The Surprising Truth About Superfoods You Must Know looks at whether “superfoods” actually exist, what they are if they do and the mistaken belief that damage done to your body can be undone by eating a “superfood”.
A search on Google returns 15,400,000 results for the word “superfood”, but as I’ve been finding out, this is a bit of a murky world with no real meaning of the word existing, and many food business operators throwing it around to sell you their latest product amidst unsupported nutrition and health claims.
What is a “Superfood”?
It might be a word that we think we know the meaning off as it so easily trips of our tongues, but did you know that there’s no technical definition of a “superfood”?
Many have claimed the title including blueberries, beetroot, broccoli, goji berries, wheatgrass, green tea and pomegranate juice to name a few, and while these foods are indeed good for you, if you think that by adding one of them into your already dodgy diet will help your health, then I’ve got some bad news for you. It won’t.
The term “superfood” has simply been dreamt up by food businesses and their marketing teams to exploit our insatiable desire for the next thing that will help us to lose weight, stop us ageing or cure our diseases.
These food business operators are using the term “superfoods” to sell their products to you based on often misleading health and nutrition claims. However in 2006, the European Union (EU) decided that they had to act to stop these food businesses from making these false health and nutrition claims that mislead consumers into buying their products.
Nutrition claims such as “low fat”, “high fibre”, and health claims such as “Vitamin D is needed for the normal growth and development of bone in children” have now been banned on packaging unless the claim is “clear, accurate and based on scientific evidence” since 1st July 2007.
So concerned with the way food business operators were misleading you, the EU created a Public EU Register of Nutrition and Health Claims that lists all authorised nutrition claims and non-authorised health claims for you to check to see whether what is being claimed on the product you’re about to buy is truthful and, crucially, is the claim backed by science.
Is it true that it can…
The claims that are made by these businesses are made from how foods react in a lab, often on animals such as rats, or in vitro experiments using isolated batches of human cells.
The problem here is, that these experiments, while giving scientists an idea of what the health properties and physiological mechanisms of certain food components could be, there is no guarantee that these components will have the same effects in people when consumed as part of their every day diet.
Our diets, lifestyle and genes vary greater from one person to another, making it very hard to study how nutrients impact our health.
The claims that are made, are also frequently based on very high levels of single nutrients, and on foods that are studied in isolation. They are based on totally unrealistic quantities for you to consume as part of your normal diet. Plus, the effects studied in the lab are often only short term.
As NHS Livewell states:
The problem is that most research on superfoods tests chemicals and extracts in concentrations not found in the food in its natural state.
Garlic, for example, contains a nutrient alleged to help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure. But you’d have to eat up to 28 cloves a day to match the doses used in the lab – something no researcher has yet been brave enough to try.
You just can’t study a food in isolation…
This problem of studying food in isolation, and the subsequent misleading health and nutrition claims, often tempts people into adding just that one food in to their already unhealthy diet, thinking that it will make a huge difference to their health.
When after a while of eating just that one food, they realise nothing has changed and they often lose faith that anything will.
Don’t believe the hype that the one “superfood” that eat will compensate for your general unhealthy eating habits. You can’t reduce food down to their individual nutrients.
The way we’ve been taught about nutrients doesn’t help. For example, have you been told that calcium grows strong bones? or that vitamin A is necessary for good eyesight? or that vitamin E is a cancer fighting antioxidant? or that you should pay attention to the percentages of nutrients on the nutritional labels of packaged foods?
This is part of a reductionist view, that boils things down to parts, rather than seeing the whole picture.
T. Colin Campbell, PhD, in his book “Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition”, talks about Reductionism and Wholism. He says:
“If you are a reductionist, you believe that everything in the world can be understood if you understand all its component parts. A wholist, on the other hand, believes that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.”
In Western medicine we view the body geographically, that is, doctors tend to treat the heart, the liver, the kidney in isolation of the entire body.
There are no fixed “edges” within the human body that separate any one part from all the other parts.
Each “part” of the body is involved in more than what can be seen when the part is viewed in isolation from the larger system it is part of.
