Superfoods… Fad, Fact or Fiction?

Are Superfoods some mysterious, amazing or secret product that will prolong your life or are they a clever marketing ploy by the food and manufacturing industry?

There’s a lot of chatter on social media, blogs, websites, books, supplements… all about superfoods. Due to the welcome arrival of spring, I decided September is a great time to investigate superfoods to find out if they really can make us live longer, healthier and happier lives.

What are Superfoods?

If you google the word ‘superfood’ you’re more likely to come across statements such as: “Nutrient powerhouses!” “Packed with antioxidants!” “Reduce the risk of chronic disease!” and less likely to find an actual medical or scientific definition… and that’s probably because there isn’t one. The closest we could find to a definition that was reasonably consistent was the Oxford Dictionary definition: “Superfood: noun, a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being’ .

So, what is ‘a nutrient-rich food’?

Broadly speaking, nutrients is the stuff our body needs on a daily basis to keep us moving, thinking, smiling and looking great! Scientifically speaking, nutrients generate the energy to support our metabolism, they regulate our body functions and they supply materials for repair, growth and maintenance of body tissue. They’re divided up into macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).

Therefore, a nutrient-rich (or nutrient dense) food is basically a term used to identify the ratio of nutrients to calories (energy) in a particular food or substance. For example, a fresh apple contains about 68 calories but it’s also high in fibre (which will fill you up and keep your digestive tract healthy) and it contains potassium and vitamins C and K. In terms of being nutrient-dense, you get a lot of bang for your buck with an apple: low in calories, high in nutrients… just like all fruit, vegetables, whole grains, meat and dairy.

So, nutrient-dense foods are low in calories but high in nutrients, like the apple and they are opposite to energy-dense foods which are high in calories and low in nutrients, like a Kit Kat.
A Kit Kat (just the little 2 Finger one J) has 105 calories, zero fibre, zero vitamins and it’s high in sugar and saturated fat. Kit Kats, like alcohol, chocolate, cakes and biscuits taste amazing and can bring a smile to your face, but they won’t contrite much to the energy your body needs to fuel itself.

A superfood by any other name…

We now know that the term ‘superfood’ has no scientific definition, but has an accepted definition of ‘nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being’. We also now know that ‘nutrient-rich’ foods are low in calories and high in nutrients such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains etc. Does that mean that superfoods are just regular, boring old wholesome foods that humans have been eating for centuries?

Seems pretty straightforward so far, but we want to go a bit deeper. So join me next week for “Superfoods… Fad, Fact or Fiction? (Part 2)” where we find out what the experts say about superfoods.