The Truth Behind ‘Superfoods’

Diet & Weight Loss

So what’s this ‘superfood’ hype? Is it just a marketing ploy by shops or food manufacturers? Or perhaps there’s new research demonstrating their unique abilities, providing us with nutrients for optimum living that no other foods could?…. It’s not the latter.


The term ‘superfood’ was widely used within marketing and the media, but it’s not used by health care professionals. Its not a legally recognised term and is now tightly regulated; EU legislation in 2007 banned companies from marketing foods labelled as ‘superfoods’, unless the food comes with a reliable, scientifically based definition explaining why its beneficial for our health. The FSA has also provided some decent information on food labelling claims.

Generally we associate its definition as a food high in nutrients, antioxidants with impending health benefits. There are various categories advertised, e.g.  bee, green, or seaweed  ‘superfoods’, ‘superfood’ powders and drinks.

Photo by: dilynnroettker Flickr

Photo by: dilynnroettker Flickr


We have been overwhelmed by ‘superfood’ articles in numerous forms for a while now.  I’m sure at one point or another you’ve seen an article titled:

10 Top ‘Superfoods’ For….
  • Living longer
  • Weight loss or detox
  • Improving men’s/ women’s health
  • Chronic illness and disease prevention
  • Preventing flu and colds


So, where are all the scientific studies backing up these claims? These types of articles can create hype allowing food suppliers to charge more for foods, e.g. blueberries and quinoa, even though they are not marketing these foods with these suggestive marketing terms themselves. Subsequently on a personal level we can struggle to buy healthier foods but at a global level, local communities can find themselves unable to afford their staple foods, e.g. many South Americans, can no longer afford quinoa due to its worldwide popularity.

Quinoa salad. Photo by: Flickr

Quinoa salad. Photo by: Flickr


Supplements of ‘superfoods’ are another big market, e.g. Golgi berries in a powder form that suggest adding it to any recipe, for an inflated price of course. It’s easy to fall foul of claims such as: contains 5x more calcium than…, twice the protein of … and 150% more vitamin c than an orange.  The claims might be technically true but we have to put it into perspective. These supplements might be in a more ‘digestive state’, but no one can guarantee the rate of absorption, or how much we would have to consume to reap the ‘advertised benefits’ and they may not be in line with healthy living advice; they are certainly no substitute for a healthy diet.

Celebrities have also done their fair share of marketing & promoting  them, e.g. Elle Macpherson, Miranda Kerr, Salma Hayek and Victoria Beckham.

Here are some ‘superfood’ examples that have been in the spotlight and what nutrients they can offer.

Suggested ‘Superfoods’:


With any food, the portion size, bio-availability, its raw state when purchased and the cooking method can all dictate the amount of nutrients we absorb.


Some commonly advertised nutrients from these ‘superfoods’:

nutrient label

Please feel free to refer back to my vitamins and minerals article for further advice and links regarding nutrients and their food sources.


“Another big misconception is that antioxidants are interchangeable. They aren’t. Each one has unique chemical behaviors and biological properties. They almost certainly evolved as parts of elaborate networks, with each different substance (or family of substances) playing slightly different roles. This means that no single substance can do the work of the whole crowd”. Harvard school of public Health


The reality is that eating a well-balanced diet, not just specific foods will provide your body with enough nutrients to stay healthy and is key to producing the antioxidant effect within us. The body’s antioxidant cycle utilises the antioxidants from a variety of foods that contain, e.g. Vitamins: A, C and E, Selenium and plant chemicals (flavonoids & carotenoids).

woman and apple_c70

Photo by: CC-PR Flickr

I agree with the ethos, ‘let food be your medicine so you can reach good health’.

We all should be eating healthier, but not at the cost of lining the shops pockets or following insincere and overzealous marketing and/or literature.

So eat every colour of the rainbow and avoid becoming obsessed with the search for that one perfect, healthy food… it doesn’t exist.

Let’s not eat in vain and just enjoy our meals!


