There has been a lot of talk recently about so-called Super Foods. There have been countless studies, television programmes, blogs, articles etc. covering the topic with not much evidence either way.
I wanted to throw my tuppence into the ring and talk about my views on these foods.
Firstly, let’s look at some of the foods which are being classed in this group:
▪ goji berries
▪ oily fish
▪ pomegranate juice
▪ green tea
First up, Blueberries. Blueberries contain vitamin C, fibre, manganese and other antioxidants, they are also a good source of vitamin K. There are claims that blueberries can assist in protecting against heart disease, some cancers and can contribute to the improvement of memory.
Goji berries have been used in Chinese medicine for more than 6,000 years which, one would assume, would mean they have earned their super food label. They are purported to boost brain activity, support a healthy immune system, protect against cancer and heart disease and even increase life expectancy. These little desiccated berries contain vitamin C, vitamin B2, vitamin A, iron, selenium and other antioxidants.
Chocolate (mostly dark chocolate) has been connected with cancer protection and stress relief due to the sources of iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc along with antioxidants contained within cocoa (chocolate in its raw state). The interest in these associations was triggered by studies on peoples of Central America. The Kuna Indians of Panama drink cocoa as their main beverage and have very low blood pressure. This sparked attention as high blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke.
Oily fish has been discussed in the news for a considerable amount of time. Fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are believed to aid against CVD (cardio vascular disease), prostate cancer and age-related diseases such as vision loss and dementia. According to research, Eskimos, who eat mainly oily fish (which contains vitamin D, protein, B vitamins, selenium and is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acid) had fewer than average heart attacks and strokes.
Apparently, wheatgrass has a higher nutritional content than any other vegetable. Purported to protect against inflammation, improve circulation and build red blood cells, it contains chlorophyll, vitamins A, C and E, iron, calcium and magnesium.
Pomegranate; a good source of fibre, vitamins A, C and E, iron and other antioxidants has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Believed to be useful in the prevention of heart disease, high blood pressure, inflammation and some types of cancer.
We’ve all heard about the nutritional benefits of green tea, packed with antioxidants, B vitamins, folates, potassium, magnesium and caffeine. It’s been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine for a whole host of ailments including headaches and depression. More recently it has been associated with aiding weight loss (by boosting metabolism), reducing cholesterol and fighting cardiovascular disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
Broccoli in its many forms has been linked to reducing high blood pressure, fighting cancer, CVD and diabetes. As an excellent source of Vitamins C, A and K, folate, calcium, fibre and beta-carotene, this humble veg is being hailed as a “nutritional showstopper”.
Garlic, famed for its power to repel vampires, contains vitamin C, vitamin B6, manganese, selenium and allicin (an antioxidant). It’s been intimated that it could be a valuable tool against high blood pressure, CVD, cholesterol, colds and even some cancers.
Beetroot has been used historically for medicinal purposes. Containing iron, folate, nitrates and magnesium this earthy purple root was used to treat fevers, constipation and skin problems. More recently it has been linked to lowering blood pressure, enhancing exercise performance and preventing dementia.
At first glance, these health claims are pretty convincing. Who doesn’t want to combat cancer, boost their immune system and protect themselves against age-related diseases? The problem we have, is that not enough research has been done on some of these foods to truly test their status as ‘Super Foods’. When we take goji berries as an example, one of the last studies carried out was in 2008 on a group of only 34 people. Such small test groups do not provide nearly enough scientific evidence to back up claims of these so-called health benefits. Again, with wheatgrass (which many of us have seen in films and TV shows as something that will help in all manner of ailments) has barely had its surface scratched when it comes to scientific evidence. Studies have been carried out, yes, but in such small test groups, that it’s near impossible to support the claims that it is more nutritious than any other fruit and vegetables.
There is, so far, very little evidence that blueberries can prevent or combat cancer, and evidence to support other claims are inconclusive.
Looking at these so-called Super Foods in more detail, I think it’s utterly impossible to label a particular food stuff as ‘super’. When you take a balanced diet at face value, all foods (and I’m even including junk food here) can be considered super. Eating too many of one type of food is detrimental to health; even too much water can kill you. We need to look at foods not in their individual states, but how the inclusion of them into a balanced diet will help you become healthier. Try adding blueberries to your morning porridge or cereal. Have broccoli as an accompaniment to your steak or add it to a stir fry. Throw a shot of wheatgrass into your morning smoothie. Put some pomegranate seeds onto pulled lamb or atop a pavlova, have roasted beetroot alongside your roast potatoes with your Sunday roast. Have some salmon for a weeknight dinner flavoured with green tea!
ALL foods are super in my opinion, if it gives you joy it is super. The trick here is balance everything. Once you’ve got that balance right, you’ll be the one who is super.
*If you want any more information on super foods, take a look at the following page on the NHS website. I have used this for some of my scientific evidence: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/superfoods/Pages/what-are-superfoods.aspx