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Superfood or superfad?

They claim to do everything from reversing the ageing process to speeding up cellular renewal and promoting weight loss. But are superfoods all they claim to be? 

It seems that every week a different life-changing food emerges as a miraculous cure-all for illness and disease. More often than not, these so-called “superfoods” are big on claims and promises, but short on scientific evidence to back up those claims.

Indeed, navigating food choices can be incredibly challenging when new products appear on the market daily. However, arming yourself with the advice of trusted health professionals is an excellent place to start.    

What is a superfood?

When it comes to superfoods, it can be difficult to separate truth from hype. Many consumers want to fuel their bodies with nutritious options, but even the most discerning shoppers sometimes get it wrong.

Providing expert advice on healthy eating from clinics in Sydney, accredited practising dietitian and nutritionist Jaime Rose Chambers is also the co-author of The Mystery Gut. 

Her definition of what constitutes a superfood is a simple one. “The definition of ‘superfood’ is simply a food rich in nutrients such as phytochemicals and antioxidants that have benefits for health and wellbeing beyond those of ‘common’ foods,” Jaime explains.

Health vs. Hype

From berries harvested in the Amazon to miracle tonics derived from exotic ingredients, a wave of expensive products claiming to be “superfoods” have hit supermarket shelves of late. Yet it’s important to remember that slick marketing, glossy packaging and bold claims can trick consumers into believing a product offers more nutritional value than it actually does.

“In many cases, the marketing of products that claim to be superfoods can be very alluring, and I think we’ve all been there, believing if we take this product it’ll be like a magical health pill that will solve all of our problems,” Jaime says. “In reality, in most cases these products are unnecessary because we have access to nutrient-dense foods in the supermarket and the local farmers’ markets as part of our everyday diet. The key is to eat a variety of wholefoods every day, rather than focusing on just one ‘superfood’.”

Everyday heroes

Thankfully, you don’t have to break the bank or visit boutique food stores to eat a variety of healthy foods packed with vitamins and minerals. Indeed, many everyday foods are nutritional powerhouses.

Nutrition Australia recommends “eating a rainbow” by including colourful vegetables and fruits on your plate every day. Thankfully, a rainbow of fruits, vegetables and other humble foods that can be picked up cheaply (especially when they are in season) can claim superfood status.

“There are so many everyday wholefoods that I would consider to be superfoods. They include blueberries, broccoli, oats, green tea, wild salmon, garlic, sweet potato and extra virgin olive oil,” Jaime says.

Foods for ageing bodies

No matter your age, following a healthy, balanced diet is crucial.

Yet as we get older, some vitamins and nutrients become more important. Older people tend to experience loss of bone density and muscle mass, so eating the right foods to maintain bone and muscle health is vital.

“Lean, protein-rich foods such as oily fish help to maintain lean muscle mass. Whole fruits, legumes like chickpeas and wholegrains like rolled oats are a great source of fibre and help to keep the bowels ticking along. Low-fat dairy products like yoghurt are the best source of calcium to maintain bone mass as we age,” Jaime says.

So next time you’re tempted to spend up big on the latest, greatest superfood, just head to your local farmers’ market or grocer and stock up on a range of fresh, basic wholefoods instead.