Superfood Or Supercrap?

Powdered Acai

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that nutrition-based food claims make me more than a little uncomfortable.

It seems that for every “scientific” paper that proves the benefits of consuming a certain type of food or nutrient, there are still others disputing it.  In a way it’s no different than the claims made by the multi-billion dollar diet industry bent on pushing yet another new faddy regimen.  Every few months new research surfaces to show that some thing (that until recently had been a workaday foodstuff) has been catapulted out of obscurity and into the limelight.  At times it makes me wonder if all of these studies are in some way connected to each food’s saavy marketing board…

In the last few decades, we’ve had studies revering margarine and vilifying butter.  Years later, butter faced a (luke-warm) reprieve, if only due to the fact that research arose stating that margarine had gross things like trans fats in it.  Then there was the jump on the olive oil bandwagon, backed up by research into the healthful Mediterranean diet.  And on, and on, ad naseum.

Which then prompted a string of books about why one culture’s diet was better than another, including French Women Don’t Get Fat, (a book a well-meaning friend once brought me to stave off boredom while I was sick) that among other things advocates living off a watery leek broth when you’ve overindulged (real healthy… snerk!)  Or the (more than a little smug) rebuttal Japanese Women Don’t Get Old Or Fat, which I bought for the express purpose of seeing what exactly they would claim was better in their “lifestyle” book than the French one, but 3 years later, I’ve yet to get past page 2.

The revolving door of nutritional recommendations doesn’t stop there, either.

Remember how eggs used to be described as the perfect food?  If you do, then you’ll also remember contrasting studies that state they’re full of cholesterol and not good for you, too.

Or there’s milk, another so-called “complete” protein, combated by people who claim that milk isn’t meant for human consumption, postulating that the large portion of the global population who are lactose intolerant amply prove that fact.

And we can’t forget one of my most favourite products in the prescripto-food spectrum; what I’ve been lovingly referring to for years as “poo yogurt”.  In Canada, I think it started with Danone’s Activia, which contains some ridiculous bacteria they named “bl regularis”, which is a subtly un-subtle way of trying to convince people that this yogurt will help your digestive system with poops.  Sounds like a load of crap (pardon the pun) don’t you think?  Combine it with those moronic commercials where some idiotic woman is belly-dancing around her home or office while eating the yogurt, plus an animation involving lots of yellow moving arrows, and you’ll see why I think it’s a bunch of bunk.  In fact, Danone was sued last year over the fact that their own research didn’t support their supposed “functional food” claims.  Way to do your homework, guys!

Moving beyond manufactured food, blueberries became a “superfood” due to the tiny, bursting orbs’ composition of antioxidants, anthocyanins and various other beneficial compounds.  Cranberries were supposedly high on the scale, too.  Then came pomegranate-pushing, hyped by the Pom Wonderful people, and not far behind, the Brazilian superfruit; the acai berry.  After acai, there was the goji berry, and since then there’ve been chia seeds and yumberries and (I imagine) a whole slew of other products I’ve never even heard of yet.

Big business is listening too, intent on cashing in.  Haagen Dazs makes acai berry sorbet and pomegranate ice cream in the States, and you can find either of those in most yogurts and juice or smoothie blends at the grocery store today.  In fact, I first learned about acai about 4 years ago when I ordered an acai smoothie at Booster Juice after a particularly vigorous workout.  But, unlike most people, I didn’t continue to slurp it because of it’s life-giving potential.  No, I started consuming it regularly because it was the only fruit I’d ever tasted that had a flavour profile similar to chocolate.  After a few months though, I gave it up like a dirty shirt.  Chocolate-flavoured fruit that’s only grown in the Amazon don’t come cheap, after all.  I only recently picked up some freeze-dried powder to include in a cardamom blueberry acai jam I was making, and the $30/100 g pricetag still makes me second guess the purchase.  And at the Toronto Home Show recently, the Everyman and I sampled pure bottled acai juice from some random company, but at $40 a bottle (750 mL) with a “recommended” dosage of 4 ounces a day, that wasn’t a pricetag I was willing to swallow.  I’ll have to stick to my jam to reap the benefits of acai, I guess.  Or just enjoy jam for being jam that tastes like chocolate.  And my jam?  Well, it’s delicious, but it’s not going to make me smarter or stop me from getting cancer.  Coincidentally, Crofter’s also began marketing a line of superfruit jams, each packed with a different blend of superfoods, but from what I’ve seen, it’s not so marketed with health claims, so much as taking advantage of the general hype around them.

So, in closing, if you buy into all of the hype about superfoods, I suppose there’s no harm in taking part in them.  At a bare minimum, it seems to be that many have been fruits and vegetables over the years, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s never anything wrong with increasing your intake of either.  However, if you’re buying processed yogurt and ice cream and candies and smoothies and sweets just because they include some kind of superfood, well there’s a certain old fashioned saying that I think might be applicable to you…

A fool and his money are easily parted.

Let’s do our best to not let these giant corporations take us for fools.

Until next time…

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2 Responses to “Superfood Or Supercrap?”

  1. [...] out I'm not the only one sceptical over the fake hype of "superfoods". [Foodie and the [...]

  2. veryounique says:

    Danone Dannon is LYING! No one owns Bifidobacterium animalis!!!

    Danone’s BL Regularis does not exist even though Danone makes it sound like a scientific name to impress those whom Danone considers to be ignorant!

    The TRUE scientific name of the strain is Bifidobacterium animalis subsp lactis.

    Danone owns Bifidobacterium animalis subsp lactis about as much as they own the air they breathe.

    Danone’s attempt to rename Bifidobacterium animalis subsp lactis as BL Regularis in Canada (and as half a dozen different invented names in other countries) is childish, presumptuous, and arrogant.

    check this out : wikipedia Bifidobacterium_animalis

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