Superfoods – what’s all the hype about?

superfood

Superfoods are foods that are thought to have high nutrient density relative to their size and / or calorie count. They contain a large amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Certain foods given the title of being a superfood have been linked to having the ‘power’ to improve health or prevent disease. Are they really worth the hype? Not entirely. The term should be taken lightly, as it is important to be aware that there is no one single food that can achieve optimal health and disease prevention.

In recent years, the term has been used from more of a marketing rather than a nutrition perspective to shape food trends and sell products – this can explain the manner in which the claims are portrayed. In addition, there is no legal definition for classification, which begs the question.

However, despite the dubious nature of some of the claims, said superfoods are often nutrient powerhouses. They continue to trend and so in light of this, we’ve rounded up 5 of the most popular superfoods and why they’ve gained this status.

Top 5 superfoods

Goji berries – the brightly coloured Asian berries have been li nked to improved eye-health, protection against age-related disease due to the high levels of antioxidants they contain, zeaxanthin in particular.

Acai berries – commonly feature on many trendy brunch spot menus. It has been suggested they have antioxidant properties (1) – meaning they work to protect the body from damage caused by free radicals.

Cacao powder – has been crowned the superfood of all superfoods. It is said to have the highest amount of magnesium, whilst also being full of antioxidants, as well as zinc, calcium, copper and selenium.

Moringa – the leaves of the moringa plant are said to be fantastic sources of protein, vitamins B6, B2 and C, in addition to iron and magnesium. Moringa has been attributed to reducing cholesterol and may also reduce inflammation (2). It is often sold in either capsule or powder form.

Spirulina – is a very popular superfood that has been consumed for years as it is deemed to have a high nutritional value, with suggested health benefits such as boosting the immune system and reducing cholesterol.

Although many of the claims regarding superfoods have some scientific backing, it should be said that a lot of the research is in early stages. More should be carried out across wider groups of the population and under different circumstances before more substantial claims can be made.

How can diet quality be improved?

These nutrient-dense foods should be included as part of a healthy balanced diet, rather than focussing on the odd one or two and expecting to reap the suggested benefits.

Overall diet quality can be improved by making a few small changes. E.g.  focus on improving the colour profile of your plate. Filling your plate with vibrant veggies, will ensure your meal is not only appealing to the eye, but also for your health. This can be done by either adding to curries, sauces or stews or on the side. Adding fruit such as berries to smoothies, porridge, overnight oats or home-made baked goods is another easy way of packing in extra nutrients.

Do you need supplements?

No! Focus on consuming a varied diet comprising of a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, good quality protein, adequate carbohydrates and healthy fats.  

Supplements should not be used as a base for the diet and should always be considered a supplement not a substitute for food. Opting for whole food sources not only provides you with the desired vitamins and minerals, but also other beneficial dietary components such as fibre which is extremely important for optimal health.

To conclude, although many superfoods are nutritious, they do not need to be put on the pedestal for the claims made around them. Instead, focus on consuming a varied diet based on whole foods with minimal processed foods rather than focussing on current trends.

1. Barbosa, P., Pala, D., Silva, C., de Souza, M., do Amaral, J., Vieira, R., Folly, G., Volp, A. and de Freitas, R. (2016). Açai ( Euterpe oleracea Mart. ) pulp dietary intake improves cellular antioxidant enzymes and biomarkers of serum in healthy women. Nutrition, 32(6), pp.674-680.

2. Vergara-Jimenez, M., Almatrafi, M. and Fernandez, M. (2017). Bioactive Components in Moringa Oleifera Leaves Protect against Chronic Disease. Antioxidants, 6(4), p.91.

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