Our bodies use countless mechanisms, strategically placed throughout our digestion, absorption, and transport and metabolic pathways, to effortlessly ensure our tissues receive the amount of nourishment they need that is consistent with good health.
As T. Colin Campbell, PhD, says:
“Nutrition is not a mathematical equation in which two plus two is four. The food we eat in our mouths doesn’t control our nutrition – not entirely. What our bodies do with that food does.”
There’s no direct relationship between what you eat and what is actually absorbed by your body
It may surprise you to learn that there is almost no direct relationship between the amount of a nutrient you consume at a meal and the amount that actually reaches the main site of action in your body.
If for example, you consume 100 milligrams of vitamin C at one meal, and 500 milligram at a second meal, this does not mean that the second meal leads to five times as much vitamin C reaching the tissue where it works.
Your body is amazing, it takes from the food you eat what it needs to at that particular time and discards what it doesn’t need. This holds true for virtually every nutrient you consume.
As Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St Geroge’s Hospital in London says:
‘Just because certain foods are bursting with a particular vitamin or nutrient does not mean they will be especially good for you. It might seem that eating foods rich in nutrients is just common sense, but the truth is that our bodies have a requirement for sufficient nutrients.
‘If our bodies have an excess of nutrients and cannot store them, they will essentially go to waste. Or, more worryingly, if certain nutrients can’t be excreted in sufficient levels, they could cause serious cellular damage. Overloading our bodies is not a healthy or natural thing to do.’
Your body is constantly monitoring and adjusting the concentrations of nutrients from the food you consume in order to take what it needs to be healthy.
“With the consumption of any particular food at any particular moment, we cannot know with any precision know how much of any nutrient is actually available to our bodies, or how much our bodies actually use.” T. Colin Campbell, PhD, Whole.
Six Points To Help You To Determine If A Superfood Will Deliver What It Claims It Will
Understanding nutrition and the research attempting to explain it can be perplexing.
When you read about a “superfood”, or a new diet in a newspaper or magazine or even a diet book, consider the following six points to determine if it will deliver what it claims it will.
- Search to find if there’s been a scientific paper written and published behind what it is claiming to deliver.
- Get hold of the paper and…
- Check to see if the research that backs up the claim was funded by industry.
You’ll be surprised to find that the paper may have been funded by a company that has a strong link to the claim that is being made or the researchers involved have a strong bias because they’re linked to the organisation in some way e.g. they sit on their advisory panel.
- If a study is talking about single nutrients, chemicals or drugs, in the words of T. Colin Campbell ‘this represents a highly questionable worldview’.
- Make sure that any diet books or articles site the original research.
- If people endorse the book or article but there is no research cited be wary.
Commit to making a long term change
The next time you reach for your goji berry, hemp seed or wheat grass, because you’ve read that they slow the aging process, or reduce the risk of cancer, remember not to focus on that single food assuming that it will zap whatever it is that you think it will do.
There is no single miracle food. You can’t just add in a “superfood” to what is essentially an unhealthy diet and expect it to undo all the damage caused by these unhealthy foods.
The key is to make a long term change to what you eat, and not to concentrate on a single food, but to eat a “super diet” with a variety of whole, plant-based foods – fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.
These foods will nourish you not just for a short time, but for every single day you eat them, all without you having to constantly check the nutrition label to work out how much of this or that nutrient you’re getting.
You just don’t need to buy expensive “superfoods” when you can nourish your body daily with everyday whole, plant-based foods that are bursting with everything your body needs to keep you healthy.
The truth is, there are many foods out there that are super, but there’s no such thing as “superfood”.
So for a simple way to lose weight and keep it off permanently, without counting calories or restricting your portion size, simply start following a whole food, plant-based diet that consists naturally of low energy dense food, that are high in nutrient density.
If losing weight for your summer holidays is one of your goals, then consider following a whole food, plant-based diet and you’ll not only be able to help your body to detox daily, but you’ll be able to lose weight too!
Ready to get started? Be one of the first to hear about my new, whole food, plant based course coming in the next few weeks. Click here to register.
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