Is The SUPER Behind Superfoods Even Necessary? - We Call BS On Some Common Beliefs Behind Superfoods
Feel like every second day you are hearing about a new superfood and how it will bestow miraculous health benefits? From kale to acai, from broccoli to some other Amazonian nut that has been blessed by a monk, kissed by virgins and grown in a serene environment so that the energy balances harmoniously with yours. Ok, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, and don't get me wrong - the monk-blessed plant sounds amazing, but I do get a bit weary of some of the health claims that seem to pop up surrounding things that are labelled as superfoods.
I have to be honest, I refused to eat kale for the longest time because it seemed to be the trendy food that appeared in smoothies of the self-righteous. I might add that this opinion was not necessarily correct and now I eat and grow kale, but this is often my reaction to intense marketing around health products or foods. I'm hesitant to jump on a bandwagon just because it's full of people! What can I say – I’m stubborn sometimes and when it comes to nutrition I don’t like being told what to do by the media!
So seriously – what’s the deal with superfoods?
What Is A Superfood?
If you’ve followed our weight management blogs then you know that I have a bit of an issue with foods being labelled as “good” foods and “bad” foods because of the underlying subtle message that this sends. If you eat a “bad” food does that make you a “bad” person? Food is just food. There are definitely foods that help our bodies function better than others but this doesn’t warrant casting a judgement on it. With this in mind, you can imagine how sceptical I am of describing a food as super! If I eat it will I put my undies on the outside, wear a cape and start saving the world? (My kids would love that!)
With this thought at the forefront, I thought that I should look the definition up so we know exactly what we are dealing with here…….
According to the Oxford Dictionary a superfood is;
“a nutrient–rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being.”
Ummmmmmm... that sounds kind of like all unprocessed food to me. Fibre, fat, vitamins and minerals in fruit and vegies; protein, vitamins, minerals and fat in animal products; protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals and fat in legumes, nuts, seeds and grains. Everything that is “especially beneficial for health and well-being” is present in all of those foods! In addition to this, and on the basis of the definition, water would also be considered a superfood.
By far the most common nutritional recommendation that I make to clients is to eat more vegetables. In fact, four out of five of us don’t get near the recommended amount of five serves a day and to be honest, that recommendation is just a baseline. So frankly I don’t really care if there is a superfood in the mix of veggies that are eaten daily because most of us just need to focus on eating them... daily!
Is it all marketing hype?
Truthfully, I have to answer that as a yes and a no.
There is absolutely no doubt that a whole food diet that consists of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds that have not been processed will help our body function at its best. If we are really looking to improve health then this is where we have to start. Does it have to be called super? Maybe. Do we really need to compare one nutritious food to the other? For me that’s kind of like someone asking me to pick my favourite child. Sometimes I couldn’t choose and sometimes it's just the one that's being better behaved! (needless to say, occasionally its neither child and the dog is my favourite but sssshhhhhh, don’t tell them that…)
What I'm getting at there is that the word super is just as useful a descriptive word for food as good, bad and the ugly. Food should nourish our body, and just because it's doing that job, doesn't mean we have to label it anything more or less than healthy food.
We do also have to recognise that we live in a capitalist society where companies are driven to make a profit (in fact for corporations its written in corporation law – they are required to act in the best interests of their shareholders). It's important that we hold this firmly in our mind when we are viewing marketing claims. When we talk about superfoods, in supplements in particular, I would encourage you to remember that someone is going to make money out of it.
Do superfoods have a downside?
Well yes, for everything there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Sometimes we need to look at how food arrives to us and how far it’s come; aka the sustainability of the food source. What if the superfood had actually been grown in another country by underpaid or exploited workers, transported to us using fossil fuels and stored in controlled atmosphere warehouses (where there are higher levels of carbon dioxide and lower levels of oxygen to slow deterioration) and perhaps sprayed with methyl bromide to comply with import regulations.
Doesn’t sound so super to me anymore.
I understand just as much as the next busy person that within our busy world it’s hard to get to local growers markets where we know the origin and age of our food. To be honest, there are times where I high five myself when I manage to just get vegetables on the table for dinner! Nevertheless, simple things we can do is look at country of origin labels at the supermarket to pick something grown in Australia, and try to pick fresh, seasonal fruit and veggies (or ones that have been snap frozen). This way we have a better chance at eating fruit and veggies that are fresher and have used less fuels to get to us.
Even when things are SUPER, one-size never fits all.
I know people who react badly to broccoli. If you google a list of superfoods I guarantee you that broccoli is on every single one of them. We need to recognise how individual we all are.
There is no blanket list of foods that we could recommend to everyone because we are all different.
This is one of the reasons that we provide individualised nutrition plans to our clients at Verve. We determine the foods that are compatible to our bodies through hair testing and we can also determine which foods our bodies have an immune reaction to through IgG testing. Beyond the testing, what we encourage our clients to do is to tune back into their own body signals. Our bodies give us clues to how well it responds to different foods all the time, but with the hustle and bustle of life and the intense marketing we are subjected to, we don’t always take the time to notice these signs.
At the end of the day there is no magic bullet to good health. No one superfood can transform us from unhealthy to healthy.
Health is made up of a collection of habits that encompass our whole lifestyle, of which just one is food.
We have a freebie little ebook, 7 Habits For A Healthier Life, which is a great start. Coming in to see us is an even better one.
Look forward to seeing you at the clinic.
Wendy Burke, (Naturopath, Nutritionist, Personal Trainer (lover of ALL food!))