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The Truth About These Superfoods

January 18, 2018

In recent years, superfoods have captured the minds (and stomachs) of urbanites on the lookout for a quick fix or cure-all to cope with the demands of modern living. While our parents’ generation may have adhered to the traditional nutritional adage of “5 A Day”, our generation is constantly on the lookout for the miracle ingredient that can help us stay healthy and keep us glowing.
Enter superfoods.

Often exotic and with a price tag to match, superfoods are ingredients that are touted as more nutritious than regular food. Everyone from self-styled health gurus to even medical doctors claim these foods can do anything from reduce risk of heart disease, help control diabetes, and even protect against cancer. But are these claims true?

Here are 3 of the most popular superfoods available … and the truth that lies beyond the hype.

1. Kale

Claim to fame:
This dark green plant, which is a member of the cabbage family, has a bitter taste but features prominently in everything from smoothies to salads. Why? That’s because kale is said to contain a lot more iron, vitamins, and fibre than “regular” veggies like broccoli or spinach.

The truth:
According to a 2014 study—Defining Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables: A Nutrient Density Approach—conducted by scientist Jennifer Di Noia, Ph.D., some of the frequently acclaimed superfoods ranked low on the nutritional density scale. In fact, kale came in at a lowly number 15 (out of 47 fruits and vegetables studied), below other leafy greens like Chinese cabbage, chard, and collard greens.

Just like adding more petrol to a car doesn’t make it run faster, eating more of a certain type of ingredient doesn’t mean your body gets a superhuman boost. There is no evidence that a diet full of fruit and vegetables (including kale) is any better than eating plenty of fruit and vegtables without kale.

2. Bone broth

Claim to fame:
Bone broth is a stock made primarily using the bones and connective tissue of animals or fish, and is said to alleviate inflammation, speed healing, quell allergies, and even fight fatigue. According to the authors of Nourishing Broth, bone broth has a unique blend of amino acids, minerals, and cartilage compounds that “may help bolster their analogs in the human body, where it’s necessary for healthy bones and skin”.

The truth:
In a TIME article on the health benefits of bone broth, Dr. William H. Percy, an associate professor and biomedical scientist at the University of South Dakota, dismisses the notion that our bodies receive collagen from bone broth as nonsensical. He says, “The idea that because bone broth or stock contains collagen it somehow translates to collagen in the human body is nonsensical.”
Bone broth contains both essential and non-essential amino acids so if your diet is lacking in protein-sourced amino acids, bone broth could be beneficial in providing your body with the stuff it needs to strengthen your bones and joints. However, Dr. Percy insists you can get those benefits just as easily by eating milk or eggs.

3. Pandan

Claim to fame:
Pandan has been a longstanding favourite for us in Southeast Asia but it’s only been in the last year or so that this ingredient has caught on in the West. Endorsed by celebrity chef Nigella Lawson as “the new matcha”, pandan is said to come with a whole host of health benefits such as lowering high blood pressure, relieving pain, and counteracting the effect of toxins on the body.

The truth:
Because it only so recently came onto the superfoods scene, the jury is still out as to whether pandan is truly a miracle ingredient. However, what’s more important to remember about the long green leaf is how you incorporate it in your diet. Asian recipes that feature pandan are often of sweet desserts or rich curries – not exactly the poster kids for good health.
If you’ll like a unique (and healthful) way of enjoying the benefits of pandan, try pandan leaf tea instead. Using four pandan leaves, five grains of cardamom, and one piece of finger ginger, mix the ingredients into a pot of boiling water. Let the water boil over medium heat for about 10 minutes before pouring into a glass. Add a pinch of palm sugar for taste.

When you look at the evidence surrounding superfoods, it’s clear that there is no one ingredient or food that can provide everything your body needs nutritionally. What’s more important is to eat a broad and varied diet, ensuring all food groups are covered.