Step away from the kale: New research suggests science is lacking on superfoods

Quinoa flies off the shelves at Wellington supermarket Moore Wilsons, but there's no compelling evidence to say it's any ...

Quinoa flies off the shelves at Wellington supermarket Moore Wilsons, but there's no compelling evidence to say it's any better than rice.

The latest international research into so-called superfoods has found many of their health benefits are being sugar-coated. 

And a Kiwi dietitian agrees the properties that fad-foods such as goji berries and chia seeds claim to posses are often not backed up by science.

A recent New Scientist article broke down the properties of 11 superfoods and found they were not that much healthier than other run-of-the-mill alternatives. 

Coconut oil punches more saturated fat than beef dripping, says an Auckland dietitian.

Coconut oil punches more saturated fat than beef dripping, says an Auckland dietitian.

While dark chocolate may slightly reduce blood pressure in the short term, more research was needed to see if it possesses any lasting benefits, the research said.

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Instead of kale, the research revealed you would be better off eating a bunch of brussels sprouts.

Brussel sprouts, the neglected vege, are much cheaper and more beneficial than their pricier counterpart, kale, ...
123RF

Brussel sprouts, the neglected vege, are much cheaper and more beneficial than their pricier counterpart, kale, according to a New Scientist report.

It also found that washing quinoa actually strips it of its super qualities, and that blueberries and goji berries were "just a berry".

Auckland dietitian Dr Carol Wham said that, despite the hype, the term superfood was nothing but a marketing gimmick.

"Superfood is an invented thing. But we all like something a little fanciful, don't we? All of them are great as part of a diet, but not one is going to transform somebody's health."

Coconut was one of the first superfoods to explode in popularity, with its oils, waters and milks flying off supermarket shelves as claims mounted it was good for the heart and a healthy vegan alternative to dairy, Wham said

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"The problem with coconut milk is the oil. Per gram it has more saturated fat than beef dripping."

An awareness of gut health has lead us to try to improve our gut bacteria with the likes of fermented vegetables and drinks, Wham said.

"We don't know how something like [fermented milk drink] keffir modulates the diet. It's probably good to have fermented food, but to be honest the science is still quite young."

There was no harm in eating superfoods "in moderation" but the secret to a healthy diet - and a healthy bank account - was to buy fresh produce in season, Wham said.

Amanda Thompson, sales manager for specialty and bulk food grocer Moore Wilsons, said superfood products were popular fare these days.

"They have definitely grown in popularity. Sauerkraut is growing the most at the moment. Definitely kombucha and things like that."

Thompson said the surge in popularity of superfoods could be partially attributed to cookbooks, which have made these ancient foods household names.

COST COMPARISON: SUPERFOODS VS. REGULAR FOODS

For Omega 3
Superfood: Chia Seeds - $33.90 per kg 
Better food: Fresh salmon fillets - $28.99 per kg

For Vitamin C
Superfood: Goji berries - $54.90 per kg
Better food: Lemons - $3.79 per kg

For glucosinolates (which have anti-cancer properties)
Superfood: Kale - $33.25 per kg
Better food: Brussel Sprouts - $9.97 per kg

For hydration
Superfood: Coconut water - $4 per litre
Better food: Water - free

Prices taken from Countdown's online store on August 18, 2016 and may include special offers.

 - Stuff

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