SuperFoods: Real or Hype?

one of the superfoods quinoa

In previous articles I have talked about the importance of a balanced diet.  My constant emphasis of this well worn mantra is required in my view to counter the pervasive presence of ‘breakthrough diets’ that claim to be the new way forward for healthy living.  Often these diets are skewed in one direction or another, recommending eating greater quantities than necessary of some foods and failing to include other important food groups.

Some of these so-called ‘breakthrough diets’ idealise certain foods whilst demonising others.  Whilst the demonization often takes the form of suggesting that we should never eat these ‘bad’ foods, i.e sugar, the idealisation can give some folks the impression that the good foods are the panacea to good health all by themselves.  This is not the case.

There is a lot of talk in the media about superfoods and how amazing they are for you.  The danger in hyping up ‘superfoods’ too much is that some people will use the eating of these foods as an excuse to simultaneously neglect other healthy foods or continue to eat bad foods.  “I’ve had my chia seeds today, now I can have some hot chips” OR “I’ll have chia seeds and goji berries instead of vegetables”.  Neither of these approaches is advisable.

Adding so called superfoods to our diet in appropriate quantities can be a good thing but don’t expect them to revolutionise your health all by themselves.  Even with plenty of sleep, reduced stress, plenty of exercise and an otherwise well balanced diet, the addition of superfoods may only bring a small positive health difference.  But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bother.  In a world where people are looking for magical solutions, black and white thinking is all too common.  “If it is not going to turn me from a size 14 into a size 8 in four weeks forget it”.

The fact is, some so called superfoods are often a great addition to a diet but it is important to put them in perspective.  They may help you make small incremental positive changes to your health but you’ll need to do to do a lot of other healthy things simultaneously.   They are not the messiah of the world of food but they can be another small step on the road to good health.

The following are 4 so called superfoods.  We provide you with a guide to what they are, whether they are good for you, where to find them and how to eat them.

Superfoods – No.1 – Quinoa

What is it?

Quinoa (pronounced Keen-wah) is commonly referred to as a grain although technically it is not a grain.  It is also referred to as a pseudo cereal.  It looks like a tiny bead.

Is it good for you?

Quinoa has all 9 essential amino acids and is regarded as a complete protein.  A 2009 study at the University of Chile found that 15 percent of the total content of quinoa is protein.  Quinoa’s protein content per 100 calories is higher than brown rice, potatoes, barley and millet, but is less than wild rice and oats.

It is gluten-free and high in fibre which has been shown to reduce cholesterol and be beneficial for keeping blood glucose levels under control. It is a good source of iron – needed to transport oxygen around the body, B vitamins for energy, calcium and magnesium for healthy nervous system function (and the former being useful for vegans and those who are lactose intolerant and vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant. Some studies have also shown Quinoa can help slow down the aging process and decrease the risk of cancer.

Where do you find it?

Quinoa can be found in some Coles and Woolworths stores as well as at some health food stores

How do you eat it?

  • You can use quinoa similar to how you use rice.
  • Rolled quinoa flakes for breakfast
  • Added to a salad, soups, frittatas or vegie patties.
  • Hot served with a stir-fry, stew or casserole.

Superfoods – No.2 – Goji berry

What is it?

It is a bright orange-red berry that comes from a shrub that’s native to a number of countries including China. Goji berries are usually found dried. They are shrivelled red berries that look like red raisins.

Is it good for you?

Goji berries contain powerful antioxidants and possess Vitamin A rich compounds.  There are numerous websites that purport to claim that the goji berry, also known as the wolfberry, can assist in protecting the retina of the eye, contain 15 times the amount of iron found in spinach and have the highest concentration of protein of any fruit.

Research into the health benefits, however, appear light on, and one would be wise to be cautious in claiming that there are health benefits of goji berries, let alone calling it a super food at this stage. In addition there may be some possible interactions with some drugs. If you take warfarin (a blood thinner), you may want to avoid goji berries. It is also claimed that Goji berries may interact with diabetes and blood pressure drugs. It is advisable that you speak with your health care provider before adding goji berries to your diet.

Where do you find it?

Health food stores and supermarkets

How do you eat it?

  • Goji berries are eaten raw, cooked, or dried (like raisins) and are used in herbal teas, juices and smoothies.
  • Eaten as snacks by themselves or with nuts and dried fruit
  • Add to muesli or oatmeal
  • Add to muffins or scones

Superfoods – No.3 – Chia seed

What is it?

The Chia is a tiny little black and white edible seed that looks like a poppy seed.  It is derived from the desert plant called Salvia Hispanica.

Is it good for you?

Chia seeds are high in fibre, contain omega-3, and boost protein, calcium and antioxidant levels.  However, chia does not contain as much omega-3 as eating fish.

In theory, chia seeds are supposed to help you lose weight through reducing your appetite.  However, researcher David Nieman, DrPH, a professor at Appalachian State University in North Carolina found that “over a 12-week period, we did not see a change in appetite or weight loss” in study participants who consumed chia seeds.   Catherine Ulbricht, PharmD, chief editor of Natural Standard Research Collaboration claims “the evidence is limited on chia, and only two clinical trials examined heart health and body weight.  One showed some beneficial heart effect, but neither showed any effect on weight loss.”

One should also be cautious as some experience an allergic reaction to it, especially if you are already allergic to sesame or mustard seeds.  Chia seeks may also interfere with high blood pressure medication and blood thinners.

Where do you find it?

In health food stores and also Supermarket health food section

How do you eat it?

  • Add to water and drink or add to a smoothie
  • Sprinkle in porridge or yoghurt
  • Add to poached fruit
  • In salads
  • In muffins


Superfoods – No.4 – Kale

What is it?

Kale or borecole is a vegetable with green or purple leaves.  It is considered to be closer to wild cabbage than most domesticated forms.

Is it good for you?

Kale is very high in the antioxidant beta carotene.  It also contains sulforaphane, a chemical with potent anti-cancer properties. Kale is also a source of indole-3-carbinol, a chemical which boosts DNA repair in cells and appears to block the growth of cancer cells. Kale has been found to contain a group of resins known as bile acid sequestrants, which have been shown to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease, especially when kale is cooked instead of raw.

Kale’s health benefits are primarily linked to the high concentration and excellent source of antioxidant vitamins A, C, and K. Eating a diet rich in the powerful antioxidant vitamin K can reduce the overall risk of developing or dying from cancer, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Individuals with already existing and untreated thyroid problems may want to avoid consumption of cabbage-family vegetables in their raw form.  Individuals with a history of oxalate-containing kidney stones should avoid over consuming kale and other oxalate-containing greens.

Where do you find it?

In health food stores and also Supermarket health food section

How do you eat it?

  • Steam it or eat raw
  • Add to salads, stews, stir fry, casserole, egg dishes
  • topping for pizza
  • kale chips
  • Substitute it for spinach in pasta or risotto.

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