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Testing the 'super' claims of superfoods

by Jessica D (follow)
Nutrition (269)      Healthy Foods (75)      Practitioner Profiles (4)     
Jenifer Hawkins promotes them, Miranda Kerr swears by them, and they seem to be popping up in health food stores everywhere, but are superfoods really worthy of their title?

“Superfoods are not scientifically defined, rather the term seems to be a marketing buzzword at the moment,” says Julie Masci, Dietitian and Director at New Life Nutrition.

“Broadly speaking though, superfoods describe foods that are wholesome, unprocessed and have a high nutrient intake for each kilojoule consumed,” says Masci.

Victoria's Secret Angel Miranda Kerr has proclaimed the benefits of so-called 'superfoods' in an online web series

So-called superfoods that are hot on the market currently include chia seeds, acai berries and liquid chlorophyll, each of which has a supermodel following.

“I love adding superfoods like Bioglan chia seeds to my breakfast daily,” says supermodel Jenifer Hawkins, who is also a spokesperson for ‘superfood’ manufacturer Bioglan.

The chia plant originates in Mexico, and its plainly flavoured seeds are believed to have been a staple in the Aztec diet.

Bioglan claims that chia seeds added to any meal can improve heart health, “for better health from the inside out.”

Independent product reviews by Choice have revealed that while chia seeds do contain “an impressive dose of omega-3 fatty acids,” there is little evidence to substantiate claims about their ability to improve cardiovascular health, such as lowering cholesterol or blood pressure.

“The Appalachian State University in North Carolina has stated that ‘more study is needed’ before chia can be recommended for bettering heart health,” says Masci.

Hot right now... Chia seeds, liquid chlorophyll and acai berries are dominating the superfood scene

One claim that chia may have to the superfood title though, is that even in its unprocessed, wholegrain form, its seeds can be absorbed by the body, unlike flaxseeds or corn kernels.

Their lack of flavour also means that chia seeds can be used in a variety of recipes, or simply sprinkled on top of most meals.

“I use or seeds in shakes, and they’re also great for thickening a healthy muffin mix,” says Victoria’s Secret Angel, Miranda Kerr.

Acai berries are another favourite of the rich and famous, with Kerr saying, “I sprinkle them on my porridge, gluten-free cereal or smoothie.”

Cultivated from acai palm trees native to South America, Bioglan claims that its acai and berry powder will lower glycaemic indexes to manage sugar cravings, and support weight management.

However, Choice has revealed that “researchers in one study found there were no weight changes in rats given acai juice,” and no evidence to suggest acai berries alone promote weight loss.

Choice did concur though that acai has up to four times more antioxidants than selected fruit and vegetables, and can reduce free radicals that cause inflammation and even cancer.

“However, these results were only demonstrated in laboratory conditions, and are yet to be tested on humans,” says Masci.

Liquid chlorophyll is another celebrity ingredient often used in beverages, with Jenifer Hawkins saying, “I add a splash of Bioglan SuperFoods Chlorophyll to my water bottle, this combo does wonders for your skin.”

Former Miss Universe Jenifer Hawkins is a spokesperson for major superfood manufacturer, Bioglan

Bioglan claims that liquid chlorophyll, which in its raw form is responsible for converting energy from the sun into nutrients for plants, can eliminate toxins and heavy metals from the body.

“It pushes out toxins, and releases into your body a powerful combination of vitamins, minerals and nutrients to help you feel less sluggish and more energetic,” says Bioglan.

While Choice agrees that chlorophyll encourages movement in the digestive tract, it pointed out that spinach, asparagus, parsley, lettuce, green beans, celery and brussel sprouts all had that same benefit.

“In rare cases, can cause loose bowel movements or stomach cramps… By regularly eating green vegetables such as those listed above, you can get the dietary chlorophyll intake comparable to the recommended three teaspoon dosage…. of Australian liquid chlorophyll products,” says Choice.

Regardless of the product it’s attached too, the ‘superfood’ label is becoming increasingly common and often convoluted.

“Humans have complex diets and are exposed to different environmental factors that influence personal health and wellbeing,” says Masci.

“Therefore isolating the ‘super’ health benefits of any single food is challenging.”

As marketers continue to use the superfood label to promote apparent health-benefits, it will pay for consumers to be well informed and do their research before investing in these products.

“Ask yourself whether the food is packed with nutrients, whether it’s raw and unprocessed, and whether it’s been independently reviewed and had its health benefits proven; if you can categorically answer ‘yes’ to all of questions, you may have a genuinely super superfood on your hands,” says Masci.

Images sourced from Net-A-Porter and Bioglan online

For clinical and lifestyle-based nutrition solutions, contact Dietitian and Director Julie Masci and her team of at www.newlifenutrition.com.au.

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