Super Foods or Super Marketing?

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In our community, health is paramount.

And, as the rest of the world is slowly becoming aware of the importance of health, we are seeing more options available to us – the everyday consumer – which will allegedly aid in our goal to remain as healthy and happy as possible.

Woolworths and Coles now supply a much larger range of organic and health goods than they once did and there is a definite rise in buying locally and organically from farmers markets.

We can also see a rise in marketing for health foods, in particular, super-foods.

As always, companies have quickly capitalised on this increase in demand for health products, inflating prices and heavily marketing health foods, in particular, ‘Super-Foods’.

Consumers, not questioning this superfood marketing, have been plowing through supplies, again leading to more price increases.

According to MedicineNet.com, a “superfood” is a non-medical term, popularised in the media, which refers to foods that have a high content of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, usually claiming health-promoting properties such as reducing one’s risk of disease or improving any aspect of physical or emotional health.

It is important to note that there is no accepted medical definition of a superfood. Common foods said to have ‘super powers’ are types of berries, fish, vegetables, teas, seaweed and many more.

The question is: Are companies using the term superfood as a means to more profit, or is there truth in the claim?

There is no doubt that the acclaimed superfoods have a large amount of good nutrients (more so than some other foods) that are beneficial to human beings.

However, are they actually doing their proclaimed ‘super deeds’ in their raw complete form, in the human digestive system and combined with a mixture of other foods? Not only that, but aren’t these foods the same foods that health and nutrition advocates have always been saying to eat as a part of your normal everyday diet for many years anyway, before the superfood label was given to them and before the prices were inflated?

Mum always did say eat your vegetables.

Are they only super duper now, after years of just being a good healthy foods, because companies have caught onto something the public is interested in and know they can maximise profits by promoting them as such?

As for the abnormal health benefits – preventing cancer and other diseases and promoting physical or emotional health, there is little scientific evidence for these claims. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals said most nutritional science involves studying one nutrient at a time.

‘The problem with nutrient-by-nutrient science is that it takes the nutrient out of the context of food, the food out of the context of diet, and the diet out of the context of lifestyle’.

Apart from the fact that the effect of the whole food may be more, or quite different, from the sum of its parts, it is impossible to say each person will have the same physiological result.

In fact, the BBC News published an article stating that the EU has legislated a superfood ban on all marketing unless the product is accompanied by a specific authorised health claim.

The UK Cancer Research Centre said, ‘Eating any one specific food is unlikely to have a major impact on preventing cancer, or any other diseases for that matter. But eating a healthy and varied diet is a great way of helping to reduce your risk.’

Superfood marketing creates the lie that even if you are eating mostly unhealthy foods if you eat this one food, you will be strong and healthy essentially giving the consumers an excuse to eat Mcdonalds or other unhealthy junk.

‘It’s alright’ the consumer will say, ‘I am going to have a handful of goji berries after this Big Mac’.

Marketing these expensive products perpetuates the belief that you can take shortcuts to a good diet and good health.

Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George’s Hospital in London said the answer to a healthy diet is not dipping into the pocket for the occasional hit of ‘superfood’ but rather to eat as balanced, varied and unprocessed a diet as much as possible.

“‘People should not look for individual superfoods, but try to eat a ‘super diet'” she said.

Looking at it from the eyes of someone who supports superfoods, Jane Reznick from the Garvan Institute’s Diabetes and Obesity group said as scientific research develops, discoveries of the body’s functions and chemical and molecular processes that occur in the body when healthy and when sick are more definitive.

“Naturally occurring super-foods are therefore very exciting as we discover that they contain the nutrients and chemicals that our body needs for some of its processes. As the causes of certain diseases become clearer, we begin to understand that a lack of particular nutrients can lead to some serious malfunctions, which then result in diseases”.

However, this statement does not veer far from that of Ms. Collins from St George’s Hospital: If we don’t have particular nutrients, there can be malfunctions.

The theory of having a well balanced, varied and unprocessed diet is at play here. Superfoods can obviously add to our health, but individually they aren’t the miracle cure they are marketed to be.

It is interesting to look the many superfoods out there that aren’t marketed as such. Eggs contain high amounts of vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids and a stack of other amazing nutritional content. Why hasn’t the humble egg been branded with the superfood label?

At the end of the day, it is a well balanced and healthy diet that will keep you at peak performance. Eat unprocessed and seasonal foods, organic where possible, local if you can and of course, fresh is the best way to get life from food.

– Written by Laura Finlayson

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