Don’t believe the hype: not all “superfoods” deliver on their promises.
From oversold benefits to underwhelming ingredients, these 25 products are worth striking from your shopping list. According to our experts – nutritionist and founder of Awesco Nutrition, Anne Anyia, PT and nutrition coach, Wilson Pinho and, lecturer at the University of East London, Adnan Chowdhury – your money – and your appetite – are better spent elsewhere.
Don’t let their name fool you into thinking that these are complete and balanced meals. These are just regular biscuits with a rising sun or crowing rooster on the packaging, and low in protein. If you must eat on the move, Chowdhury recommends plant-based protein bars.
Now ubiquitous in health food shops in the form of sweets or herbal teas, liquorice is claimed to have, ahem, all sorts of benefits. But be wary of your dosage. When eaten every day, its glycyrrhizic acid can cause a reduction in potassium levels, says Anyia, leading to high blood pressure, an affliction that is already on the rise among Aussie men.
In conversations about the risks of processed meat, bacon hogs the blame. Hence the popularity of the lean turkey variety. But its lack of fat is often compensated for with glucose syrup. As a result, it can actually contain more calories than pork. It’s also lower in selenium. “I wouldn’t advise eating it more than once a week,” says Chowdhury.
There’s a reason Popeye ate it tinned. Spinach is a source of oxalic acid, which binds to minerals such as calcium, meaning less of the goodness in your veg is absorbed. Cooking reduces levels of this compound, as well as making its beta-carotene up to three times as easy to absorb. It tastes nothingy in salads, anyway. Sauté.
If you’re thinking, “That’s not a food,” you’re right – tell that to the internet wellness quacks who’ve been mixing them with water and knocking them back. The aromatherapy-style peppermint or citrus oils, which do not conform to food safety standards, put you at risk of poisoning, rashes and stomach upsets.
Ignore the marketing. Cauliflower is not a steak, it’s a side dish. Though high in micros, it’s low in protein: a 300g serving has only 11g, compared to 50g in an 8oz steak. Roasted cauli makes a tasty addition to meals, but its macro count won’t do the heavy lifting alone.
Also known as purple yam, its bright hue has made it a breakout flavour for vegan ice cream, cupcakes and bubble tea. But, aesthetically pleasing though it may be, it won’t make hipster junk food any healthier.
Anything labelled “vegan” or “plant-based” sounds virtuous, but many of these products are made with coconut oil and modified starch. “That makes them high in saturated fats,” says Chowdhury. Cashew cream cheese, made by blending nuts with seasoning and yeast, is a natural alternative.
That our grab-and-go lunch culture is fostering bad habits won’t come as a surprise. But even the seemingly healthy options can fall short. Strip away the low-nutrient iceberg lettuce and tokenistic carrot shavings and what you’re left with is a single-use tub full of croutons and dressing. For $5, no less.
From charcoal brioche to charcoal sourdough, this is a trend that refuses to burn out. But while it might look good on Instagram, charcoal has no proven nutritional benefits when used as a colouring, despite detoxification claims. “It’s a marketing thing,” says Pinho. The Italian ministry of health has even tried to stop it being marketed as “bread”.
Brown Rice Milk
This healthy-sounding, hypoallergenic plant milk is gluten-, soya- and nut-free. But it’s also absent of anything useful. A glassful contains 12g of sugar and barely a drop of protein – even unsweetened varieties. Soya is still king when it comes to protein, but pea holds its own, too.
The lockdown staple is good for long days on the trails, but less so when you’re shut indoors. Over-ripe bananas contain more simple sugars and less gut-healthy starch than greener ones. It’s a cake, not a loaf. “It’ll spike your blood glucose and insulin levels,” says Anyia.
That a viral tweet about licking Himalayan salt lamps got more than 74,000 likes last year is all you need to know. Now, there’s a trend for drinking “sole water”, saturated with salt of the millennial pink or black variety. It might get you likes on Twitter but it won’t alkalise your body or flush out toxins.
The Californian almond industry has been linked to the deaths of billions of bees. That’s not the only reason to switch back to PB: the two nut butters have comparable levels of B vitamins and minerals, but peanut contains 5g of protein per spoonful, compared to almond’s 3g.
Sold as a healthier alternative to chips, gramme for gramme their calorie count is just 10% lower. “They’re higher in fibre,” says Anyia. “But because they’re processed, most of the nutritional benefits of lentils will be lost.”
It’s been touted as a cure for viral infections and allergies, and even as a detoxification agent. But while it does contain antioxidants and has some antibacterial properties, most of the claims are unsupported by science. It’s also 80% sugar – and 30 times more expensive than a regular jar of honey.
Sift out the marketing and this is what you’re left with: a breakfast cereal that’s 20% sugar (compared to 17% for Coco Pops). It has more fibre, but so does a peanut butter sandwich. We know which we’d choose.
Evidence for cannabidiol’s benefits regarding anxiety, pain relief and inflammation looks promising. But most of us are dosing it wrong: scientific studies tend to work with amounts of between 100-600mg. Many gummy brands offer as little as 25mg in a pack of 10 – along with plenty of glucose syrup
From gloopy aquafaba to soaked chia seeds or Just Egg’s yellow-tinted mung beans, there are many ways for vegans to sub out eggs. There’s even Wagamama’s “fried egg”, made with coconut milk and cornflour. But none matches the amino acids, choline and vitamin D in the genuine article.
Is watermelon good for you? Absolutely. But this is juice, not water, and a glass packs 21g of sugar – more than half of a Coke – with zero fibre. It contains a small amount of muscle-boosting L-citrulline, but not enough to have a measurable effect. Instead, enjoy it as nature intended: cubed, frozen and added to a gin and tonic.
Drinking it upon waking supposedly primes your metabolism for the day and boosts your ability to burn fat. However, there’s zero science to support this. Half a squeezed lemon will provide you with 18% of your day’s vitamin C, a deficiency of which can hinder your body’s normal functions, but that’s still less than you’d find in a quarter of a kiwi
Fresh is best, but even raw cranberries offer a fairly modest amount of nutrients compared to less festive fruits such as blueberries and blackberries. Dried cranberries are sweetened and can be up to 70% pure sugar, with more calories than other dried fruits.
Iceland’s pack of chicken fillets work out at £4 for a whole bird’s worth of meat. But intensively farmed birds don’t just have poorer welfare standards: “The meat has significantly more fat than free-range or organic,” says Chowdhury. It’s also lower in omega-3 fatty acids.
Supermarket Sushi Boxes
Sushi isn’t an everyday swap for your sandwich. Eating it too often risks elevating your mercury levels, while white rice can spike blood sugar. Plus, it’s ruined by long refrigeration times. So, swerve the meal deals.
A fizzy, funky-tasting tipple with 10g of sugar and a similar ABV to a regular beer. “A recent review found little evidence of kombucha’s health benefits in human trials,” says Pinho. Why not just have a beer?