Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Superfoods Or Super Scam?

As the person who invented the word Superfood for my book of that name, way back in 1989, 21 years ago. Now the word is used for everything from red wine to chocolate and other strange foods in between.

Most of these so called Superfoods are no more than money making scams to part you from hard earned cash in return for eternal health, beauty and life. Believe that and you will believe anything!

Here are 10 of the worst with Supercheap alternatives.

1. Acai berries

Why so super? Berries high on the ORAC scale, an index of the antioxidant content of a food, and they are also rich in anthocyanidins, the dark coloured pigments that protect cardiovascular health may even suppress the growth of stomach, colon, lung, and breast cancers. But just because a berry grows wild in the Brazilian rainforest, doesn't mean to say it has magic properties. Yes, Acai are high in antioxidants, but what about the carbon footprint of flying them across the globe when you can grow raspberries (a close second on the ORAC scale) in your back garden for free?

Supercheap Prunes are also a wonderful source of anthocyanidins and can be eaten all year round and nothing compares to the taste and quality of the French prunaux d'Agen. Three gives you more fibre than a bowl of All-Bran, helping to protect against colon cancer among others and five provide your daily ORAC needs.

2. Edamame beans

Why so super? Pronounced ed-ah-mah-may, Posh and her equally over thin friends swear by this Japanese green bean, which is a source of protein, a little iron and omega-3 fats, though not the best type that come from oily fish. They are a good source of sterols and act like nature's HRT, as they contain isoflavones which are natural plant hormones and help with the symptoms of PMS and the ease menopause. Unfortunately the ones served in smart restaurants are nearly always very salty, so not very healthy.

Super cheap: Soya beans, the shelled edamame found in any supermarket freezer cabinet, add handfuls to stews and soups and any vegetable dish for a protein punch plus all the hormone benefits too.

3. Cacao

Why so super? Harvested from the cocoa bean, is a good source of isoflavones that may lower blood pressure and even have some anti-cancer benefits. Cacao also contains theobromine, a mood-altering substance that makes people feel good. The word theobromine means food of the gods and it is partly this chemical which makes chocolate so addictive. After all, who doesn't like feeling good and sexy?

Super cheap: Dark chocolate, as long as it is good quality and at least 70% solids. Dark chocolate contains all the benefits of cacao and just three or four squares can supply you with a large chunk of your antioxidant quota for a day. Just don't eat the whole bar! We should all aim for a daily 3000 ORAC units; the average UK is 1500 but the optimum is 5000. Chocolate is fine, but it is about as healthy as drinking a whole bottle of red wine to get your orac requirement.

4. Wheatgrass

Why so super? It might taste like liquidised lawn clippings, but the juice of this potent strain of wheat is particularly rich in vitamins A, C and E and contains chlorophyll. Like so many of the money making scams, the promoters make unproven claims, celebrities always want to be the first with any new fad, and journalists hype the stories in the press. The wheat grass juicers claim the chlorophyl boosts levels of oxygen in the blood and aids liver detoxification. There is no real evidence for this and in any case you will find chlorophyll in all green leaves. Spinach is cheaper, nicer and you do not need an ewpensive machine to juice it. I can spot the wheat grass drinkers from the other side of the room - the palms of their hands are yellow!

Super cheap: Carrot juice is a rich source of antioxidants, particularly the carotenoids that help you see in the dark and that the body turns into vitamin A. Make it at home for a few pence. Wash, but don't peel, a couple of carrots and juice with apples and a few spinach leaves. Drink immediately to get the full benefits.

5. Spirulina

Why so super? This blue-green algae is grown in tanks before being dried and powdered to deliver up to 100 health-boosting nutrients in one sprinkling, claim the enthusiasts and the makers. They say it is high in antioxidants, as well as being a complete protein and a source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and in test tube studies has prevented the HIV virus replicating. I think this is an irresponsible statement, even if test tube studies are true, you can not extrapolate to humans. The real down side is the fact that an average serving will give you half of your total safe intake of salt, and that's before you eat anything else. It tastes pretty horrible, but works well in smoothies and sprinkled on yoghurt.

Super cheap: Spinach is overflowing with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, but Popeye was wrong about the iron as other chemicals in the leaf prevents the absorbtion of this mineral. The other nutrients are very well utilised and it contains clorophyll. Spinach tastes a damn sight nicer than expensive pots of pond scum, so add fresh leaves to salads and soups, as well as a real super duper food by combining the steamed leaves with finely chopped garlic

6. Quinoa

Why so super? Dr Gillian McKeith has been banging on about this for years now and though people think it is a grain, it is actually the seed of the Chenopodium or Goosefoot plant. As far as I am concerned, a recommendation from the POO lady is faint praise. It's OK, though but a bit dull! It is a complete protein, high in fibre, as well as the minerals phosphorus, magnesium and iron, and because it's gluten-free is suitable for people with coeliac disease. With lots of herbs and spices it can be quite tasty, but texture is an issue for some people.

Super cheap: Barley, a slow-release grain just as high in vitamins and minerals as Quinoa and also one of the richest sources of both soluble and insoluble fibre, making it great for reducing cholesterol and promoting a healthy colon. Add to soups and stews to keep you feeling full for longer.

7. Hibiscus Extract

Why so super? A raft of new studies show this tropical flower is brimming with antioxidant compounds, including flavonoids, polyphenols, and anthocyanins that help to neutralise harmful free radicals. The benefits don't stop there: research by the University of Boston found three cups of hibiscus tea a day can reduce blood pressure significantly, lowering your risk or heart disease and stroke. Much of the vitamin C is lost in the drying of the plants, and even more when you add boiling water to make the tea.

Super cheap:Green tea, rich in an antioxidant called EGCG, which has been found to kill cancer cells in human tissue. Studies also show that countries like Japan, where it's drunk the most, have the lowest rates of breast and bladder cancers. But the Japanese diet contains far less red meat and much more soy based foods, vegetables and fish, so that's not surprising.


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