Superfoods? beware the hype in New Year Print

Many people will be making New Year resolutions and at the top of the lit is likely to be an effort to become healthier and this will include eating healthier foods.  The start of the New Year is prime time for marketing ‘health’ products and millions of pounds will be spent on advertising them.  Advertisers will come up with new trendy terms and the British Dietetic Association feels the need to reveal the truth behind some of the hype of so called 'superfoods'.

 

The British Dietetic Association (BDA) was founded in 1936 and is the professional association for dietitians.  It is the country’s largest organisation of food and nutrition professionals with over 7,000 members.

 

Firstly, it is important to understand that there is no official definition of a 'Superfood' so is there such a thing?

"Absolutely," said Sioned Quirke, British Dietetic Association spokesperson.  "However, the BDA's ideas may differ greatly from what most companies and marketing teams claim and what the general public may have been lead to believe.

 

"The main thing to keep in mind is that, despite its common use, the term 'superfood' has no regulatory approval and is not a legally recognised term.

"'Superfood' is simply a marketing term that has become trendy over the last few years.  Companies and marketing teams will often put whatever they can on a label to hook you into a purchase.  Marketing is a multi-billion pound industry and health products are a major player in this.  Many claims can give us false expectations of the benefits or they aren't fully substantiated.

 

"Research has found that 61% of people questioned about 'superfoods' had purchased, eaten or drank a specific food because they had been labelled as a 'superfood'.  If you tell people often enough that something is a 'superfood', chances are some will start to believe.  Claims around curing and preventing diseases, fighting off cancer, even prolonging your life make these foods sound like we couldn't possibly live without them.

"Anyone worth their degree in nutrition will tell you that no one food provides everything the body needs, therefore, the so called 'superfoods' are by no means the magic wand companies market them as.  We need to dispel the myths.

 

"The foods claiming 'superfood' status may have some health benefits but, that's true for the majority of naturally occurring foods.  Just because something is labelled as a 'superfood' does not mean it is superior and deserving of this elite sounding status.  When we think about it, most foods are super in their own way - fruit & veg provide vitamins, minerals and fibre, meat and fish provide protein, grains provide energy and dairy products provide calcium - all of which are essential for optimum health.  If we analysed every food individually, we could probably market them all as being 'high' in something, as there are different nutrients in all foods.

"Some 'superfoods' can be included as part of a healthy, balanced diet but there again, so can things like chocolate and alcohol.  A 'superfood', in isolation, will never be the key to optimum health.  Companies love to bring us exotic foods, such as goji berries but, look closer to home, as more traditional foods such as salmon, eggs, berries, nuts and veg are just as super but simply aren't marketed that way.

 

"Some 'superfood' products, especially the exotic varieties, are very expensive and have poor availability.  We often find that people who can afford to buy these products are following a relatively healthy, balanced diet already and don't need any additions.  It's also worth knowing that if a 'scientist' or 'specialist' endorses a product they are usually being paid to do so.  Even if a claim is made that a particular fruit has a high antioxidant level, the human body may not be able to absorb it well.  Also, it's worth checking exactly how much of the product one would have to consume to see the 'benefit' claimed.  Sometimes the amounts are very large.  Consumer group Choice found that you would need to drink about 13-30ml serves of Goji juice in order to obtain the same antioxidant benefit of eating one medium sized red delicious apple!

"We live in a society that looks for a 'magic wand' type product that simply does not exist.  If it did, we would probably be providing it on prescription!  It seems that good old healthy eating is too boring, for some, although it's certainly what we need to be doing.  Don't get caught up in the hype, these trendy terms are simply adding to the confusion around what a healthy, balanced diet is.  If something seems too good to be true it usually is.

 

"The bottom line is, many foods are 'superfoods' in their own way, but let's ditch that phrase.  No so-called 'superfoods' are going to guide you to the promised land, so aim to have a healthy balanced diet with everything in moderation.  Nothing can substitute healthy eating, but many a marketing person can make your wallet lighter!"

 

Remember a great place to start to plan for a healthier 2014 is your local pharmacy where you can pop in without an appointment for a discussion that can be followed up with a more formal meeting and a plan devised.  Whether losing weight, giving up smoking to improving your diet they will be able to offer free advice, a whole range of products (some free with NHS support) and regular monitoring and motivation to help you achieve your goals.