Superfoods or super frauds

superfoodsYou’ll see a lot in magazines and social media about superfoods. They suddenly appear, become fashionable for a while and then disappear off the radar. Here are some recent examples:

  • quinoa
  • goji berries
  • kale
  • acai berries
  • blueberries
  • green tea
  • coconut juice
  • coconut oil
  • raw cacao
  • fish oil

Some promise to stop aging, improve your memory or even cure cancer. You’ll find terms like probiotic, anti-oxidant, detox and others that are being invented as we speak.

So how can you easily distinguish between snake oil and superfoods? Here’s an even more fundamental question: is there such a thing as superfood?

We’re all on the lookout for the silver bullet of dieting or health. We want to know what we should eat that will keep us forever young and healthy while we eat junk food and binge drink.

The bad news? There is no silver bullet!

The rules for health and longevity are the same as they’ve always been. And you don’t need a dietitian or a nutritionist to spell them out for you. Just follow the same simple common-sense rules that your grandparents used.

It’s simple really. As Michael Pollan says,

“Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.”

That’s just seven words you need to remember. If you want that in a bit more detail he does expand it into seven points:

  1. Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. “When you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes, or eat something with 15 ingredients you can’t pronounce, ask yourself, “What are those things doing there?” Pollan says.
  2. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.
  3. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.
  4.  Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot. “There are exceptions — honey — but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren’t food,” Pollan says.
  5. It is not just what you eat but how you eat. “Always leave the table a little hungry,” Pollan says. “Many cultures have rules that you stop eating before you are full. In Japan, they say eat until you are four-fifths full. Islamic culture has a similar rule, and in German culture they say, ‘Tie off the sack before it’s full.'”
  6. Families traditionally ate together, around a table and not a TV, at regular meal times. It’s a good tradition. Enjoy meals with the people you love. “Remember when eating between meals felt wrong?” Pollan asks.
  7. Don’t buy food where you buy your gasoline. In the U.S., 20% of food is eaten in the car.

One more thing from me: be on the lookout for nutritionists advocating some new superfood. Remember that in Australia anyone can call themselves a nutritionist as there is no legal protection for the title. A dietitian, on the other hand, is a protected term for those health professionals with appropriate tertiary qualifications.

Here’s a link to a tool you might like to use. It’s a quick guide to foods and the current state of knowledge concerning any special benefits they might have. It also links to randomised control trials that examine claims for the foods.

As I always say, “Show me the science.”

For more on the differences between a dietician and a nutritionist just plug this phrase into your favourite search engine:

nutritionist versus dietitian australia

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