There’s a secret about the health food industry I think you should know: there is no such thing as a ‘superfood’.
The term only exists for financial reasons. Marketers know that people put their faith in foods that are - or at least say they are - organic, all-natural, fresh, wholegrain, country, golden, and a host of other qualities. A superfood is one that is supposedly more nutritious than other foods and therefore healthier.
This has no scientific basis whatsoever. There is no standardised definition of a superfood or special food group for them. And whilst the food itself might be healthy in its most natural state, the term superfood does not cover modification or the processing of it to make it more palatable (and therefore generally less beneficial to one’s health).
The truth is catchy advertising slogans never tell the whole story, or even a fraction of it. Unless you really understand what goes into food production, such as season, toughness of growing conditions, water supply, pesticide use, processing, storage and so forth, then you can’t glean the information you need from a label and know its nutritional value. You can’t.
Take broccoli. Most people wouldn’t think they need to dig into the background of a plant as green and healthy as a piece of broccoli. But the nutritional value of broccoli can vary widely depending on, for instance, the season in which it was grown. In the summer months it is relentlessly attacked by the white butterfly, which lays its eggs all over the plant and requires growers to use pesticides just to bring the head to fruition. This is only during the summer months - buy broccoli in autumn and winter when the butterfly lies dormant and the broccoli can grow completely naturally, without the need for pesticide spray.
You can be excused for not thinking too deeply about broccoli. No one is trying to con you into buying broccoli in order to get rich. The same cannot be said of the myriad of products sold in supermarkets in the health food aisle. These products aren’t necessarily all bad, of course, but they are often misleading. A lot of money goes into making people believe that certain foods have extraordinary powers and, if they’d just part with their money, they can reap the benefits in a few bites! All it takes is some cleverly placed buzzwords for a food fad to develop traction. This can lead to issues of overconsumption and lack of variety in the diet.
People should be applauded for wanting to invest in their wellbeing, not conned out of their cash by unscrupulous advertisers. Take a step back from the advertising jargon and educate yourself on the true worth of food – it goes to your health and your hip pocket.Chia seeds, for example, a commonly cited 'superfood', can be purchased for around $4 per 100 grams because of their high levels of Omega-3. Well, flax and linseeds contain similar levels of Omega-3 and cost only $1.50 per 100 grams. Is it worth spending more just to be in vogue?
My advice is to not take a food product at face value. Just because a label or editorial espouses its benefits, doesn’t mean it will necessarily have a positive impact on your health. If advertisers spent as much money on educating the general public in nutrition as deceiving them, well, you probably wouldn’t buy into their hype. And that would hurt profits. So ignore the marketing and do your own homework. Being swept up in the sea of popular opinion and revolving door of diets won’t get you anywhere. You’ll just fall victim to the world of puritan, image and addiction. Make the practices you follow your own making and you’ll achieve deeper, long lasting wellbeing. Eat the right foods, in the right combinations and right proportions, and you can’t go wrong.
Sue McCarthy is the founder, owner and program facilitator of Kangaroo Island Health Retreat. She has dedicated over 35 years to teaching health and wellbeing and is a firm believer that you alone are responsible for your own wellness. Knowledge. Practice. Mastery. These are key to achieving great health and longevity.