Do superfoods really live up to their hype?

Dr Nick Fuller
Leading Obesity Expert at the University of Sydney and founder of Interval Weight Loss.

The term ‘superfood’ – the magical marketing word of the 21st century that we’re all taking about! After all, it’s something we all want – a food that promises to be super healthy, so we can continue with our unhealthy lifestyle habits, but then believe to correct this by adding in some acai berries, chia seeds, almond milk, or even some activated charcoal. It even managed to turn the Amazon forest into a multi-million-dollar industry and a mass production line of deforestation for Acai palm trees to keep up with the worldwide demand for these berry products.

BUT, are these foods as good as they are hyped up to be? And, which ones stack up best for our health? 

Here is a review of 6 superfoods that are high on everyone’s shopping list:

1. Activated almonds

All nuts are high in fibre, protein, antioxidants and vitamins and minerals. They are also packed with good-for-you monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Not only is there the increased feeling of fullness from this great food source, but they speed up your metabolism and you don’t absorb all the calories when you eat them – in fact 20% of the energy from nuts is not absorbed at all.

The difference with activated nuts is that they are soaked in water for 24 hours and then dried out again so they’re still crisp. But, guess what? Despite what you may believe there is no research that ‘activated’ almonds are better for you or better for your digestion than natural, raw or dry roasted almonds. The only change you will notice is the rise in your grocery bill with the additional pricing slapped onto these ‘activated’ products.

Tip: Have a handful of nuts every day - at least 30 grams – but stick to the natural, raw or dry roasted forms.

2. Hemp seeds

Yes, it is what you think it is. Hemp seeds are the seeds of a variety of Cannabis plant, which is where marijuana comes from. They are a source of good fats and high in protein, but also a source of tetrahydrocannabinoids (THC). Even though these levels are considered very low when compared to marijuana, the negatives certainly outweigh any benefits. We can get all of the purported health benefits of this product from many other wholesome and nutritious foods.

Tip: All seeds are great sources of healthy fats, fibre and antioxidants, so include a small handful and mixture of varieties every day with your salad, yoghurt, morning oats, or smoothie.

3. Goji berries

Goji berries have been a large part of traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Much like all of the cleverly marketed superfoods, they claim all sorts of outrageous health benefits, and with the case of goji berries this includes treatment of cancer and heart disease. They are rich in antioxidants and vitamins and minerals. But, so are all berries!

Tip: Avoid goji berries which are typically consumed dry and opt for any form of berry, but in their natural state. Dried fruits have had the water extracted from them making them easy to overeat.

4. Matcha

Matcha literally means powdered green tea leaves, giving it its bright green colour. Studies have linked green tea consumption to a variety of health benefits, but this is typically from population-based research studies, rather than controlled clinical trials.  

Many people find themselves in the common trap of drinking matcha powder that is mixed with other ingredients, such as sugar and powdered milk which completes devoids the purpose of having it. 

Tip: Enjoy tea for what it is! And it doesn’t have to be green tea, as the health benefits also apply to black tea. 

5. Kale

Kale comes from the Brassica oleracea family, which also gives us broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower. It’s a rich source of fibre and packed full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. But, you don’t get any extra superpowers from eating kale than what you do from any other vegetable. All vegetables contain varying amounts of vitamins and minerals and they all give us superpowers, because an eating plan rich in fruit and vegetables is a proven way to fight the battle against the bulge!

Tip: Include a wide range of green leafy vegetables in your diet and try growing your own at home!

6. Kefir

Kefir tastes a lot like a yoghurt drink with its sour taste. It is a fermented product made by combining yeast, milk proteins and bacteria, making it a rich source of probiotics. Probiotics are live organisms – bacteria – that exist in our gut to keep it healthy. Kefir is also high in protein, calcium and B vitamins. But, so are all dairy products. And even though kefir is marketed to contain a high number of probiotic cultures than yoghurt, there is no research to show that it is any better for our health than yoghurt.

Tip: Include a wide range of fermented foods that contain good bacteria, including yoghurt, kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut.

About Dr Nick Fuller

Dr Nick Fuller is the founder of Interval Weight Loss and is a leading obesity expert at the University of Sydney with a Ph.D. in Obesity Treatment. Dr Fuller is also the author of three best-selling books and his work been published in top ranked journals in the medical field, including JAMA, Lancet and American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.