What’s so great about superfoods?

Summary: Researchers are wondering if so-called “superfoods” are really as good for you as people claim, and if so, how should they be eaten as part of a balanced diet.

Source: University of New South Wales

Everyone has heard of the good old saying: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”.

It’s a phrase that suggests apples may have been the first to be labeled as a “superfood,” long before the term became popular.

But now, not a week goes by without a new superfood trending on social media, promising amazing health benefits. Recent trends include quinoa, chia seeds, and kale.

The most important thing, however, is whether eating something like kale four times a week really helps your bone health. Or did someone just launch the biggest marketing campaign of all time?

Food and nutrition expert, Associate Professor Jayashree Arcot of the UNSW School of Chemical Engineering, says the term superfoods is sometimes used loosely by “lifestyle gurus”. Although there is no universally accepted definition of “superfoods”, there is an appreciation of the health benefits due to the presence of bioactive substances and compounds they contain.

“Scientifically, there are no such thing as superfoods – they are basically foods that are rich in nutrients or compounds that have properties that can impact health – but with a visible label,” says the associate professor Arcot.

“However, the term can unfortunately mislead people into believing that certain foods have incredible nutritional and health properties and that eating them can solve all health problems.

“While there is no singular food group that holds the key to unlocking great health benefits, we do know that certain foods are better for us than others. As we focus on our health, we naturally begin to pay more attention to what we eat.

“Food alone cannot solve health problems, but it can play a role as part of a holistic treatment plan. If the goal is to lose weight, eating a superfood like blueberries alone won’t be enough.

“However, it’s about finding the balance between the right combination of these foods, and in moderate amounts, for it to have an impact on health.”

Not a superfood for everyone

Rewind about 5-10 years ago, before the term “superfoods” became fashionable, the phrase “functional foods” was used in the food and health community.

Functional foods are used in the context of foods that are physiologically beneficial and may reduce the risk of disease development due to the addition or removal of certain nutrients.

Later, the term “superfoods” was introduced to describe foods with targeted health benefits. However, Prof. Arcot says every food can be classified as functional because they all have an effect on the body.

“We know that drinking milk, which contains high concentrations of calcium, is great for strengthening our bones and teeth, or that eating foods rich in vitamin A does wonders for our eye health,” she says.

“On the one hand, high fat foods are generally avoided because of the risk of increased cholesterol. But that would become very important for someone who is already at high risk because we know there are also good fats like avocado and chia seeds that are hailed as superfoods.

Kale is probably one of the most commonly mentioned foods when consuming superfoods. Although several studies have shown that kale contains antioxidant and anticarcinogenic potential, there is still a lack of evidence in the literature to conclude that consuming kale provides more health benefits than other cruciferous vegetables like cabbage. flower.

“If you start eating a lot of kale, no one will tell you it’s bad for you. Unless you’re a person prone to kidney stones, for example, you probably have too many oxalates, a compound found in leafy vegetables when you’re advised to have less in your diet. diet,” explains the assistant professor. . Arcot.

“So there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to all of this.”

Can superfoods still come to the rescue?

Teacher. Arcot says we need to pay close attention to the nutrient profile of the food to determine if it’s suitable for the health issue we’re addressing.

“There’s no denying that a balanced diet is good for a person’s overall health,” she says.

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This shows brain scans from the study

“For example, the Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy eating plan that includes foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and seafood, and is believed to support brain function and promote heart health. “

Assistant Professor Arcot says compounds in certain foods have the potential to prevent or delay the onset of certain chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, which have underlying inflammatory reactions in the body.

This shows blueberries on a bush
Although there is no universally accepted definition of “superfoods”, there is an appreciation of the health benefits due to the presence of bioactive substances and compounds they contain. Image is in public domain

“Raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and cranberries are a nutritional powerhouse of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants and although these properties can treat inflammation, they cannot be called superfoods because trials randomized controlled trials are needed to assess their effectiveness in reducing inflammation.”

Continuation of the history of superfoods

One of the latest “superfoods” is turmeric, a spice commonly used in cooking, which contains a powerful compound called curcumin known for its powerful anti-inflammatory properties.

But how much of this compound do we actually need to consume before it has an effect on the body?

Teacher. Arcot says this is a complex area and more research is needed to uncover it.

“Sometimes the compounds we need only exist in trace amounts in the foods we eat,” she says.

“There is still a long way to go in terms of research before we know the exact amounts needed to bring about these sorts of changes in the body. But we know the effects can be cumulative over time,” she says.

“It’s about preventing health problems – and eating a healthy diet with the right foods will contribute to overall well-being.”

About this diet and current neuroscience research

Author: Press office
Source: University of New South Wales
Contact: Press Office – University of New South Wales
Image: Image is in public domain

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