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The Lake News Online
  • Nutrition tip of the week: What makes a superfood?

  • What if there was a substance that could lower your cholesterol, reduce your risk for heart disease and cancer, and improve your mood? This isn’t a drug, and it has no side-effects. You’d sign up, right? That’s what marketers are counting on when they label a food as a “superfood.”
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  • What if there was a substance that could lower your cholesterol, reduce your risk for heart disease and cancer, and improve your mood? This isn’t a drug, and it has no side-effects. You’d sign up, right? That’s what marketers are counting on when they label a food as a “superfood.”
    The term superfood was first used in the late nineties to describe unfamiliar foods from around the world that supposedly had superior nutritional qualities. Today, media loves the word.
    Quinoa was the hot, new superfood a couple years ago; then came kale. Now, chia seeds seem to be the new darling superfood. There are thousands of articles assuring us that if we eat this or that superfood we will stave off illness, slow aging or improve medical conditions.
    Some of these so-called superfoods have been studied in an attempt to prove their super status. But, many of the studies are skewed. Some are done only in labs with animals and never tested on humans. Some must use unrealistic quantities of the food before a real benefit is seen. And most don’t take into account the effect of other foods eaten in a normal diet.
    The word “superfood” is not regulated, and there are no guidelines for using the term. This opens the door for false and misleading claims. Superfoods are not miracle foods that will cure diseases, melt the pounds or erase the years. Opinions vary as to what is classed as a superfood. An Internet search will yield hundreds of articles listing the top superfoods, and the lists are all a little different.
    In my opinion, a superfood should be real food. Nothing processed should be labeled a superfood. They should be high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals or other specific nutrients. Sound familiar? It should. This describes pretty much all fruits and vegetables, and most heart-healthy foods.
    Marketing a food as a superfood virtually guarantees that sales will increase and the food will gain popularity among those interested in good health and well-being. It’s been estimated that 60 percent of the population will buy a food simply because it has been labeled as a superfood. Sales of quinoa, for example, exploded in the last couple years. People can now pronounce the word correctly, know what it is, and have likely eaten or prepared it. Kale has been around forever but with the superfood label it is now a readily available and popular leafy green.
    Perhaps it’s a good thing to label these foods as superfoods to help thrust nutritious foods into the spotlight. Vegetables, especially, need all the help they can get to sell. But when a certain food is labeled as such, it implies that less glamorous (or less expensive) foods are not as healthy. And, this just isn’t so. Consider the acai berry, for example. This reddish-purple berry native to Brazil claims to have more antioxidants than other berries and can even promote weight loss. But, actual health benefits beyond those of normal berries have not been proven. Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries are all less expensive and will provide the same benefits. Quinoa is praised for its protein and fiber content, but aren’t beans an excellent source for protein and fiber? And, what’s wrong with the lowly apple, onion or carrot?
    Page 2 of 2 - Next time you hear about the latest superfood, take it with a grain of salt. Don’t be afraid to give it a try — you might discover a new favorite food. Just realize that it is likely a highly nutritious food but that it probably isn’t significantly better than any other common fruit or vegetable. And, it certainly doesn’t have magical properties that will cure disease. The real superfoods can be found in the produce aisle of every grocery store, at the Farmer’s markets or in your own garden.
     
    Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.

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