Superfood or Super Fad?
Superfoods have recently gained traction in nutrition and health circles. We’ve all heard about them, and some of us have maybe even stocked up on them, expecting incredible changes to our body and performance with every R200 teaspoon we add to our smoothies. But are they really all that magical? Registered dietician, Adrian Penzhorn, weighs in with his opinion on superfoods.
According to the book, The Magic of Superfoods by Peter and Beryn Daniel, “Superfoods are foods that deliver more: more nutrients, energy and healing. They are foods that have been revered by ancient cultures around the world for thousands of years.” Personally, the fact that they are linked to ancient cultures immediately implies that they have some ancient healing magic associated with them too, which I hate to admit, is maybe 60% part of the reason I was swept up in the craze. But all ancient roots and marketing campaigns aside, is there really such a thing as a superfood? Can a teaspoon of something used thousands of years ago heal and nourish my body more than regular fruit and veggies can? I asked registered dietician, Adrian Penzhorn of Food for Sport to weigh in and help unpack the craze and give some practical advice for anyone wanting to dabble (or already knee deep in).
Is there such a thing as a superfood?
“In the same way that there are no bad foods, just bad diets we can say there are no super foods just super diets,” says Penzhorn. “Superfoods are a bit overdone and overhyped in my opinion. It's the bigger picture that matters.” Penzhorn may not have been swept up in the superfood tidal wave, but he certainly doesn’t discount that some foods having more of a benefit that others – he just calls them something else and doesn’t necessarily link them to an ancient tribe or time. “There are some foods that have functional effects. These functional foods may be natural or processed and contain active ingredients (some we may not yet know about) that provide a clinical benefit with proven results.”
So is there a major difference between these ‘functional’ foods compared to ‘superfoods’?
The biggest thing to note at this point, is the fundamental difference between the price point, as well as popularity. According to Penzhorn, functional foods have as many nutrients and benefits, but are just not marketed as well and are half the price. “The best thing about the functional foods I have mentioned is that they are fairly economical. There are other ‘superfoods’ which are well marketed, expensive and not necessarily worth their tags, like chia and quinoa. They are very popular at the moment but not better sources of any one nutrient that can’t be found elsewhere. This is an issue I have with these superfoods, they often are not the best, and definitely not the only source of nutrients they claim to be.”
Can one supplement superfoods with regular foods and expect similar results?
Penzhorn has a host of functional foods that dish up just the same amount of nutrients as ‘superfoods’, but for half the cost. “If you’re using quinoa for protein and fibre, why not look at peas, beans or chickpeas and if you’re trying camu-camu for vitamin C, kiwi fruit is in season and way cheaper. Chia is great for an interesting texture, but for less calories, more fiber and similar omega 3, why not use some flaxseed instead.”