Various kinds of powders, leafy greens and seeds have been thrown into the limelight for their so-called “superfood” status – but is there any truth to these claims or is it all a marketing ploy? We’ll be unveiling what’s so “super” about these foods and how you can find the benefits elsewhere – without the eye-watering price tag.
We don’t have a solid definition yet of what constitutes a superfood, but it tends to describe something with impressive health benefits and hefty dose of a wide range of nutrients. Foods with this label bring in a lot of cash for businesses with the superfood market worth hundreds of billions of dollars – but is it really worth it? Dietician Catherine Collins told The Observer that labelling foods as such could have consequences and cause misunderstandings around the power of these so-called superfoods.
“The term superfoods is at best meaningless and at worst harmful,” Catherine said. “Nominating some foods as nutritional talismans gives the impression that ordinary, affordable, and everyday foods are somehow deficient.”
And she makes a good point – there are many foods that miss out on this label that are just as nutritious as their “super” counterparts. That’s why we’ll be diving into whether these superfoods are all they’re cracked up to be, and how you can get those same benefits for a fraction of the cost.
If you’ve noticed the price of kale sitting on an incline over the past decade – recent inflation aside – you’ve probably also noticed the increased marketing around this once humble veggie’s “super” properties. And while it certainly is highly nutritious with its fibre, vitamin K, calcium, iron, antioxidant and chlorophyl content – so they’re onto something there – it’s not the only leafy green with an impressive profile. Other similar veggies can be cheaper and just as nutritious. Let’s take a look at the contenders.
Spinach: Popeye knew what he was doing when he downed his spinach – this stuff is loaded with essential nutrients. While kale has more calcium, vitamin C and vitamin K, spinach comes out on top when it comes to iron, zinc, folate, vitamin A, vitamin E and potassium content. So, while neither is better than the other and they’re both rich in inflammation-fighting antioxidants, one does come with a significantly cheaper price tag – and we’re talking about the spinach here!
Swiss chard: While kale packs a whopping 147% more copper than Swiss chard, the latter has more vitamin K and magnesium – and that’s saying something considering kale is a known powerhouse of vitamin K.
Like the other marketed superfoods on this list, chia seeds do have an impressive nutritional profile – but it’s not necessarily better than some of the other seeds on the market.
In fact, most nuts and seeds are known for their high dose of essential nutrients – let’s dive into a couple of cheaper seed options and how they stack up to a declared superfood.
Sesame seeds: While chia seeds have more vitamin C, A and E, sesame seeds are richer in vitamin B6 and folate. Both are high in calcium, fibre and iron, though chia seeds have a better balance of omega fatty acids.
Flax seeds: Flax seeds beat chia seeds out for omega 3 content, packing nearly 1500 more milligrams of the stuff. Chia seeds have more fibre, but flax seeds have more potassium and copper – oh and a cheaper price too!
These berries are loaded with nutrients and have been labelled a superfood for a reason – their antioxidant content is nothing short of impressive, from beta-carotene to anti-inflammatory zeaxanthin and polysaccharides. But that doesn’t mean they’re better than the competition. Let’s take a look at some powerful fruit alternatives.
Bananas: The humble banana has more B vitamins and folate than goji berries, while the berries pack more vitamin C and calcium. When it comes to potassium content, bananas win out again, packing an impressive 400 milligrams of the stuff. Goji berries are known for their antioxidant content which combats oxidative stress and inflammation, but bananas have their own antioxidants too, including flavonoids and amines, both of which have been linked to a lower chance of developing heart disease. While bananas may not have the same reputation as goji berries in the superfood industry, it’s clear to see that they make for good competition.
Blueberries: These berries also tend to carry a hefty price tag, but are still cheaper than goji berries – and they make for quite the competition when it comes to antioxidant content. Because goji berries don’t travel well, you won’t be able to buy them fresh at your local store. The dried variety are the most commonly sold, but this means they pack a high dose of sugar – in fact, they have around 78% more sugar than blueberries. Both are high in fibre, and while goji berries have far more vitamin C – though blueberries are no slouch in the vitamin C department either – along with calcium and iron, blueberries take the cake for vitamin B1, B3, B6 and folate. So, while goji berries may be labelled a superfood, they’re not necessarily superior to other options on the market.
So, while it’s true that these superfoods have an impressive nutritional profile, it’s not hard to find those same or similar benefits in cheaper alternatives. As long as you’re consuming a variety of whole foods, there’s no need to seek out expensive “superfoods” while overlooking the cheaper alternatives that are right in front of us, especially if you’re strapped for cash in this 30-year-high inflation.
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