Superfoods?

Have you ever wondered what the next food that will change your life will be. The one that promises to make you ten years younger, rejuvenate your sex life, prevent or cure all cancers and make you rich and famous. My money is on either raw tripe or more likely some semi-inedible berry from the Afghan foothills of the Pamir Mountains. Jay Rayner is eagerly scanning is in-box for the news.

I was scrolling through my spam email folder one day dreaming about how life would be if its contents were only true. Oh the Nigerian oil millions I would have; the glorious women who were out there, waiting for me; the private jets I could buy at a knockdown price. Then I flicked back to my normal inbox. Suddenly it struck me: life wouldn’t be too shabby if many of these were true as well.

According to these emailed press releases food wasn’t just stuff you ate for nutritional purposes. It was the elixir of life, the very wellspring from which immortality might flow, a cure for cancer, acne and heart disease. My email inbox had become superfood central. A new superfood snack had been launched. Someone else was flogging a new range of superfood products. There was news of wonder berries, of offers to feed your immune system, of medicinally potent grains.

Or possibly not, as he explains in today’s Observer Food Monthly.

One thing that has always annoyed me is the claim that foods can act as medicines. No they can not. A healthy diet can help you to stay healthy, but it is not a guarantee, but trying to claim that for example food “x” will cure disease “y” is patent nonsense and fortunately illegal in the EU.

No wonder the European Union has banned the use of the term on packaging unless it can be backed up with scientific chapter and verse. Cancer Research UK calls it “just a marketing tool”. Sure, some so-called superfoods contain chemicals that, in the lab, have been shown to affect cancer cells. But that’s very different to what happens in the human body. For example to ingest the same volume of the active ingredient in garlic as used in laboratory tests you’d have to eat 28 cloves a day. Weirdly, no one has tried.

In addition, applying the active ingredient to a cell in a Petri dish is not the same as trying to apply the same active ingredient via the digestive system.
Jay Rayner loves food, and as he says treating it as medicine strips all joy out of it. He concludes;

I’m not a trained nutritionist but I know trash science when I see it – and the superfood cult is exactly that. Here, then is my advice to anyone wanting to take care of themselves through food: eat a normal balanced diet. It won’t stave off cancer. It won’t make you immortal. But it will keep you generally healthy. Which is about all you can expect from your lunch.

He does make on minor mistake here though, he is as qualified as a nutritionist as the people who make the claims about Super-foods. In the UK any one can call themselves a nutritionist. This is why, to try to get a bit better control over my blood glucose levels (I’m diabetic), I will be going to see a Dietician next week.

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