The Myth Of The “SUPERFOOD”

By Henry Gould – Oct 18th, 2018

Folks, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it appears that drinking chia seed water might not be the holy grail after all. Nor will bags of kale, oily fish, avocado toast, or green tea before bed.

At least, not on their own.

The last 10 years of health news have been inundated with talk of “Superfoods”; green leafy vegetables, beets, turmeric, activated charcoal, raw cacao, coconut oil, etc etc etc. Rarely was this a case of good vs. bad, but rather, could eating huge amounts of them actually make you healthier?

While were at it, a note on the word healthy, as I think it can mean many different things to different people. By definition, health is the absence of injury or disease in a living organism. When we see someone in the gym with ripped arms and a 6-pack, we might assume that person is healthy. But perhaps they have a lingering smoking habit and are close to developing emphysema? Therefore, can we really consider them healthy?

On the flip-side, many of the people who end up living to very old age don’t typically look like what we associate with healthy or fit. The same with the word “fitness”; maybe we take it to mean physically fit, but in a biological sense, it means an organisms ability to survive and pass along their genes. 6-pack or no 6-pack.

Back to the foods. It always feels a bit hollow when people talk about how healthy they’ve been eating, only to then complain about their high stress lifestyle, drinking too much, smoking occasionally, and exercising only when they feel like it. Eating healthy is but one component of health, perhaps not even the biggest component, so to say that a superfood can right a huge list of wrongs is probably wishful thinking.

There have been quite a few great articles breaking down the idea of superfoods, one here in The Guardian, and another from ABC News Australia.

Both the articles go into more depth on a variety of the topics, but let’s take one example: Antioxidants. We’ve all heard about them, we think they’re good, but perhaps not totally sure why. An antioxidant is a molecule that helps neutralize an oxidant, otherwise known as a free radical. Both of these things basically need to live in a state of harmony, with one group not outweighing the other. Free radicals can help kill dangerous bacteria in the body, but too many can cause oxidative stress. On the flip side, with too many antioxidants you may expose yourself to infection or disease as there aren’t enough free radicals to regulate. A concise review can be found here, which explains things beyond my pay grade.

The point being, Acai berries may be marketed as having huge amounts of antioxidants, but if your body is already in a state of stasis with regards to antioxidants / oxidants, perhaps you would be doing more harm then good. Further to that point, a lot of people assume if something is healthy to eat, then eating 10x the normal amount will make you 10x as healthy. Eating a whole bag of Acai blueberries is likely to spike your insulin, causing you to store some of the sugar as fat, which makes eating a bag of fruit only marginally better than a bag of candy.

So does this mean throwing out all the vegetables and just eating pizza?? I’d love to say the answer is yes, but sadly it isn’t (you already knew that though…). It may be boring and unsexy, but eating a balanced diet is really the way to go. Vegetables may be great for their particular nutrients, but overall the fibre they contain, coupled to their low glycemic index is likely a better measure of their “health” qualities.

Everything in moderation, including moderation…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *