Superfoods – Nutrional Powerhouses or Media Fantasy?

“Superfoods”- a label that has become about as recognised as “hashtag” and “lol” in recent years, but with the issue that noone really seems to knows how it can be defined. Obviously, there are definitions, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are fully adopted – so much so that the EU has banned health claims on any packaging without specific scientific evidence. You’d be alright in this case if you are an academic in this field as food brands have boosting their funding in order to research the health benefits of their products, making them more sellable.

You know when a post has been sitting in your drafts folder forever and you keep meaning to finish it but never quite get around to it. Well, this is one of them.

It’s not that it doesn’t interest me, the idea of superfoods has always grabbed my attention, but as with a lot of fads, I can’t help but be dubious of their actual benefit over other foods that don’t make the cut. Now I’m no nutritionist, and this is just my own personal thought process on the debate, so please don’t take umbrage if you sit on one side of the argument far more than the other.

Whilst many of us want to believe that eating more of a single miracle food will make us thinner/healthier/happier, but is that really the case?

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Nutritional Powerhouse

We are continuously encouraged to eat more healthily, and this is never a bad thing. Therefore, finding ways of including  more blueberries, kale and goji berries in our diets will provide benefits – especially if they’re replacing fattier, sugary snacks. We’ve had the 5 a day rule drilled into us for our entire lives, and in some countries it’s been increased to 7  a day, with the widespread belief that for optimum nutrition, we should even aim for 10! I think I’d have to continuously be munching on veggies if I were going to manage 10 portions, but maybe that’s the bit we’re missing out on? Whilst some fruits and vegetables and other foods do have higher nutritional content than their counterparts, or provide specific benefit, having a varied and colourful diet is surely the most important thing, regardless if they are considered “super” or not.

I find interest in particular age old remedies built around the properties of certain foods. Honey for hayfever and sore throats, ginger for sickness and muscle aches, peppermint for bloating and sore stomaches. We often reach for certain foods without giving two thoughts where we learnt why they self medicate us (as a child with tooth ache I certainly did not enjoy chewing on cloves!). Yet this is also proof that some foods provide us with the nutritional benefit of certain vitamins and minerals that combat specific areas of our body.

However, there are many fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds that don’t necessarily sit under the “superfood” category that still provide specific value. Perhaps part of this craze of labelling certain food types isn’t just about nutritional benefit, but more about ways to sell certain ingredients?

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Media Fantasy

Some of the most common “superfoods”  that I have noticed recently booming in the media are listed below:

  • Berries – blueberries, goji, acai, raspberries (espeically in their keytone format)…
  • Pomegranates
  • Coconut oil
  • Spirulina and wheatgrass
  • Cacao
  • Chia and flax seeds
  • Pulses and grains – lentils, chick peas, quinoa,
  • Oily Fish – Salmon, mackerel, sardines…
  • Greens – Kale, Broccoli, Spinach, Chard
  • Oats
  • Green Tea
  • Garlic
  • Intense coloured vegetables – beetroots, sweet potatoes…

I could definitely go on…

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When I was offered to try out some of the Bioglan superfoods product range I was intrigued. Their Green Boost powder consists of barleygrass , chorella, kale, wheatgrass, spirulina and spinach. Pretty green going…!! I agree that having nearly 33% protein is a good thing, and plenty of vitamin B12, I don’t agree with anything claiming to “detox” your blood – especially as your kidneys do a pretty neat job of this on their own! I added it to a green smoothie which avoided anything too sweet. This was a mistake as it ended up just tasting of kale.

The Supergreens powder tastes better than the green boost and has a tropical flavour when mixed just with water. The list of ingredients is huge (81 in total!) with what they describe as “a rainbow of vitamins and minerals”. I’m sure it’s a pretty good vitamin boost when it’s drunk (imagine it like a less sugary version of berrocca), but their claims to the equivalent of all 5 portions of fruit and veg make me dubious as surely you don’t get the fibre content you’d also require from eating whole raw fruit rather than dried and powdered?

Raaw juice in Berry Blast had the best taste of all three “superfoods” powders, and dilutes to something reminiscent of squash. It doesn’t make the same claims as the other two powders, and instead is just a powdered version of 100% natural berries. Perhaps a good way to get some extra nutrients from so called “superfoods” but I still was eager to find out a bit more.

Once embarking on this post I wanted to do some research to see what the “official” guidelines say. For instance, this is what the NHS’ stance on superfoods is and the full article can be found on their website here.

NHS guidelines

Interesting huh?

There’s also recently been some really great programs on superfoods such as Channel 4s “Superfoods – The Real Story” which is a great watch and is still available on 4OD here. With more and more healthy eating gurus releasing recipe books and informing us of what we should and shouldn’t be eating to stay healthy, its no wonder its a minefield that seems to utterly contradict itself. I particularly enjoyed Vlogger Grace victory’s short program “Clean Eating’s Dirty Secrets” that you can watch here.

Whilst I definitely don’t think we should encourage people to be put off eating a varied and interesting diet filled with a balance of all food groups (YES including carbs and sugar…!), the bit where it all seems to go wrong is when you try and take one major group out of the mix and fill it back up instead with something you’d seen worked for X number of people on instagram. At the end of the day, healthy foods are good for you, and increasing amounts of the list above into your diet will be likely to provide you plenty of nutrients and vitamins. Topping up your vitamin content with powders and multivitamins probably isn’t going to do you any harm either, but it’s still far cheaper and tastier to obtain a full range from your everyday diet.

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The truth is, when companies discriminate  some foods over others as “superfoods” that are promising to rid you of antioxidents and clear you of every ailment going, I still just believe is just yet another way to get you to buy their product.

Special thanks also goes to Jordan Woods for his photography skills – I was silly and left my camera in Plymouth so he did me a favour and helped me shoot this post. He’s a seriously awesome photographer, check out his work here

*The products featured in this post were provided for the purposes of a review, but all opinions are my own*