Niki Bezzant: There's nothing magic about food

Broccoli is a food hero, however it is not the answer to all our ills. Photo / File
Broccoli is a food hero, however it is not the answer to all our ills. Photo / File

For a good 10 years now, I've been seeing research about broccoli. It has health-promoting compounds that can lower the risk of coronary heart disease and age-related macular degeneration.

The flavonoids in broccoli have been associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and asthma.

It contains sulforaphane, the sulfur-containing compound with cancer-fighting properties.

Broccoli is also high in fibre and contains a range of vitamins and minerals.

You could legitimately call broccoli an all-round hero. A superfood, even. If there were a definition of superfood (which there isn't) it would qualify. If there were an award for superfoods it would be on the nominations list.

And yet we all know - hopefully - that we can't cure cancer just by eating broccoli.

If someone is having an asthma attack, handing them a bowl of steamed broccoli is not going to cut it. Broccoli is super, yes, but it's not magic.

That's why I get so frustrated when I see once-over-lightly nutrition stories telling me about magic foods: eat x to do y. Some recent real-life examples: "Eat cashew nuts to maintain eye heath!" "Orange juice is a great way to reduce the risk of kidney disease." "Mushrooms help you lose weight." "Avocado fights high blood pressure."

You could also add well-travelled myths like red wine being good for the heart. It's a misguided angle for a story, and one I really dislike: the magic food angle.

It comes about from the cherry-picking of research.

One study found orange juice increases levels of citrate in the urine; scientists theorise this could mean the potassium in it helps prevent calcium oxalate kidney stones; therefore orange juice fights kidney stones.

So: some truth. But it's a long bow to draw.

Then there are the cure-alls. I've lost count of the number of articles I've seen extolling the virtues of apple cider vinegar. This is an elixir which, apparently, can do everything from curing night-time leg cramps to removing warts.

There are whole books about it. Some of the benefits have some science behind them; many don't.

A close second to this in recent years is coconut oil. There are people who will happily tell you that eating a tablespoon of coconut fat every day - without doing anything else - will help you lose weight and melt away belly fat.

Unfortunately, food just doesn't work like that. No one food is going to cure a specific health problem on its own.

There are things that do that; they are called drugs.

But a single food is never going to solve all our problems, especially if we're not looking at the rest of what we're eating. Superfoods don't exist; super diets do. So by all means tuck into the broccoli; dress it with apple cider vinegar, if you like. But do that alongside lots of other colourful plant foods, the benefits of which - as a whole - we know well.

Niki Bezzant is editor-in-chief of Healthy Food Guide.

- Herald on Sunday

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