You’ve heard of “superfoods;” you have even probably eaten quite a few, but do you know why they’re considered superfoods or what that means? At The Food Channel, we had questions that had gone unanswered about this growing trend, so we sat down with nutrition expert Anjanette Fraser, of The Natural Alternative Health & Wellbeing Ltd, to gain a deeper understanding of the importance of nutrition, and what part diet trends play in daily personal health.
What are superfoods, and what makes them ‘super’?
“Superfood” is a marketing term for food which contains higher concentrations of nutrients and may have greater health benefits compared to other foods. Marketing has dominated superfoods – promises of better health, longer youth, and a stronger body and mind have polluted the conversation of superfoods. However, although some science-based research stacks up, superfoods are not a “quick fix.” The problem is that, though these foods contain high amounts of nutrients, you need to consume a reasonable amount as part of a balanced diet. Superfoods won’t be the answer to healthier life if eaten with a low nutrient diet and superfoods aren’t the only foods which contain essential nutrients.
There are growing concerns about where superfoods are grown, and if those locations stifle their quality. Can you give insight behind these growing concerns?
Yes, some of the foods labeled “superfoods,: including chia, acai, quinoa and maca (from South America), goji berries (from China), chlorella (from Japan) and spirulina (from Mexico), need to be transported many miles to our shops and stores, which results in a large carbon footprint.
Likewise, the rise in popularity of certain superfoods can be problematic. For example, quinoa has become a highly sought after product in recent years, following the knowledge it contains high amounts of protein. Used by many Westerners wanting to cut back their carbohydrate intake, consumers have replaced rice and pasta with this quick-to-cook, low-taste grain. Many discussions are now being had about the rapid increase in quinoa demand and the detrimental effect it is having on the Peruvian community. Western demand for production means locals can no longer afford a staple part of their diet and the repetitive use of the soil instead of crop rotation, just to meet demand, is taking its toll on the soil erosion and the quality of nutrients.
Which superfood would you say is the most beneficial to the average person’s daily diet?
One thing that makes us great is that we are all different – from our genetics to environmental influence. What we should eat is, therefore, unique. One type of food may be good for one person but cause discomfort to another. Certainly, a diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruit may benefit health in preventing or delaying many conditions, with variety being of equal importance – different vegetables are rich in different nutrients.
Other groups of foods, which may be considered “superfoods,” are fish and whole grains. Fish are a great source of protein and omega-3 fats which are anti-inflammatory and beneficial for lowering cholesterol, easing joint pain, improving dry skin and may be helpful in balancing mood. Oats are a great source of soluble fiber which helps to reduce cholesterol and provide a slower release of sugar for more sustainable energy.
Are there any foods that are not classified as “super,” but may have the potential to affect health in the same positive manner? Possibly something that most people have direct access to?
A group of foods which perhaps has not received as much media attention as they deserve is cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, turnips, radishes, watercress, wasabi, bok choy, horseradish).
According to the National Cancer Institute, the glucosinolates found in this group of vegetables are broken down into indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane which have been researched for their anticancer effect in organs, in mice and rats, but have had mixed results in humans. Including vegetables in your diet may, in general, protect against some diseases; however, it is difficult to distinguish cruciferous vegetables from other vegetables in participant’s diets. Genetic background may also compound the difficulty in achieving conclusive evidence as glucosinolates may be metabolized differently.
Do you have any general information about nutrition and food that you believe every consumer should know?
In terms of fruit and vegetables, they don’t need to be fresh. Buying frozen can be less expensive and just as valuable from a nutrition point of view. Canned fruit can also acceptable, but it is important to remember to check the juice – natural juice is fine, but not fruits stored in sweetened juice or syrup.
Juices and smoothies are controversial. Nutritionists generally suggest limiting fruit to less than two pieces per day. Although fruit is natural, it is still very sweet, so keep this in mind when making juices and smoothies. Including one or two items in a juice or smoothie is a good idea if combined with some vegetables. A good handful of spinach, kale, or half an avocado is great. Fiber is limited within juice and only slightly higher in a smoothie.
The best way to increase fiber is to consume fruit and vegetables without processing. If you are buying fruit juice, try to make it unsweetened 100% fruit/vegetable juice and limit the amount to 150mls per day.