Superfoods, we’ve all heard about them. Kale, pomegranates, goji berries, chia seeds, raw cacao powder, hemp, green tea… these foods aren’t just healthy, they are super-healthy. Eating them every day and in large quantities is going to change your life, making your skin glow and your hair shine, lower your blood pressure, and perhaps even cure cancer. Or so some say.
There are no doubts that so-called superfoods actually do have health benefits; kale is full of vitamins and fibre; chia seeds have extremely high omega-3 content; and green tea is rich in B-vitamins, folate, and antioxidants. The question is: are they as miraculously healthy as they are claimed to be?
There is very little scientific evidence to back up the ‘superness’ of superfoods. In 2011, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) actually banned the use of the term on product packaging as the industry has yet to convincingly prove the miraculous properties of these foods. In short, eating them isn’t going to do you any harm, but there is no way that a handful of goji berries a day will cure cancer or heart disease. Most of the studies endorsing superfoods and their qualities–such as a 2008 study looking at the link between broccoli and diabetes– consider individual chemicals contained in the foods, not the entirety of the food itself. For example, many argue that the effect of sulforaphene on some isolated cells will differ from the effect of broccoli on a human body.
The whole concept of superfoods therefore appears to be a mere marketing gimmick, a term invented to sell products at inflated prices. Superfoods have an aura about them and are marketed as a shortcut to health that doesn’t involve the strenuous task of reinventing one’s lifestyle, but rather the simple one of adding some chia seeds to our diet. And that sounds appealing to many.
The truth is, when it comes to health, there are no quick fixes. The only way to live a long, healthy life is to follow a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly, and not smoke. No superfood is going to do the work for you. So, while you can keep enjoying your goji berries and green tea, don’t worry if you can’t afford a blender for a morning superfood smoothie. Eat your five-a-day, and you should be okay.