Sizing up superfoods
The list of ‘superfoods’ is constantly growing, along with their claims to fame. The only question now is: will the real superfoods please stand up?
Words: Rowena Robertson
Goji and acai berries, spirulina, chia seeds… these exotic-sounding foods, along with many others, have all been touted as ‘superfoods’.
They are labelled as such because they are said to have extremely high concentrations of nutrients and antioxidants, and only a small amount needs to be consumed in order to gain significant health benefits, ranging from reduced blood pressure to protection against cancer.
But while the term ‘superfood’ may carry a lot of weight in the minds of consumers, it is a marketing term rather than a scientific one, and some experts remain sceptical about the misconceptions surrounding it.
Even though it is illegal to make a claim on a food’s packaging linking it to the reduction of a risk of a serious disease, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) has long been concerned about potentially misleading claims on labels. As a result, a new food standard to regulate nutrition content claims and health claims on food labels and in advertisements became law in January 2013.
According to FSANZ, the new code will ensure growers and manufacturers of so-called superfoods will be able to make health claims about their foods only if there is scientific evidence to back them up, similar to the laws for medicines.
Many health experts and consumers have welcomed this move, as it will help consumers to identify the real superfoods and their proven health benefits.
However, it is important to remember that a balanced diet, rather than a focus on one or two foods, is key for good health. Eating one food in isolation will not have a positive effect on health. In fact, excessive ingestion of a particular food can result in the body simply excreting the excess and, in a worst-case scenario, over-consumption can be harmful.
Also, importantly, as superfoods are usually sourced from exotic locations, they are often frozen, powdered or made into capsules or drinks, thereby losing some of the nutritional value, as well as being expensive and less sustainable. You may get more nutrition and value for money by going to the local market and buying a bag of fresh apples and oranges.
Eating good foods combined with other good foods is more likely to benefit your health long term. And the nutritional value of ‘normal’ foods should not be underestimated – the humble carrot is high in betacarotene, which is converted by the body into Vitamin A, aiding vision, the skin and immune system. And bananas contain Vitamins B6, potassium and magnesium and have been said to relieve depression symptoms, as well as decreasing blood pressure.
While superfoods certainly have their place within our diets, we should have realistic expectations about what they can do for us. The bottom line is the same as always: eat a balanced diet with a rainbow of fresh fruit and vegetables for better health.
Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this article. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.