Article Written by: Lynn Risby BSc Nutritionist 
Feature image by: Licia Accorsi Flickr
Food Standards Agency
NHS Choices
Harvard School Of Public Health


Diet & Weight Loss

Hands up if you are currently taking multivitamins, minerals, or some form of supplement at the moment? How long have you been taking them and do you feel any healthier for it?

I think we all like to look and feel our best (myself included) and being healthy means different things to all of us. We all have different backgrounds, including dietary needs. I take calcium, vitamin D , some vitamin B12 and occasionally iron because I became a vegan this year.

Although I do try and get these things from my current diet, I know that it might not be possible to meet my dietary needs because:

  • Vitamin B12 predominantly comes from animal sources. (1)
  • Our Vitamin D intake mainly comes from sunlight (topping up our levels during April-September/October here in the UK) (2). My levels are reduced due to my factor SPF 40 I wear!
  • Calcium is more readily absorbed with lactose, a sugar found in cows, goat and sheep milk. (3)

Equally someone with high cholesterol could benefit from buying plant sterols tablets, taking 2mg/D, or those especially designed cholesterol lowering drinks/yoghurts with added sterols; studies have proven this along with healthy diet and lifestyle changes, they do help lower total cholesterol.

The market for dietary vitamins and supplements was worth more than £670 million in 2009, according to an NHS report in 2011; it highlighted 8% was for beauty use, and approximately 85% was for combined physical and mental health reasons.

The ‘health industry’ have created their own market by appealing to people’s desires and needs to be as healthy as possible, whilst preying on people’s lack of knowledge. The placebo affect is a very real phenomenon, which many of these companies know all too well; so how do we know that the products advertised and endorsed by celebrities are any better than sugar pills? So it’s understandable we are possibly making the wrong choices regarding the products we should buy or completely avoid.

Recently, articles have shown Kelly Brook to have accepted a new range of health products from her friend Gary Cockerill. His range of vitamin drinks contain: Green Caffeine, Raspberry Ketones, Colon Cleanser and Acai Berry. Health companies have had those various components in the spotlight for a while, have you tried them?

    Would you associate these products with solid healthy living advice?

Photo courtesy of: Holland & Barrett & Evolution Slimming

Photos adapted from: Holland & Barrett & Evolution Slimming

I could write a whole article debating on what these contain and why they aren’t necessarily worth your money.  A lot of articles push what are supposedly the best supplements to buy each season, but do you really want and can you a afford to have a cupboard full of pills valued over £200? No thanks. From a diet point of view, companies will always try to entice us with fancy terms, e.g. anti-oxidant and immune fighting, thermogenic  or colon cleansing effects etc, but if there was a ‘magic weight loss pill’, we’d all be taking it; this is just a costly and possibly unsafe endeavour.

The reality is that a healthy, balanced and well planned diet will provide the right balance of nutrients and keep you performing at your best, so buying a pill is a potential waste of money. Did you know that 50% of vitamins are water soluble? Which means you could literally be throwing money down the toilet if you take these in high doses due to poor absorption; many vitamins and minerals need to be taken with food for better absorption and many of them compete with each other for absorption whilst others can be lethal in high doses, e.g. vitamin A. Take a peek at the NHS or BDA sites for more information regarding vitamins, minerals and supplements.

Am I being cynical? After all, if you have the money we’re all entitled to spend it as we see fit. I suppose it can be a little concerning how much money we invest in health products, not knowing the full risks, but I guess it’s up to us to do our research and if you’re unsure that you’re at risk, talk to a health professional.

Ultimately it’s important to make informed choices regarding our health, don’t you agree?

Article written by: Lynn Risby BSc Nutritionist
Feature image by: Andreas Feldl Flickr
2. Pearce SHS, et al. Diagnosis and management of vitamin D deficiency. British Medical Journal 2010;340:142-7.
3. Am J Clin Nutr August 2002vol. 76 no. 2 442-446