Walk into a health food store or general supermarket and you’ll see plenty of exotic shakes, powders, supplements and health foods touted as “superfoods”. From maca root to bee pollen, barley grass, raw cacao and goji berries, they all claim to have that extra special ingredient to give you more energy, help you lose weight, boost your immunity, and more.
But are these superfoods really worth all the hype and hefty price tag they come with? According to a report by Medical News Today, superfoods are foods that offer maximum nutritional benefits, but with less kilojoules. These foods are also packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants known for their anti-ageing benefits. While some of these ingredients mentioned above are in fact superfoods in terms of their nutritional profile, the good news is that most fruits and veggies are superfoods too, and you don’t have to spend a fortune to benefit from their health benefits.
We asked Lila Bruk, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Association For Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) to share what science says about superfoods and to reveal some of the truths behind these foods.
What you should know about superfoods
The term “superfood” is a marketing gimmick
Lila believes that the key to a healthy diet is a variety of foods and that no food specifically exhibits “super” properties, although some foods are better for us than others.
“Always choose fresh, unprocessed foods in their natural state over highly processed, packaged food. The less ingredients on the box, the better.”
“So-called” superfoods aren’t necessarily better than traditional fruits and veggies
Although some experts claim that ingredients such as maca root, bee pollen and goji berries are beneficial, they don’t necessarily contain benefits over what your traditional healthy foods can provide. In addition, many of the health claims attributed to these foods are not evidence-based and aren’t backed by science, so it’s important to be wise with your purchases and don’t fall prey to “marketing ploys” on the packaging.
Spend your money on good ol’ fruits and veggies
You can never have too many vegetables on your plate. While some fruits are limited for certain people, the truth is, they’re highly nutritious.
Phytochemicals are components in plants that have various health benefits (e.g. preventing disease and cellular repair) which is why eating fresh produce is so good for you.
Ideally you should be having around 600g of veggies per day! When selecting fruits and veggies, consider the following:
- Choose brightly coloured fruits and veggies such as beetroot, butternut, spinach, broccoli etc.
- Go for fruits and veggies in season as they will offer even more nutritional benefits.
- Avoid overcooking veggies. Rather steam or stir-fry them to maintain their nutritional value.
- Try “eating the rainbow” by including as many different colour fruits and veggies on your plate as possible. This will help you to get the full number of phytochemicals you need to maintain optimum health.
- Remember certain proteins are superfoods too. For instance, fatty fish (e.g. pilchards, salmon, mackerel) are very beneficial as they’re a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids, which play an important role in preventing blood clotting, as well as brain health.
The one “superfood” ingredient you should eat more of is…
The compound sulforaphane, which is found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. It has been found to lower the risk of certain cancers, such as breast cancer. However, sulforaphane is mostly destroyed through cooking, so these veggies should be eaten raw or lightly steamed.
Berries are brilliant too
According to a study published in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, berries are packed with beneficial bioactive compounds which help to boost your health and prevent disease long-term. They’re also particularly good for those at risk of metabolic disorders, as the study shows that a berry rich diet can help to treat:
Double your diet clout
So, you try to ensure that your daily diet contains at least five portions of fruit and vegetables, a little protein, fat and, yes, even carbs – but did you know that combining some specific foods together can power-up their effects on your body even further? Nutritionist Ian Marber suggests four power combos to try:
Steak and peppers
Carrots and sesame seeds
Avocado and lentils
B6 (found in avocados) stimulates immune cells – adding other B vitamins (provided by lentils) help keep this in the body, making protection last longer.
Sardines and potatoes
Bony fish provide calcium – and the potassium in potatoes slows down how fast your body excretes it, maximising absorption and boosting bone health.
Five spices to sprinkle
The easiest way to add more nutrients to a meal is with beneficial herbs and spices. Here are nutritionist Ian Marber’s top five:
- Mint – fights inflammation
- Turmeric – may boost brain health and prevent cancer
- Garlic – great for immunity
- Basil – supports healthy circulation
- Parsley – contains energising vitamin C and iron