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Superfoods are no substitute for a healthy, balanced and varied diet

Superfoods are no substitute for a healthy, balanced and varied diet
Superfoods are no substitute for a healthy, balanced and varied diet (November 2011)

The public is always on the lookout for the magic bullet when it comes to heath, and because of their eagerness there has been a significant rise in popularity of foods deemed to have high health benefits and that also reduce the risk of cancer. Such foods have been coined “superfoods,” but the word may be little more then a marketing tool that has been assisted in its promotion by the media and the food companies’ whose sales it benefits. The reality is that there is a limited amount of science behind the benefits of superfoods, and the only way for a person to ensure better health and a reduced risk for disease and cancer through cuisine is to eat a healthy and balanced diet.

Superfoods can be defined as individual food items that may have an unusually high content of antioxidants, vitamins, or other nutrients. Some foods associated with this title are blueberries, pomegranate juice, spinach, soy, wheatgrass, and seaweed. However, as Jeremy Spencer of Reading University explained ‘Not only is it completely misleading to break a food down into its component parts and study those one by one, but it is impossible to predict the reactions of individual metabolisms to specific foods.' Eating something in its whole form is usually quite different then consuming say, the sum of its parts in nutrient form. He went on to state that ‘people do not eat nutrients they eat food,’ which in other words means breaking down the effects of nutrients out of the context of food could be deceptive.

This is largely demonstrated by a study conducted by Dr. Naomi Allen for Cancer Research UK. She explains that while many “superfoods” contain natural chemicals that have been shown to have positive health effects in laboratory studies, the studies are conducted with large quantities of a purified ingredient and/or nutrient, just to see any effect. Not only is the amount of nutrient necessary for a positive effect different then what a person would consume, it is part of a mixture. Additionally, it is difficult to follow and predict the exact interactions between a compound and the human body, which is very complex. There may be a much different reaction when we consume the chemical in the form of food rather then what happens inside a controlled experiment within a lab.

Moreover, consuming excess nutrients can turn into a waste, because the body can only absorb so many of one type before the saturation limit is reached. Overloading can be unhealthy and it is also expensive, since many of these superfoods are quite pricy and exotic. More often then not people are better served by simply eating fresh fruit and vegetables from local grocery stores, which they can buy in larger quantities and for a cheaper price. A few years ago the European Union even put forth legislation that banned the use of the term superfood unless it was accompanied by a specific authorized health claim that explained to consumers why the product was good for their health.

Once again this concept ties into peoples’ desire to take short cuts to a good diet, rather then take the time and effort to put together a sustainable and healthy set of meals. Balance and variation are key according to most experts, which will allow an individual to have a greater chance of consuming all the necessary vitamins and nutrients required for health, and in a natural way. This coupled with reasonable portions and moderation, where we eat enough to support the activities of our lifestyles but not the storage of fat, is the means for reducing one’s risk of disease and improving our physical and emotional health.