Super foods OR super myth

Superfoods: myth or miracle?
I think one of my new year’s resolutions should have been to not tell people – when out in social situations – that I am a nutritional therapist. I guess that means to become a liar? As soon as I admit my vocation, I frequently find myself listening to people’s nutritional woes, practically giving mini consultations when I’m effectively ‘off duty’. And quite frankly there is a time and a place to talk bowels and bloating. More often I’m asked quick fire questions such as ‘can cherry juice really help my insomnia?’ or ‘will green tea help me loose weight?’ or ‘what foods are real superfoods?’ So here is a little note about the latter.
The term ‘superfood’ is applied to foods with an above average number of disease-fighting-antioxidants. Experts believe that a diet rich in these foods will improve your overall health. The sentiment is true – antioxidants are important in disease prevention and overall health – but when most of the products heralded as superfoods are charged at premium prices, are we right to be slightly dubious as to whether the actual claims such as (‘broccoli may undo diabetes damage’) are legitimate or is it all just a clever marketing ploy?
In 2007, EU legislation banned the use of the term ‘superfood’ on packaging unless it is accompanied by convincing research. But this ban hasnt stopped the media continuing to hail a new superfood on an almost weekly basis. If we believed everything we read, we might think that a diet of curry, wine and chocolate is the secret to eternal life!
The facts about the latest dietary discoveries are rarely as simple as the attention grabbing headlines imply and to accurately test how one food may affect our health is arduous and complex. There is no real harm in the superfood claims if they get us eating more nutritious food but it’s important to remember that the studies behind the claims are riddled with limitations, bias and confounding factors. For example, the effects of a particular potent property is likely to have been carried out in a test tube or on an animal. Our bodies act very differently to a test tube or a mouse. Certain vitamins, such as Vitamin C for example, are water soluble and any excess our body does not require is excreted in our urine. Therefore once you have hit your daily remit, it doesnt matter how many blueberries you guzzle, the vitamin C will be flushed away. Much like the £4 you spent on the punnet of them in the first place.
Here is the lowdown on a few of the classics.
GREEN TEA: there is some evidence that green tea helps heart health but the links to weight loss and cancer are contradictory. It will certainly help you remain hydrated and as it’s calorie free it’s a good alternative to tea with milk if you are dieting.
● GOJI BERRIES: The test that marked Goji berries No1 on the antioxidant scale (ORAC)were done in test tubes and doesn’t reflect what happens in the human body. The vitamin content of Goji berries are high but you would have to consume a huge quantity to make a significant difference.
COCONUT WATER: Claims to be more hydrating than water. There are some vitamins and minerals in coconut water but it is not a particularly rich source. And as for being more hydrating than water – that’s actually impossible.
EDAMAME BEANS: There is no evidence that they can help you loose weight. They are high in fibre, especially soluble fibre, which can help lower cholesterol levels.
The message is really this: it’s great to include these foods as part of an all round healthy diet as long as you dont expect any overnight miracles. Eat a balanced diet with a range of foods to ensure you get enough of the nutrients your body needs. Limiting your intake of alcohol and high fat, high sugar, salty and processed foods and regular exercise are also important.

For more nutrition advice with Jo Lewin go to Breathe London nutrition



Posted on March 5, 2012, in Physical Therapies and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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