Dr Zac Turner delves into the world of superfoods and whether chia seeds can really cure a hangover.
QUESTION: Hi Dr Zac, how super are superfoods? I've recently been walking up and down the health foods section of the supermarket aisle and finding "superfood" labelled everywhere! My friends all have a superfood that they eat obsessively – I even have one mate who eats Chia seeds by the handful after a big night of drinking because he thinks it stops a hangover and reverses a lot of the damage.
What are your thoughts on these foods? I'm 21 years old and fairly healthy – but should I be targeting certain superfoods so I can stay healthy for the rest of my life? And should I be getting my mum and dad on certain superfoods – neither of them are particularly healthy! Lillian – 21, Sydney.
ANSWER: Is it a plane? Is it a bird? No, it's a superfood fad!
Lillian, superfoods are not the superheroes of our diets and the sooner we all recognise this, the better. Members of the health and wellness community have developed Gwyneth Paltrow complexes, purporting superfoods to be lifesavers of our diet. I have nothing against superfoods but I believe a balanced diet, blending normal foods together is far better for you nutritionally.
Let's use your friend's Chia seed habit as an example. He believes a handful of seeds will expunge his body of the toxins from binge drinking the night before. He's gotten this idea because certain foods are labelled with a big, green tick of "super healthy".
Chia seeds do have a reasonably high amount of omega three but they are mainly active fibre. It will help him "pass" the kebab he ate the night before, but it won't do much for his hangover I'm afraid.
He should live by the Dr Zac hangover cure – drink water, plenty of water, during the night and then plenty of water before you go to bed. You will be amazed how you feel the next day!
Another tip for avoiding a hangover is eating beforehand. It's widely known that you shouldn't drink on an empty stomach but the right foods make a huge difference.
Before a night out, up your natural fats. These will slow down your gastric motility. The longer food stays in your stomach, the slower the alcohol gets absorbed in your stomach. So load up on salmon and avocado.
While you're drinking have a couple handful of nuts which deliver a selection of B vitamins, which rapidly get depleted when you drink. Just be careful not to load up on salted nuts that will dehydrate you even more. When you wake up feeling worse for wear, sip on a cold glass of coconut water for a major potassium boost. It's nature's electrolyte drink that puts Gatorade to shame.
You should always also make sure you drink responsibly and remember the best way to avoid a hangover is not to drink at all.
Back to superfoods, it's important to note that most superfoods need to be prepared properly in order to get the most nutrients out of them. Chia seeds, pecans and other nut/seed superfoods need to be soaked before eating them or very finely ground. Our bodies struggle to digest raw nuts and seeds. If anything your friend is putting his body under similar stress as eating a KFC hangover meal.
As we get older our bodies tend to become deficient in certain vitamins and minerals. It's a part of life and so for your parents they may be told by their doctor to focus on one or the other. This is why superfoods are great, they are dense in certain nutrients. Someone who needs to fill up on a particular nutrient can most likely find a superfood to help them out.
Since you are so young, (ahh to be 21 again), I highly doubt you are deficient in any important nutrient. Rather than adding superfoods to your diet, focus on eating nutritious, unprocessed foods, and learn how to prepare them. How we cook our food can alter the nutritional value of it. You don't need to eat everything "raw", like others in the community believe, but you also shouldn't be overcooking all the goodness out of those nutrient rich veges by nuking them in a microwave.
The crispier the vegetable the better! If your meat is black put it back. Nuts and legumes should be soaked in water! There is a library of information on the internet on how to properly prepare food, I recommend you research it.
Superfoods tend not to be responsibly and sustainably sourced, meaning they cause problems for our environment and the countries they are imported from. A locally sourced, organic meal that is balanced is often far better than an acai bowl.
My other tip for you is to blend your foods! Tomatoes and avocados is my top tip to have a nutritional combination. All you need to do is add some wholemeal, multigrain toast and you have a superb breakfast! Don't fall for the superfood label, and stick to your normal foods. It will help your diet habits and wallet in the long run.