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Superfoods myths vs reality

Superfoods is a term you’ll hear a lot in the health and wellness space. However, there is no agreed-upon definition of what constitutes a superfood. We take a look at some of the superfoods myths and facts to find out the truth.

You’ll find most nutritionists would describe a superfood as a food offering superior nutrition in its class. They will also advise that eating a balanced diet is one of the best things you can do for your overall wellbeing, but superfoods can have their place.

So what are the superfoods myths and what are the facts…


10 superfoods health claims and the truth about their super credentials

Superfoods health claim #1: Beets like beetroot give you a stronger immune system and a reduced risk of cancer.

The reality is:

We’re not disputing this claim; we’re just broadly looking at beets. Beets contain a lot of sugar which can be problematic for people with blood sugar issues. They also have an element that can cause constipation. If you find yourself stopped up after going hard on the beets, ease up and add plenty of fibre.

Beets can also cause low calcium levels and worsen kidney disease.

Superfoods health claim #2: Kale helps to boost your immune function and bowel health.

The reality is:

Kale has been one of the biggest superfoods over the last decade or so. And if, as a result of all the pro-kale messaging, you’ve been adding it to every meal, you may want to slow down. You risk lowering your thyroid function and causing an iodine deficiency if you consume too much.

Some non-organic kale is often contaminated with a potentially carcinogenic pesticide banned in some places. Plus, even chefs agree the stuff is totally overrated.

Superfoods health claim #3: Spinach has anti-carcinogenic properties and is a good source of iron.

The reality is:

We all saw Popeye’s muscles that were built from spinach, and well, we’ve heard a lot of good things about it since then. And spinach has its benefits, like being a good source of iron. But there are also some other parts of spinach to consider before you gobble it up as one of the superfoods. Some of the compounds in spinach can increase your risk of kidney stones and gout.

There are also the risks associated with the pesticides used on regular spinach. Some of these can cause disruption to hormones and increased cancer risk, so if you’re going to eat it, make sure it’s organic or thoroughly washed.

Superfoods health claim #4: Coconut oil will improve your hair and skin.

The reality is:

Everyone dumped butter and even olive oil in a hurry to get on the coconut oil train, but the question is why. The stuff is high in saturated fat, which can raise your LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and increase the risk of heart disease.

Superfoods health claim #5: Turmeric can help improve brain function, lower the risk of cancer, and be anti-inflammatory.

The reality is:

A little turmeric goes a long way which is why it’s one of the superfoods. But we want to emphasise the little part of that sentence. You risk digestive issues such as diarrhea, leading to dehydration and the inability to absorb essential nutrients from food.

A maximum of one-half teaspoon a day of dried turmeric is an excellent place to start. This will help you get the benefits that make turmeric one of the superfoods without too much risk of the negative aspects.

Superfoods health claim #6: Green tea is known to improve brain function, be a diet aid and eliminate free radicals.

The reality is:

It’s packed with antioxidants and a go-to for many health-conscious people. However, anyone sensitive to caffeine knows that it can be a one-way street to jitters, upset stomachs, and headaches. This is especially true when consuming more than one cup a day.

Superfoods health claim #7: Sweet potatoes are high in fibre, vitamins, and minerals.

The reality is:

Sweet potatoes may be lower on the glycemic scale than white potatoes; they’re still a high-sugar food and lead to blood-sugar spikes. Blood sugar spikes are more likely to happen when sweet potatoes are roasted as the sugars caramelise.
If you tend to have kidney stones, you should stay away from this one of the superfoods because sweet potatoes can lead to more obstructions thanks to the high amount of dietary oxalate.

Superfoods health claim #8: Broccoli has anti-inflammatory properties, lowers cholesterol and regulates estrogen.

The reality is:

To the delight of children everywhere, there actually may be such thing as too much broccoli. When it comes to this powerful vegetable, the old saying “too much of a good thing” is very much true. Some of the chemicals contained in this superfood can regulate estrogen, but too much of that would cause issues with the bodies natural balance. The vegetable’s high vitamin K content can render the drugs ineffective for those who take blood thinners. Those suffering from hypothyroidism should also completely avoid broccoli, as it interferes with how the thyroid produces iodine.

