We were disappointed to see Peta Bee in the Times with an article on “Anti-ageing superfoods”: giving an article over to the uncritical discussion of some of Holford’s dietary beliefs. It’s worth quickly going through some of the problems with the article here. Continue reading
Category Archives: superfoods
Sadly, super has no legal definition when used to market foodstuffs. Superfoods do not have to give us super powers. We’re just expected to accept widespread assertions that they are overflowing with standard and special nutrients that confer energy, increase sexual potency, improve cognitive skills and protect us against diseases such as heart disease, strokes, diabetes and even cancer.
Where there is an extraordinary nutritional or medical claim is being made for a food, then Patrick Holford is likely to be part of the chorus, and he is. You can read about Superfoods on Holford’s own site or in his co-authored book, Food Is Better Medicine than Drugs.
Today’s Observer carries an interesting article that debunks many of the claims for superfoods and questions whether they provide nutrients that can’t be obtained from more readily available and cheaper foodstuffs: Forget superfoods, you can’t beat an apple a day.
Several experts explain that basic science shows that some claims about superfoods can not be proved, and any specific benefits may not be available to everyone who eats them. The redoutable Catherine Collins, chief dietitian at St. George’s Hospital in London, offers a helpful synopsis of the issues:
‘There are so many wrong ideas about superfoods that I don’t know where best to begin to dismantle the whole concept.’
Just because certain foods are bursting with a particular vitamin or nutrient does not mean they will be especially good for you, Collins said. ‘It might seem that eating foods rich in nutrients is just common sense, but the truth is that our bodies have a requirement for sufficient nutrients,’ she added.
‘If our bodies have an excess of nutrients and cannot store them, they will essentially go to waste. Or, more worryingly, if certain nutrients can’t be excreted in sufficient levels, they could cause serious cellular damage. Overloading our bodies is not a healthy or natural thing to do.’
Not only is there no scientific definition of a superfood, but the concept itself could be harmful. ‘Nominating some foods as nutritional talismans gives the impression that ordinary, affordable and everyday foods are somehow deficient,’ she said. ‘But rather than spend £5 on a small punnet of exotic berries, a family would be better off buying regular and larger quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables from their local market.
‘On a restricted budget, it is even more important to ignore dubious, expensive products in the belief you can take short cuts to a good diet. Rather than buying some ridiculous African algae, with all the CO2 emissions associated with travel, eating a cheap British apple would be better for the environment too.’
Berries, algae and wheatgrass make an appearance in Holford’s list of superfoods. There is a myth-busting section in which we learn how very Pooterish, rather than super, these foods are. E.g., despite the extravagant claims made for wheatgrass by its envangelists, its nutritional benefits are pitilessly compared to cheaper and more accessible foods:
The commonly held assumption that a 30ml shot of wheatgrass juice is nutritionally equivalent to a kilogram of vegetables is a complete myth. A floret or two of broccoli, or a tablespoon of spinach, contain more folic acid and vitamin C than 30ml of wheatgrass juice.
Overall, it looks as if berries, wheatgrass, algae and other superfoods thought to have remarkable super powers should give up looking for phone boxes. The powers of superfoods lie in their earning potential for marketeers and supermarkets rather than superior nutrition for consumers.