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Are superfoods really super?

Miracle foods and dietary crazes fill the headlines and social media. From promising cures for diseases to holding the secret to rapid weight loss, it seems we are desperate to believe that there is a short cut to these alleged health benefits.

Worryingly we are brainwashed to believe that if it is expensive, it must be better or healthier for us – and the economic inequalities within society mean that relatively few can afford to access these healthy options.

Let us look for example at SUPERFOODS.

“Superfoods” as a category refer to a group of health foods with claims that they fight cancer or slow ageing. A starting point to understanding this would be to look at what we actually mean by the term “superfood” In some cases, the meaning seems intuitive and sounds ‘good for us’ because it contains antioxidants, anti-inflammatories or vitamins.

Actually, superfoods aren’t generally nutritionally superior - it’s the phytochemicals, (which means “chemicals made from plants”) contained within the foods, that make them beneficial through their biological action on our health. These phytochemicals, with the ability to lower blood pressure, for example, are considered to be added benefits, but are not absolutely essential to survive.

However, the vast majority of studies on many phytochemicals were conducted in cell cultures or animals, and not in humans. It is also impossible to separate the effect of a specific molecule from the other phytochemicals contained in these foods.

We eat foods, of course, and not isolated chemical compounds. And so, translating the results obtained from laboratory studies of a specific molecule into dietary advice often makes little sense.

The term “superfood” is not in fact used by scientists but has been exploited by the media and by marketing agencies. Indeed, the use of the term “superfood” in marketing or in packaging is actually prohibited in the European Union.

With so little good evidence to support the claims about so-called superfoods, perhaps we should be asking whether we are just paying for overpriced food just because we want to believe in the marketing hype?

So, in essence, superfoods may not indeed be so unique. In a separate blog, I look at some of the foods that, whilst being healthy, may not justify their superfood status.

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