Dave Shaw 's Opinion

NZ dietitian, performance nutritionist and health expert. Dave does his best to make sense of what we eat.

Dave Shaw: The truth about superfoods

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The phrase 'superfood' is thrown around pretty loosely.
Photo / Thinkstock
The phrase 'superfood' is thrown around pretty loosely. Photo / Thinkstock

There is no such thing as "superfoods", only "super-diets". However, a handful of wholefoods have recently received the good-nutrient marketing treatment that has convinced shoppers to add them to their grocery list.

The term "superfoods" is not in common use by dietitians because the health benefits they claim can often exceed reality or be based on dubious evidence. Unsurprisingly, scientists can find an antioxidant - or vital nutrient - in just about any food.

Pomegranates are no longer just a fruit, but more of a robust antioxidant powerhouse with the potential to add years to your life. Even berries have risen to superfood status, alongside the very nutritious salmon, kale and many others.

It's fair to say, specific foods, if chosen well and in combination with a healthy diet, can reshape our medical destinies for the better - even improving our mood, focus, energy, skin, and metabolism in the short term.

But always tread carefully when any food boasts being better than the one next to it. Remember, many of the healthiest foods available don't need advertising to sell.

So how can the marketing trick of "superfoods" be allowed?

It may be because there's no clear scientific definition for what a superfood is, so the tag can be loosely slapped onto any food out there. Giving marketers the luxury to play around with words and the public's perception of what a healthy diet looks like.

We are all enthralled by the latest research. It's far more exciting and persuasive than being told to eat a diet based on wholefoods. We all know fruit and vegetables are healthy, but who wants to hear, yet again, that we should simply eat more. So we look out for the latest quick fix - and unnecessarily so.

However, not all so-called "superfoods" should get crossed off the list. Some of them, well, are pretty super in their own way - nutrient rich, fulfilling and a great inclusion into a healthy diet. Here are my favourites:

Salmon
Good for your heart, skin and brain. Salmon, as well as other fatty fish, is full of omega-3 fats that are known to have numerous health benefits. It's also a brilliant source of protein. Buy it fresh or grab a couple of cans for a convenient snack.

Green leafy vegetables
Aid with DNA synthesis and help you feel energised. Green leafy veg, especially spinach and kale, are popular with health advocates. They are great sources of iron, folate and antioxidants. Have them in salads, shakes or get creative by trying some toasted kale chips.

Eggs are cheap, versatile and full of super health benefits.
Photo / Thinkstock
Eggs are cheap, versatile and full of super health benefits. Photo / Thinkstock

Eggs
A boost to your muscles and brain. Eggs are packed full of high quality protein and choline, an important nutrient for brain health. They are cheap and one of the most versatile foods with the ability to be poached, fried, scrambled and boiled. A no-brainer for any shopping list.

Mince
Excellent to support growth and to help give you energy. Mince is cheap, versatile and a great source of protein and B12. It also contains iron, which is especially important to prevent the occurrence of iron deficiency anaemia in susceptible groups, like young women.

Frozen Vegetables
Don't get caught up in the fuss about only eating fresh. Frozen is just as nutritious and has the added value of remaining edible if you can't cook it before it goes bad. Loaded with fibre and vitamins, it's wise to keep a bag or two stored in the freezer lazy meals.

Avocado
Great for your heart, brain and immunity. Don't be afraid of the avo because you think it's fattening. Avocados offer an abundance of fibre and heart healthy monounsaturated fats, plus antioxidants. Add half, or the whole thing, into any salad or fruit smoothie.

Nuts
Walnuts are possibly the most well known super-nut, good for your heart, brain and cardiovascular system. They're nature's gifts - full of heart healthy fats, fibre and essential vitamins and minerals. Sometimes a little pricey, but it's not like you need to eat loads - a handful a day is perfect. Other great choices are almonds and Brazil nuts, just watch out for those sugary and salty coatings.

- www.nzherald.co.nz

Dave Shaw

NZ dietitian, performance nutritionist and health expert. Dave does his best to make sense of what we eat.

Dave works in public health and alongside some of New Zealand’s top athletes. Whether it's for vitality, performance, identity or spirituality, Dave loves the way food brings people together. He believes that no one diet is the cure for our growing rates of chronic disease, but a diet based on wholefoods is the perfect start. Always keeping up-to-date with current evidence and food trends, Dave is a relentless researcher for how we should eat and likes to challenge what we may think about nutrition.

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