Do ‘superfoods’ really exist?

By Sarah Noone, Maebh Williams and Katie Abrahams Nutrition News   |   2nd Nov 2018

Our expert dietitian Sarah Noone and student dietitians Maebh Williams and Katie Abrahams, debunk the super myths behind ‘superfoods’.

Goji berries, wheatgrass, kale all of these have been hailed as ‘superfoods’ but do superfoods really exist?

In a word no. There is no agreed scientific or legal definition of a ‘superfood,’ in fact, in 2007 the EU took steps to ban the term and ruled that ‘superfood’ could not appear on food labels unless it was accompanied by a specific authorised health claim that explained to consumers why the product is good for their health.

However, while food manufacturers cannot put the term ‘superfood’ on labels, they can use it online on their websites and across social media. So, as great as the word sounds, the scientific proof that any one food helps us to live longer or protects us from diseases like heart disease, stroke or cancer, just doesn’t exist.

While some foods are higher in certain nutrients and have health benefits beyond basic nutrition, the term ‘superfood’ is simply a marketing tool used to sell products. It can also be used to distract us from the truth that it is the quality of our overall diet and not individual foods or nutrients, that is most important when it comes to our health.

It is not the goji berries in your breakfast but a varied balanced diet that counts when it comes to heart health.

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But what about those research studies that appear to support superfoods?

Not all studies are created equally, and you may find that many of the studies that appear to back ‘superfoods’ are funded by the manufacturer, not carried out on humans or lack long term data – all of which are signs of poor-quality evidence. Furthermore, most of the studies on superfoods test extracts at huge concentrations not found in foods naturally so, we would have to eat a ton of whatever it was to get the benefit.

Our Advice?
The bottom line is that no one food contains all the nutrients you need, and eating any one food will not cancel out your diet as a whole. While the truth is not as trendy a marketing claim, it is not the goji berries in your breakfast but a varied balanced diet that counts when it comes to heart health.

The evidence tells us that a heart healthy diets have lots of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, pulses, oily fish, modest amounts of oils, low fat dairy, and lean meat, and low intakes of foods high in fat, salt and sugar.

Also, be careful where you get your dietary advice- dietitian is the only legally-protected title for nutrition professionals in Ireland.

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dietitian healthy eating heart disease heart health nutrition

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