Superfoods – Why some food is better than others

Is all food created equal? Apparently not.

You have probably heard of açai and goji berries, blueberries, pomegranate, avocados, chia seeds, matcha, sweet potatoes, spinach and kale. Superfoods have become increasingly popularised in the media, promoted as staple ingredients for those in pursuit of a healthy diet.

The Superfoods

A variety of superfoods [source]

Forget the 5 food groups. “Superfoods” are nutrient-rich food with beneficial properties, for instance, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Hence, if you’re looking for a guilt-free loophole to cheat day, look no further. Here are some examples of the superheroes of food:

Goji berries

  • Immune boosting
  • Antioxidant properties
  • High levels of vitamins A & C
  • Good for eyesight

Kale

  • Great source for calcium
  • Vitamins A, C, K

Quinoa

  • High protein, low carb grain
  • Vitamin B
  • Magnesium & potassium

Chia seeds

  • Few calories
  • High in omega 3 fatty acids & fibre

The Truth of Superfoods

Are superfoods really worth the super prices we pay for them, though?

Despite the impressive superfood status, there are no real scientific criteria or official definition for what qualifies as a superfood. In the US and Canada, the label is unregulated, whereas in the UK, the superfood label is banned unless scientific claims are proven. In fact, a “superfood” is more of a marketing term than a health label. Statistics suggest the superfood label means super sales. Are superfoods as great for consumers as they are for businesses?

Superfoods are advertised to contain more nutrition than other types of food and are commonly endorsed by famous celebrities. Unless you have an unbalanced diet, your body won’t actually require the additional nutritious properties because there is no dietary deficiency to supplement. It is comparable to scientific evidence indicating how there is no benefit to consuming vitamins when you don’t have any vitamin deficiency. Yet, people still buy and consume vitamins regardless.

The Case of the Coconut

Is coconut water better than normal water? Coconut water contains minerals which balance the body’s water levels which are known as electrolytes, specifically magnesium, potassium, and sodium. Consequently, coconut water is perceived as more hydrating than other drinks.

Experiments state the contrary. There is no significant difference between drinking coconut water, regular water, and sports drinks (which also contain electrolytes) in terms of rehydration and performance during physical activity.

Aside from water, you can’t find any other drink with no calories. Coconut water is sometimes marketed as low in calories, which may hold true when compared to soft drinks, juice, and sports drinks but certainly not water. While a glass of coconut water may be healthy, replacing water with coconut water entirely would not be wise.

Coconut in Moderation

Coconut water is highly concentrated in potassium, but as they say, too much of anything isn’t good for you. Excessive potassium—known as hyperkalemia—can cause dangerous side effects like fainting, abnormal heart rate and even death.

When grocery shopping, it’s always best to buy packaged coconut water without added flavouring, colour, or juice as a healthy option. Luckily for us, living in Malaysia means we have access to fresh coconuts, allowing us to enjoy both the water and the delicious fruit!

Myriad of superfoods [source]

Do superfoods live up to the superhype?

There’s no harm in including some of these superfoods into your diet, whether its grains, fruits, or vegetables, but you don’t need to rely on them. Even if it’s not a superfood, your average fruit or vegetable may be equally as nutritious. There’s also no point of eating unhealthy food and detoxing yourself with a smoothie bowl or some green tea out of guilt. Maintaining a balanced diet with a variety of food groups will always be optimal for your health. Sometimes simple is best.

Written by Sophie Byfield

Curiosity doesn't always kill the cat.

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