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The Myth of Superfoods

By: Suzanne Elvidge BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 15 Oct 2012 |
 
Fruit Vegetables Superfoods Nutrients

So-called superfoods are foods that are supposed to have particular health-giving properties based on their high levels of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, such as phytochemicals. However, superfoods are generally far more expensive than ‘ordinary’ fruits and vegetables, and are often shipped or flown in from distant countries. Are superfoods as ‘super’ as they are supposed to be?

In June 2007, the European Union banned manufacturers from using the word ‘superfood’ unless with specific and proven health claims related to the benefits of the product.

Carbon Footprint

Whereas many familiar fruit and vegetables can be grown locally, a lot of superfoods have to be imported from overseas, which can put a strain on local growers (unless they are produced as a fair-trade crop) and requires a lot of fuel for delivery, which is not good for the environment.

Cost

Superfoods are generally significantly more expensive than ‘ordinary’ fruit and vegetables, partly because of the shipping costs, but partly because of the marketing hype associated with their status as superfoods.

Getting All the Right Nutrients

Superfoods aren’t the only source of all the right nutrients for a balanced diet, and in fact, some ordinary fruit and vegetables contain even more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than expensive superfoods.

As an example, a couple of florets of broccoli or a tablespoon of spinach contains more vitamin C and folic acid than a shot of wheatgrass juice, and one apple has higher levels of antioxidants than half a punnet of blueberries.

The human body requires certain levels of vitamins and minerals. Many of these aren’t stored in the body (which is why it’s important to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day), so anything extra is just excreted. This means that there is no health reason to eat more than the recommended levels of vitamins and minerals – and in fact eating very high levels of some vitamins and minerals can be harmful.

So – Are Superfoods Important?

Superfoods can be a good source of nutrients, and do supply variety, interest and new flavours. However, other fruit and vegetables, including those produced locally, are just as good a source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and are easier to find, cheaper and have a smaller impact on the planet.

The most important thing is to focus on five (or more) portions of fruit and vegetables a day, including as wide a variety of different colours, flavours and varieties as possible. Add in wholegrains, lean meats, fish, beans and pulse, and dairy products (full fat for young children) to create a balanced diet which contains all the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients needed without having to rely on superfoods or other supplements (see ‘Food Group Proportions in a Balanced Diet’).

So rather than spending a fiver or a tenner on a small tub or bag of expensive berries or algae shipped in from overseas, buy a big bag full of different fruit and vegetables from the local market (including a few unfamiliar ones for a bit of variety) and enjoy.

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