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Articles Lifestyle Superfoods: super healthy or super hype?
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Superfoods: super healthy or super hype?

superfoods super healthy or super hype

“Superfoods”, are they as “super” as they’re cracked up to be?

Together with Dietician Themis Chryssidis from Sprout Health Studio, we have a closer look at three popular superfoods and see if they’re actually worth eating.

What is a "superfood"?

The term “superfood” has no legal definition and is really just a marketing term created to promote healthy foods.  Usually these foods are nutrient dense with some suggested  health benefits and high concentrations of phytonutrients such as antioxidants.

In the end, just because one food is labelled a superfood, doesn’t mean it’s any more nutritious than another food.

Spirulina

Spirulina is a type of algae powder often added to green smoothies which is promoted for its high protein content and antioxidant properties. It works to protect cells and reduce inflammation. Yes, per 100g spirulina is high in protein, in fact it’s high in most things. The problem is you would never consume 100g of spirulina in one sitting, or even in one day or over a week.

If you compare the recommended serving size of spirulina to the recommended serving size of other more attainable and affordable foods, it isn’t that special after all. Yes, spirulina is highly nutritious, but it’s not practical to consume this algae at quantities where you’re able to benefit from its high nutrient profile.

Spirulina (100g)Spirulina (Per serve, 3g)Eggs (100g)Eggs (Per serve, 2 large)
Energy1218kj48kj587kj587kj
Protein57g1.7g12.7g12.7g
Total fat7.7g0.1g9.9g9.9g
Saturated fat2.6g0.1g2.7g2.7g
Carbohydrate24g0.4g0.3g0.3g
Sugar3.1g0g0.3g0.3g
Fibre3.60.1g0g0g
Sodium1050mg32mg134mg134mg
Iron28.5mg0.85mg1.8g1.8g
Magnesium195mg5.9mg10mg10mg
Vitamin D0IU0IU87IU87IU

Matcha

Matcha is green tea made from the same leaf as regular green tea, however the leaves used for making matcha tea are shielded from the sun for 20-30 days before being harvested resulting in an increase in chlorophyll levels, which is the green pigment found in plants. Due to the whole leaf being ground, matcha is higher in antioxidants and caffeine than regular tea. Matcha is believed to reduce inflammation possibly reducing risks associated with heart disease and boost alertness.

With matcha most of the health benefits are associated with the high antioxidant content however you can’t forget about the very high caffeine content too which may make this product inappropriate for children and pregnant women.

Many matcha products have also shown to contain lead obtained from the soil, particularly from plants grown in China. Due to the fact that the whole leaf is used when making matcha tea the lead levels remain high.

Is a matcha tea every once in a while, going to do any harm? Probably not, but nor is it going to do any significant benefit. But, if over consumed it could be harmful. Perhaps stick to regularly consuming a variety of fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables and extra virgin olive oil to get the same benefits.

Acai

Acai berries are from the acai palm grown in central and northern America. They look like large blueberries and were made popular after being termed a “superfood” on the Opera Winfrey show…

Acai berries contain antioxidants at higher levels than other berries and they also contain healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which is uncommon for fruit. Like most superfoods, acai’s claim to fame is due to its high antioxidant content which reduces inflammation and oxidative stress. Like most fruits and vegetables the antioxidant benefits come from the bright coloured skin, hence the striking purple-pink colour of acai juices and smoothies where the skins are combined into the product.

There aren’t too many major concerns with consuming acai berries, however limited research has been conducted investigating the safe consumption levels of acai.

In the end, acai is a berry high in antioxidants. However, during harvesting acai berries are handpicked and shipped around the world from the Brazilian rainforest. Considering the nutrient content of food begins to reduce the moment it’s picked, this very time intensive process could reduce the nutrient content of the berries significantly. Perhaps don’t swap your locally sourced blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries for acai berries just yet…

So, should I eat "superfoods" or not?

Superfoods are nutritious foods but ultimately their benefits  don’t outweigh their cost.

No foods provide a complete source of nutrition. No foods themselves cure major illness. Focus on consistently getting the basics right and filling your diet with plenty of fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, lean meats, dairy and whole grains.

Experience Health Partners Generous

Themis Chryssidis is an Accredited Practising Dietitian at Sprout Health Studio – a multidisciplinary health care studio in Adelaide. He has a Bachelor of Psychology, a Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics and a Cert IV in Fitness.

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