“Superfood” is a term regularly bandied about by health nuts and yoga mums, and seems to cover everything from blueberries to kimchi. We’ve all heard of kale and quinoa by now, but every other week a new, hard-to-pronounce product is being touted as the latest superfood of 2015. So, are superfoods just a fad? Are they worth it? Here’s a handy guide of what shit is and whether you should bother making that trip to Commonsense Organics.
Sounds like a Kardashian mash-up but I promise it’s not. Put simply, kimchi—a traditional Korean dish—is made up of fermented cabbage and spices. Fermented foods have been dubbed the new “it” thing by Vogue for 2015, and it’s meant to be hella good for your tummy, with selenium for clear skin, a bunch of “good” bacterias (think the stuff in yoghurt) and antioxidants. The added bonus of the fermentation process is the antioxidant content, which increases with the time spent fermenting.
Kimchi does have a bunch of health benefits, but so too does regular cabbage. The fermentation process actually leads to the sodium content skyrocketing, and that’s a reason to avoid the stuff. I’d be hesitant to turn my back on the not-so-super garden variety in favour of the fermented kind.
Kimchi might sound hella exotic, but if fermented cabbage isn’t your thing, don’t beat yourself up about it. Garden-variety broccoli and cabbage provide most of the same benefits.
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Ah, kale. The one that started it all. Kale is a member of the Brassica family, the over-achieving cousin of broccoli and brussel sprouts, despite its spinach-y appearance.
And over-achieving it is. One cup of kale contains over 100 per cent of the recommended daily intake of vitamins C, A and K, and has pretty high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin—the vitamins that help you see in the dark. Suck on that, carrots. It also provides iron and potassium.
So what, should we all give in and start eating kale with every meal? Well, it’s not bad for you. A cup of kale will more than fulfil your daily needs in vitamins A and K, but brussel sprouts and broccoli—while maybe not providing 300 per cent of your daily intake of vitamin K p/100g—will still give you about 90 per cent of the recommended intake.
So, kale lives up to its nutrient-rich hype, but that’s not to say you should ditch other leafy greens altogether. Kale does lack the fibre and folate of other brassica veges, so it’s cool if you want to keep the trendy guy in your cart, but don’t ditch that $1 broccoli from the Sunday market either.
Just as you were coming around to the idea of quinoa, there’s a new kid in town—amaranth. These grain-like little balls of goodness are actually wee buds from the flowers of the Amaranth plant. Like quinoa, amaranth is not actually a grain, so is gluten-free. It also has a bunch of protein and fibre, and claims to have a high iron, calcium and vitamin C content.
So is amaranth sushi going to be the next big thing? It certainly has its health benefits. However, wholegrain oats have more protein and fibre per 100g, and although amaranth trumps oats in the calcium and vitamin C areas, its levels are far less than those found in leafy green vegetables.
With an increasing awareness about gluten-free diets, it’s always nice to see coeliac-friendly options on the shelves—but amaranth is no healthier than your regular brown rice or grain.
Stevia is a natural sugar substitute that comes from the S. rebaudiana plant native to South America, with no absorbable sugar content but a sweet factor more than double that of regular sugar.
It comes from a plant, so it must be good for you, right? Stevia has been cropping up as a sweetener in coffee shops all over the place, and Coca-Cola has introduced the new “Coke Life”, which boasts less sugar, thanks to stevia. And we all know how bad sugar is for us.
The problem with things that seem to be too good to be true is that they usually are. Because of its sweet taste, when you consume stevia the body thinks it’s getting sugar—cue a drop in blood sugars as glucose (sugar!) is cleared from your bloodstream to make way for this (non-existent) other glucose. So what? When this happens, adrenaline quickly tries to mobilise sugars from elsewhere—such as your liver or body tissue. You know adrenaline—that “fight or flight” response hormone? Yeah, it’s not really designed to deal with your daily milk-and-two sweeteners habit. The excess stress hormone can lower the immune system and thyroid function, which is no fun for anyone.
Not only does stevia lack the impressive benefits that “superfoods” are usually touted for, it may actually be bad for you. It’s a bit of a Catch-22—sugar isn’t that good for you either—so maybe instead of simply replacing sugar with substitutes, try cutting down on the sweet stuff altogether.
Dragonfruit, also known as pitaya, is actually the fruit of a cactus plant and is grown primarily in Southeast Asia and the States. The ones you might have seen in acai bowls on Instagram are the pink skinned, Asian variety, which has leathery, spiked skin and white flesh dotted with black seeds. The seeds are rich in monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids: read, good for your heart! They are also rich in a bunch of vitamins like carotene, vitamin C and vitamin B, and are high in antioxidants and fibre, which can’t be bad for you either. What a show off.
Admittedly, dragonfruit looks pretty impressive. But its vitamin C content pales in comparison to that of the humble orange, and those heart-happy fatty acids, antioxidants and fibre are found just as easily in kiwifruit.
They look cool, but they are nothing special. Pretty much all fruit is good for you, but dragonfruit has no more health benefits than what you can pick off your grandma’s fruit tree. Or cactus plant.
Hemp seeds come from—you guessed it—the cannabis plant. But before you go and stock up on hemp seeds at your local health store for that reason, hemp and marijuana are actually pretty different, mainly because hemp lacks the THC which makes marijuana a psychoactive drug. That aside, hemp seeds are meant to be hella good for you, with loads of protein, more fatty acids than any vegetable, and amino acids: i.e., all the good stuff. Hemp seeds provide the most complete protein you can get from a plant, so the protein can be taken in and digested fully—woo for non-meat eaters!—and are rich in vitamin E.
Hemp seeds are actually pretty super. While white meats such as chicken and fish also provide a heap of protein and fatty acids, hemp seeds are miles ahead of any of their plant-based buddies in these categories, and have a bunch of vitamins as well. Stoked.
So, are superfoods worth the hype? In short, no. Although many of these foods have a bunch of health benefits, so too do the plain-jane varieties of plant-based produce that doesn’t make the cut as “super”. Spinach, apples and strawberries are pretty damn good for you too, and don’t necessarily come with the price tag—for the most part, the idea of superfoods is perpetuated by marketing efforts to get you to buy more expensive products. At the end of the day, sprinkling amaranth over your Quarter Pounder isn’t gonna make it healthier, and taking shots of kale juice won’t make you live forever. Eat your vegetables, don’t add sweeteners, and try selling hemp seeds to your younger brother’s friends. They will thank you later—think of the protein!