Superfoods health claim #9: Oats help with reducing the risk of heart disease and act as a diet aid.

The reality is:

Oats are often touted as one of the great superfoods for a filling and healthy breakfast. While high in fibre, oats — particularly quick-cooking or instant oats — are also relatively high in carbohydrates. Flavoured single-serving packets add to the problem with sweeteners, turning a healthful bowl of oatmeal into a dish that actually spikes blood sugar.

Superfoods health claim #10: Garlic can help lower blood pressure and help give cold and flu protection.

The reality is:

With so many lauded qualities that put them on any list of superfoods, it’s hard to imagine anything wrong with garlic. Still, many people have found they’re garlic sensitive or downright intolerant. Garlic, especially when raw, can cause unpleasant bloating and irritation in the intestines, along with intense stomach pain. If you’re consuming it but suspect a sensitivity, try eliminating it for two weeks and see how you feel.

Myths and facts about the term Superfoods itself

Here are a few myths and facts about the term superfoods, what can be considered a superfood, their proposed health benefits and what’s really important for healthy eating.

FACT AND MYTH: Food can only be a “superfood” when backed up with a scientifically approved health claim.

superfood myths

Although there isn’t a widely accepted definition for “Superfoods”, some countries do have legal requirements for when and how this term can be used to describe a food. In Europe, there needs to be scientific evidence that has been approved by the European Food Safety Authority before something can be one of the superfoods. For example; Prunes can be called a superfood because approved research supports their contribution to normal bowel function. There is no such requirement in Australia, which makes judging the validity of superfoods hard to gauge. If a food is labelled as a “Superfood” but doesn’t state why it is good for your health, then it’s likely merely a marketing ploy.

MYTH: I’m not eating healthy enough if I don’t include these trendy and expensive superfoods in my diet.

The term “Superfood” has frequently been coined by savvy marketing teams who want to increase sales of certain food products. There are no rules dictating how the phrase can be used. Therefore, many of the foods we know today as infamous superfoods that don’t have the science to support the claims – or warrant the price tags! For example, Kale is often referred to as a superfood. However, when you look at its nutritional value, it’s not really that much more nutritionally better than any other green leafy vegetable or salad greens.

FACT: Eating a balanced diet full of variety will provide all of the nutrition that I need.

weight loss tips

Eat the rainbow!! The more colours of different fruits and vegetables you can put on your plate, the more nutrients within. Eating a wide range of other coloured foods will ensure you consume the full range of nutrients your body needs. Likewise, it’s essential to ensure you include a balance of lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats in your everyday diet. This will ensure you meet your micronutrient requirements and macro needs.

What’s the superfoods verdict?

superfood myths

As is often the case when something seems too good to be true, the superfoods myth may just be that – a myth created by clever marketing. By presenting these foods as superfoods with special health powers, we’re more inclined to buy them as an easy ‘cheat’ solution to living healthier.

Superfoods are nutritious, but it’s clear that the term is more helpful in driving sales than it is for optimising your overall health and nutrition. A downside of superfoods is that the title alone may cause you to focus on a few specific foods, blinding you to other equally nutritious options that aren’t as hyped. You benefit from eating a wide array of essential vitamins and minerals, stopping you from eating too much (or too little) of a particular nutrient. It also keeps your meals exciting and flavorful! Variety in your diet is essential.

Explore individual foods and learn how to select, prepare, and enjoy them. Don’t be distracted by the latest overhyped food or fad. Instead, focus on creating a “super plate” full of different healthy and flavorful foods.

In the end, the truth comes down to the fact that there isn’t really a way to cheat when it comes to living healthy. It’s all about making long term changes, including a balanced diet rich in good whole foods, exercise and activity.

Read more to continue your healthy eating journey:

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