Fact: there’s no legal, scientific or medical definition for the word “superfood”. As nutritionist Dr Norman Temple succinctly puts it: “‘Superfood’ is purely a marketing term”.
That doesn’t mean these foods are bad for you. It’s just that you should look at them with a sceptical eye – as we did.
THE CLAIM: It eases joint pain! It prevents prostate cancer! It’ll give you an erection! It’s the nectar of the gods!
THE EVIDENCE Pomegranate seeds are an excellent source of fibre, antioxidants, and vitamins C and K, but evidence that the fruit provides any benefits beyond what other fruits offer is not convincing, says biological scientist Dr Diane McKay. Most of the perks, including the fibre and vitamin C, come from eating the fruit, not drinking the juice. Some pomegranate juice defenders point to small and/or short-term studies that suggest health benefits, although more research is needed to prove a cause-and-effect connection.
THE VERDICT Enjoy pomegranate – whole or as a drink – if you like the taste, but don’t expect special powers. In fact, compared with orange juice or whole fruit, pomegranate products are higher in kilojoules and sugar, and lower in fibre and some vitamins and nutrients.
THE CLAIM These green shoots fight inflammation and detoxify your liver after you’ve, um, “toxified” it. Their chlorophyll power is so profound that soaking in a wheatgrass bath boosts blood cell production.
THE EVIDENCE Yes, wheatgrass is nutritious, but it’s nothing special. Its benefits are similar to those of other greens. Studies have suggested that wheatgrass juice may have perks like treating ulcerative colitis. But a 2015 article published in Mini Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry found problems with existing wheatgrass research. Plus, foods and drinks can’t magically “detox” your body – a healthy person’s liver, kidneys and lungs do that job.
THE VERDICT Wheatgrass is a fine ingredient for a healthy smoothie, but don’t count on grazing as your major source of vegetables for the day or as a hangover pick-me-up.
THE CLAIM It’s “Mother Nature’s sports drink” – more hydrating than water and sugar-laden performance drinks.
THE EVIDENCE Coconut water does have important electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium. It’s also lower in carbs than Gatorade. But a 2012 study in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism concluded that it doesn’t hydrate any better than a sports drink does.
THE VERDICT Let dietitian Nyree Dardarian of Drexel University, spell it out for you: “If your goal is fitness and weight loss, plain water is the best option. I’d recommend coconut water if you’re a recreational athlete who doesn’t like to drink water and prefers flavoured drinks.” But if you’re doing exercise that’s more intense, such as marathon training, you’ll need to consume more carbs to fuel smart, she says.
THE CLAIM These little health nuggets can treat diabetes, reverse high blood pressure, promote weight loss, enhance brain activity, boost immunity, battle cancer and protect against UV damage.
THE EVIDENCE Goji berries do have a lot of antioxidants, but those bold claims don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny. One widely touted Chinese study from 1994 suggested that combining goji extract with cancer treatment may prolong remission, but the study didn’t contain data needed to prove its accuracy.
THE VERDICT If you want to add them to yoghurt, go ahead – they’ve got fibre, vitamin A and iron. But they won’t be putting sunscreen companies out of business anytime soon. Plus, at almost $37 for 500g for one organic brand we found, you need to really like the taste.
THE CLAIM These seeds provide fibre, calcium and iron. But the biggie here is heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, with some claiming that chia seeds have nearly eight times the omega-3 content of salmon.
THE EVIDENCE Research reviews haven’t found sufficient evidence that chia provides any lasting health benefits. Chia seeds contain mostly short-chain fatty acids, which are different from the long-chain form in salmon. So while you may be consuming more omega-3s per gram, choosing chia means your body won’t net the boost that salmon offers.
THE VERDICT The seeds may not have the omega-3 value promised, but they do contain 34g of gut-filling fibre per 100g. Blend them into a shake or scatter them into a bowl of yoghurt if you struggle to get enough daily fibre.
4 WAYS TO BE A SUPER EATER
1/EAT PRODUCE AT EVERY MEAL
Eat 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables a day, and reap the benefits. Have a handful of spinach in your breakfast omelette and a mid-morning banana. That’s two added serves.
2/ COOK WITH A VARIETY OF OILS
“Each type of fat has unique fatty acids,” says dietitian Dr Chris Mohr. Which one should you cook with? Match the flavours: butter for eggs, olive oil for Italian dishes, coconut oil for stir-fry.
3/ FOCUS ON A STEADY, STABLE EATING PLAN
Beware of cleanses that purport to flush toxins from your body and shrink your gut in days. No solid studies have demonstrated the benefits of detoxes, a Macquarie University review concluded.
4/ REASSESS YOUR NEED FOR SNACKS
Men, on average, eat 3860 empty kilojoules a day, a recent US report revealed. Before you snack, ask: “Am I hungry enough to eat an apple?” If you are, eat an apple. If you’re not, don’t eat anything.