help you lose weight, fight disease, increase wellbeing and train more effectively.”

The key is incorporating these superfoods into a diet full of good, healthy foods, and not relying on them solely as a miracle ingredient.

Mish’s Top Superfood Picks

Mish’s Superfoods Cookbook, released this year, shares all her favourite superfoods and recipes. Here are a few of her top picks.

Good-For-You Vegies

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Cauliflower
Most of us avoided this vegie like the plague as a kid, but your mum was right serving it up! It’s got antioxidant AND anti-inflammatory properties, and vitamin B6 that helps brain function.

Brussels Sprouts
Loaded with fibre, brussels sprouts have a high water count which makes them incredibly filling. They can also be used in all sorts of cooking. Plus they’re packed with vitamin C and stacks of protective benefits!

Kale
It seems to be everywhere at the moment – and for good reason! This green leafy vegetable has tonnes of vitamins A and C, plus carotenoids that protect your cells from free radicals.

Fabulous Fruit

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Apples
Yes, the humble apple is definitely what Mish calls a superfood. It’s the ultimate low-calorie snack that is packed with nutrients. Make sure you don’t peel them though, as that’s where most of the nutrients live.

Kiwifruit
Did you know kiwifruit have more vitamin C than oranges?! Add to this lots of fibre and you’ve got a sweet fruit that’s as good for you as it tastes.

Goji Berries:
When Goji berries first came onto the market they WERE expensive and somewhat mysterious, but now these fibre-packed flavour bombs are more affordable and accessible than ever. Sprinkle on oats, cereal or salad!

The Verdict is In
Instead of focusing on a handful of foods that have been deemed ‘super’, increasing the range of nutritious foods in your diet is the way to go. Pair with lots of sleep and exercise and you’ll be fighting fit all year around – even during cold and flu season.

Says Mish: “A healthy, balanced diet rich in wholefoods – with correct portion and ingredient sizes – is the way to go.“

The experts agree! Superfoods alone won’t get you to your goals, but they are a valuable addition to a healthy diet and regular exercise regime.

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