Not so super ‘superfoods': From quinoa to blueberries – why they aren’t as good for us as we think
- Two-thirds of people admitted buying thing because of ‘superfood’ tags
- While three in ten agreed the products are ‘proven to be good for them’
- And 14 per cent said they were willing to pay more for the superfoods
- Nutrition scientist Duane Mellor called superfoods ‘marketing gimmicks’
It is enough to make you choke on your quinoa, curly kale and chia seed salad.
Many so-called superfoods don’t live up to the marketing hype, research has revealed.
In fact, in many cases, everyday foods as oranges and Brussels sprouts are just as good for us – and far cheaper.
This week’s New Scientist says that while many foods claim to have miraculous health-giving properties, there is precious little evidence to back it up.
Nutrition scientist Duane Mellor said: ‘Superfoods are marketing gimmicks.’
Foods such as goji berries can cause a host of problems from thyroid malfunction to arthritis flare-ups, nutritionist Dr Petronella Ravenshear claimed
With almost two-thirds of Britons admitting to buying superfoods and many saying they were willing to pay more for the privilege, the science magazine decided to see if they were getting their money’s worth.
Foods from goji berries to quinoa, coconut water and beetroot juice were put under the microscope.
The claims made about them were picked apart, their nutritional values were compared with those of less exotic fare and experts’ opinions were sought.
Few of the foods had exceptional qualities.
For instance, goji berries, red, raisin-sized fruits that have long been part of Chinese medicine are said to boost immunity, pep up libido and protect against heart disease and cancer, are a popular snack among the health conscious.
New Scientist says: ‘But Chinese medicine also prizes ground-up rhino horn – and there is precious little research identifying the supposedly unique active ingredients in goji berries, never mind measuring their health benefits.’
While quinoa was found to cut cholesterol and help people lose weight, the numbers involved were so small that it is hard to draw firm conclusions, they said
Gogi berries are feted as being rich in zeaxanthin, a compound linked to keeping ageing eyes healthy.
WHAT IS THE TRUTH BEHIND THE ‘SUPERFOODS’
The claim: Boost immunity, pep up libido and protect against heart disease and cancer
The verdict: Just a berry
The claim: Nature’s sports drink, it rapidly rehydrates
The verdict: No better than water
The claim: Packed with health and brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids
The verdict: Good but salmon is better
The claim: Cuts cholesterol, helps with weight loss
The verdict: Eat it if you like it but not for health benefits
The claim: Cuts risk of cancer, particularly in the gut and lungs
The verdict: Brussels sprouts are better
Wheatgrass juice shots
The claim: Floods the tissues with life-giving oxygen
The verdict: Whole shot of nonsense
The claim: Boosts energy and immunity
The verdict: Nothing you can’t get elsewhere
The claim: Chemicals in cocoa beans regulate blood pressure
The verdict: Fine occasionally but no health reason to gorge
The claim: Cut the risk of heart disease
The verdict: No better than many other berries
The claim: Lowers blood pressure and revs up metabolism
The verdict: Good stuff, just don’t overdo it
But Catherine Collins, a dietician at St George’s hospital in London, said: ‘Other foods that will have exactly the same effects are far cheaper.
‘If its zeaxanthin you are after, you can get your fill from leafy veg such as spinach and cabbage or from yellow peppers.’
Coconut water, the clear liquid tapped from young green coconuts that has been dubbed ‘nature’s sports drink’ and is one of the trendiest drinks on the market.
But studies show it to be no better than water.
Chia seeds, one of the trendiest superfoods, were also found to be not so super.
It is claimed they are packed with omega-3 fatty acids – healthy fats that ward off heart disease and depression.
However, unlike the omega-3 in oily fish, the fats in the seeds need to be processed by the before they help the heart.
This means that weight for weight, salmon is a better source of the compounds.
And while some research has found quinoa to cut cholesterol and help people lose weight, the numbers involved were so small that it is hard to draw firm conclusions.
In any case, washing quinoa before eating it means some of the key chemicals go down the drain.
Kale is also questioned, with Brussel sprouts a richer source of glucosinolates, bitter-tasting chemicals said to fight cancer.
Wheatgrass juice, a dark green liquid squeezed from young shoots of wheat, is meant to flood the tissues with health and life-giving oxygen.
But the investigation has declared this was a ‘whole shot of nonsense’.
Baobab powder, made from the fruit of an African tree and said to boost energy and immunity is also deemed to be nothing special.
Chocoholics also need to take note, with any health benefits of feasting on dark chocolate needing to be weighed against the damage done by its fat and sugar content.
Even the blueberry, the original superfood, doesn’t escape criticism.
For the blueberry chemical that is said to protect the heart actually struggles to make it into the blood stream.
One superfood did make the grade – the humble beetroot.
Blueberries – which are frequently marketed as ‘superfoods’ – are sold everywhere we look with the promise of beating deadly diseases
The nitrates in beetroot are said to lower blood pressure and rev up the metabolism and studies seem to back up the claims.
However, beetroot consumption comes with a health warning – in high quantities it may fuel gastric cancer.
New Scientist states: ‘You don’t have to shop at Whole Foods or hang on to Gwyneth Paltrow’s every word to have heard the buzz about exotic-sounding seeds that replenish your energy and make you glow or obscure berries from afar that disease-proof your organs.
‘Reliable, long-term studies to support most claims are thin on the ground.
‘Most claims you hear refer to cell our mouse studies and should be taken with a hefty pinch of salt.