When you hear the word ‘superfood’, foods like blueberries, goji berries and pomegranate may spring to mind. Various health claims exist around these so-called superfoods in the media, for example that acai berries have anti-ageing properties, or garlic lowers blood pressure.

So what is a ‘superfood’ I hear you ask? Interestingly the term ‘superfood’ has no set definition. This is because any health claims around foods have to be supported by rigorous scientific evidence. And sadly, this evidence does not exist in the amounts we get from normal food portion… That’s why you won’t see these health claims on your food packaging.

The foods that have been involved in scientific evidence and human trials usually involve large amounts of that food, a concentrated form of the food, or an extract / chemical found in that food in concentrations not found in its usual state. This means that in the amount of food we have in a normal diet, e.g. a clove of garlic, or a handful of blueberries, no evidence exists.

An example of this is beetroot – eating 200g of baked beetroot or drinking concentrated beetroot juice has been shown to boost sports performance in the days leading up to an endurance event (the proposed mechanism, in case you’re interested, is that the nitrates in beets cause blood vessels to widen delivering more blood and thereby oxygen to the muscles). However, 200g of beetroot is a large portion, and the Beet-It juice (although is able to include this health claim on the packaging) is expensive, and although it may be good for those wishing to get a small performance-related benefit, it probably won’t have much effect for the joe bloggs public.

Garlic is another example of a deemed ‘superfood’. However in order to obtain the cholesterol and blood pressure lowering effect found by researchers, you would have to eat 28 cloves of garlic a day. Now that’s definitely not something I intend to do… ever!

The bottom line is that there really is no substitute for a healthy, balanced diet. Fruits as well as vegetables are important for a healthy diet, no matter what the media story about fruit might be. Some people find it easier to think about ‘eating a rainbow’ – it’s just another way of saying that eating a variety of colours means you’re more likely to be eating a good range of vitamins, minerals and other natural chemicals. So rather than having an apple and banana everyday, why not mix it up and include some other colours and varieties of fruit? And if you’re already eating your 5-a-day, why not increase your intake further? Because that really would be Super…

The post Superfoods or Super-hoax? appeared first on Expert Dietitian.


Annemarie Aburrow

Annemarie graduated from the University of Southampton in 2003 with a first class honours in Physiology with Nutrition. She went on to study a Postgraduate Diploma in Dietetics at Cardiff Metropolitan University, leading to registration as a Dietitian. Between 2005 and 2013, Annemarie worked for the NHS in a wide variety of clinical and community roles. More recently, she has specialised in health promotion and prescribing support. She has particular experience in obesity management (both adults and children), diabetes, nutrition for the under 5s and nutritional supplement prescribing. In 2013, Annemarie left the NHS to set up her private practice 'Expert Dietitian'. She now works as a freelance Dietitian, offering private consultations in Hampshire, telephone and Skype appointments, corporate nutrition consultancy and bespoke training. She has a growing portfolio of project work, including working with her local council to provide nutrition training and expertise to Early Years settings, article writing, work with schools and running training/workshops. Annemarie is a member of the British Dietetic Association (BDA) and is registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

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