Su­per­foods: the hype fac­tor

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

Adan­so­nia dig­i­tata).

But are th­ese food­stuffs re­ally worth the fuss? Maybe I should be drink­ing juiced açai (Brazil­ian berries pro­nounced ah-sigh-eee) with my break­fast and sprin­kling goji berries on my chia por­ridge.

Su­san Jebb, new pro­fes­sor of diet and pop­u­la­tion health at the Univer­sity of Ox­ford, is scep­ti­cal. “Ev­i­dence that any one food has spe­cific ef­fects on long-term health is lack­ing and usu­ally more to do with PR and celebrity en­dorse­ment than sci­en­tific ev­i­dence of the kind that would be re­quired if a drug was to make such claims.”

Su­per­foods, on the other hand, are gen­er­ally not un­healthy, even if they aren’t as mar­vel­lous as the hype sug­gests. There seems noth­ing wrong with en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to eat them. Af­ter all, it makes a change from the on­slaught of ad­ver­tis­ing en­cour­ag­ing us to eat junk food, and might even en­cour­age peo­ple to try a new food.

Jebb agrees, but with reser­va­tions. “It can un­der­mine the con­cept of di­etary va­ri­ety – one type of food alone will not keep you healthy, we need a wide mix.” They are of­ten ex­pen­sive, she says, and at a time when many of us are strug­gling to bal­ance the house­hold bud­get. Rather than buy­ing pricey pomegranates and blue­ber­ries, “peo­ple may be bet­ter off spend­ing the same amount of money on twice as much of cheaper foods”.

But ac­cord­ing to the doc­tor and sci­ence jour­nal­ist Michael Mosley, there are ex­cep­tions — berries in par­tic­u­lar. “I do think that there is some ev­i­dence that black­ber­ries and blue­ber­ries are good for the brain, and they are re­ally lowcalo­rie,” he says. But he agrees that many su­per­foods are gen­er­ally over­rated. “The most im­por­tant thing is a rain­bow diet, lots of dif­fer­ent colours on your plate so you are get­ting lots of dif­fer­ent phy­tonu­tri­ents. It’s also cru­cial that the food be as fresh as pos­si­ble, since the vitamin and min­eral con­tent tends to fall with stor­age.”

The verdict? Eat lots of fruit and veg­eta­bles. Fresh food is su­per food. And if you like the lat­est su­per­food, go for it. It’s not ro­quette sci­ence.

Neal’s Yard Reme­dies, see neal­syardreme­dies.com

Michael Mosley’s new tele­vi­sion se­ries, Pain, Pus and Poi­son, starts on BBC4on Oc­to­ber 3 WHEAT­GRASS Hype fac­tor High Gen­er­ally taken as a tiny shot of bit­ter dark-green juice, this is the most ma­cho of health drinks. It’s not bad for you, but there’s no sci­en­tific ev­i­dence for claims that it im­proves red blood cell pro­duc­tion and cir­cu­la­tion. Pound for pound, its nu­tri­ent con­tent is about the same as that of spinach, but be­cause it is juiced there’s no fi­bre. I’d take eggs Floren­tine any day. From Crussh (crussh.com) and in­de­pen­dent juice bars. GOJI BERRIES Hype fac­tor High What’s the point? Re­ports that th­ese pro­tect against heart disease and can­cer, as well as boost­ing im­mu­nity and brain ac­tiv­ity, get short shrift on theNHSweb­site: “Most of the re­search into th­ese con­di­tions is small-scale, of poor qual­ity and per­formed in lab­o­ra­to­ries us­ing pu­ri­fied and highly con­cen­trated ex­tracts of the goji berry.” Ex­pen­sive – and not very nice. CHIA Hype fac­tor Medium high Th­ese seeds are from a mint­like plant that grows in Latin Amer­ica, which has only re­cently been avail­able in Bri­tain but is much loved by Hol­ly­wood A-lis­ters. Weight for weight, chia has up to eight times more omega-3 than salmon, say ad­vo­cates. But it’s a less use­ful kind of omega-3 than that in oily fish, and who’d eat a salmon-fil­let­sized por­tion of th­ese? Stick to sar­dines on toast. From Hol­land & Bar­rett branches. QUINOA Hype fac­tor Medium Aseed that thinks it’s a grain, quinoa can be used like cous­cous. It is higher in pro­tein and lower in carbs than tra­di­tional “starches”. More to the point, it is good to eat pro­vided you rinse it well be­fore cook­ing to get rid of the bit­ter residue. Best of all, it’s a great gluten-free al­ter­na­tive. But con­cerns have been raised that the craze in the de­vel­oped world has put the tra­di­tional mar­ket in Latin Amer­ica un­der strain. SEA BUCK­THORN Hype fac­tor Medium low Aw­ild plant that grows by the sea in most parts of Bri­tain, it has bit­ter-tart orange berries. They have that ir­ri­tat­ingly cool for­age fac­tor – they are free, so they’re egal­i­tar­ian, but also vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to get, so they’re the ul­ti­mate in elitism. Nowre­searchers at Ed­in­burgh’s Queen Mar­garet Univer­sity claim they’re high in vi­ta­mins C and E and full of an­tiox­i­dants. The real pull as far as I’m con­cerned is that they are de­li­cious, with a pas­sion-fruit flavour that is gor­geous in jam or as a sauce for white-choco­late puds. En Place Sea Buck­thorn and LimeJam­from fort­nu­mand­ma­son.com and The Meat Mer­chant, Moira, North­ern Ire­land BT67 0LZ KALE Hype fac­tor Low Cheap and suited to the Bri­tish cli­mate, kale is some­thing we should all eat more of this win­ter. Those dark green leaves are loaded with vi­ta­mins, cal­cium and iron. Granted, iron from veg is not as eas­ily as­sim­i­lated as iron from meat, and badly cooked it tastes like cat­tle food. But kale can be de­li­cious. Buy the whole plume­like leaves from the green­gro­cer so that it is easy to strip out the tough stems. Toss the leaves in olive oil and salt, spread on a bak­ing tray and bake for 15 min­utes or so at gas 4/200C to make kale crisps. Or sub­sti­tute for its south­ern cousin, cavolo nero, in Ital­ian recipes.

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