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Superfoods: fad or fact?

The term superfood has become ubiquitous in recent years. You can now get Superfood Salads on restaurant menus from Nandos to Pizza Express. In supermarkets, acai berries are added to processed cereals, yoghurt and even shampoo. Jamie Oliver has written a recipe book dedicated to superfoods and there is a brand of pet food that adds superfoods to its dog and cat meals. Should we all be embracing the trend and eating superfoods or is it just a fad?

The first time I came across the term was in a book called, ‘Superfoods: Fourteen foods that will change your life’ written by American doctors, Steven Pratt and Kathy Matthews and published in 2004. The book was well written and scientifically researched and I was impressed with it. It offered a new perspective, which emphasised the inclusion of a variety of nutritious foods for a healthy diet rather than simply excluding unhealthy foods. I recommended the book to many people and I also began to include the foods in personalised eating plans for clients. However, there is a difference between the fourteen foods that were listed as superfoods in this book and what are now accepted as superfoods. The original superfoods were:

  • Beans
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli
  • Oats
  • Oranges
  • Pumpkin
  • Wild salmon
  • Soy
  • Spinach
  • Tea
  • Tomatoes
  • Turkey
  • Walnuts
  • Yoghurt

To this list I would add olive oil and avocado as they are good sources of healthy fats.

These are all everyday foods that are not expensive and can easily be included in a normal diet. The authors listed a number of ‘sidekicks’ or similar foods that offer similar benefits, and it is these foods, like quinoa, kale, pomegranate, goji and acai berries that have been taken up and marketed as health foods that we should all be eating. They can be excessively expensive and the massively increased demand has had some negative effects. In the case of quinoa, a nutritious grain that is high in protein, the increased demand has caused a drop in price for the native South American growers as large European and American farmers get in on the act.

The original principles of including superfoods in your diet are correct. Regularly eating a variety of nutritious foods is a good way to boost your health and potentially prevent disease, but let’s get back to the common and easily available foods listed above rather than seeking out ever more obscure and expensive ingredients.

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