The myth about superfoods

What is a superfood?

A nutrient rich food considered to be of benefit to health and well-being.

However, no food can claim to have this status without scientific evidence to back up the health claims that it makes. Therefore food manufacturers who want to increase the sales of their products will fund scientific research into their products to validate their claims. Or those outside the EU legislation will refer to other studies to make them more appealing.

The problem

Firstly, we don’t like feeling sad, we want to live longer and we want to improve our physical abilities.

Secondly, how valid is the research? Was the research carried out on humans, and how many humans? What type of study was it? Not all of them show cause and effect and if it does one study is not enough?

Thirdly, does the small print matter and if not why not? This food burns fat! An experiment carried out on rodents showed...

Finally, placebo, a persons’ believed effect of treatment.

A few products were recently brought to my attention and they really concern me as they make health claims that are not backed up by sound research and they could do more harm than good. One of them is bulletproof coffee.

‘Bulletproof coffee’

Firstly it sells itself on being a meal replacement by replacing breakfast for one coffee which contains two tablespoons MCT oil, two tablespoons butter, two cups of bullet proof coffee, no fibre, one gram protein and under 10% vitamin contribution except vitamin A, B2 and B5, a total energy content of 450kcal, 80% of which is from saturated fats which is more than double the recommended guidelines. 

This may be beneficial to those that have been medically recommended a ketogenic diet (people with epilepsy) but if you have cardiovascular disease it would be recommended to avoid this product. The testimonials on the internet of people that report higher levels of cholesterol after drinking bullet proof coffee is testament to this but these levels may not be due to just bullet proof coffee. There are a number of reasons why cholesterol levels can be high and one is genetic.

However anyone who is having a high carbohydrate and fat diet could be increasing their risk of cardiovascular disease, central adiposity and type two diabetes.

Maintaining energy levels, increasing fat burning potential and having more anti-antioxidants can be achieved by regular sleep, enjoyable activity and a varied nutritious diet made from natural ingredients.  And you don’t need to skip a meal in order to lose weight, evidence consistently shows that this could be more problematic to maintaining weight and could lead to weight gain in the long term.

A solution?

A superfood just means that it is a food with a lot of investment behind it. Clearly broccoli and carrots don’t have the same investment but as part of a nutritionally balanced diet they contribute to our overall health. It's important to remember that no one food works in isolation as all of the nutrients help one another for example vitamin B1 thiamin is a catalyst for carbohydrate metabolism, the amino acid tryptophan needs carbohydrate in the diet to enable it to enter the brain where it is converted into serotonin. Having fat in the diet enables the body to absorb fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, K essential for eye, bone and blood health. We need a selection of different nutrients and regular fluids to make us feel super.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Stratford Upon Avon, CV37
Written by Jo Withers, Registered Dietitian/ Nutritionist and Yoga teacher
Stratford Upon Avon, CV37

I specialise in eating disorders which includes under eating, overeating, binging and yo-yo dieting but I am experienced in treating a range of diet related issues. As a registered dietitian I use evidence based practice to support people in improving their relationship with food and themselves.

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