What puts the "super" in "superfood"?
According to Google, superfoods are a “nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being”.
But for others, it’s merely a marketing term.
The European Union (EU) has gone as far as to ban the use of the word on packaging. Even so, that hasn’t stopped countless food brands from funding academics to research the health benefits of their products.
In truth, everyday ingredients can be counted as superfoods. Superfoods are labelled as such because of their antioxidant properties, or phytonutrients/phytochemicals that may act like antioxidants and these antioxidants are thought to be fighting free radicals that may be cancer causing.
Items like yogurt, eggs, nuts, quinoa, broccoli and berries can be considered superfoods because of their multi-tasking nutritional properties.
But the real question is: what accords these foods the status of "super"?
The limit of superfoods
Parkway Cancer Centre’s CanHOPE Senior Dietitian Fahma Sunarja doesn’t deny the goodness that comes from eating such foods.
“A variety of foods is necessary for a person to obtain all nutrients, both macro and micro, in order for the body to function optimally. Good advice would be to have a balanced and varied diet and to include superfoods as part of the diet,” she says.
While some laboratory evidence suggests that superfoods have positive effects on health, a person must also take into account that lab studies are usually performed with a purified ingredient from a particular food rather than the fresh fruit or food itself.
It would be prudent to assume that an isolated chemical would behave very differently in a test tube than in a person’s intestines.
It would be a gross oversimplification to assume that any one type of food would have the power to, say, eradicate a complex disease like cancer entirely.
Ms Sunarja agrees: “No one food can have such an impact. It’s usually not just a food but a whole diet or a person’s eating habits that will affect overall health and hence reduce or increase the risk of developing cancer.”
A well-balanced diet is key
Yes, it’s been proven that certain types of food are particularly beneficial for humans, as they provide an exceptional amount of nutrients that enables the body to fight toxins, including cancer-causing free radicals.
While the term superfood is very much a marketing tool with little scientific basis to it, we can rest assured that eating a good variety of these nutrient-rich foods, coupled with a diet of other types of food can greatly improve our health.
The prevention of cancer or any disease, in fact, relies largely on a person’s lifestyle habits, including what you eat on a daily basis, how much you exercise, whether you smoke or drink, or spend lots of time in the sun, and more.
Our risk is a combination of our genes, our environment, and aspects of our lives, many of which we can control.
By Charmaine Ng, The Straits Times, August 2016
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