Here at MeMeMe we’re on a mission to ensure that you’re as healthy as you can be. Unfortunately, there’s often a lot of confusion when it comes to health foods, especially where supposed ‘superfoods’ are concerned. No sooner have we got on board with one trend, the next is upon us. So what’s the real truth about superfoods?

With so much conflicting information it’s hard to know which (if any) of these superfoods live up to the hype, and with hefty price tags on a lot of them, keeping up with the latest health trends can be costly.

The shelves of high street health-food stores are lined with powdered supplements like Raspberry Ketones and Acai Berries that profess to solve all your problems but cost a small fortune. Nearby you’ll find luxury and speciality versions of otherwise everyday foods, like Mānuka Honey and Pink Himalayan Salt. And let’s not forget the current obsession with avoiding sugar, usually by replacing it with a substitute, like Agave Nectar.

Are these superfoods really any better for you than the alternatives, or are they simply fads? And most importantly, how can we truly ensure a healthy diet and lifestyle?

We caught up with four nutrition experts to get their views. Our discussion covered superfoods and five specific fads that have been sweeping health shops and the internet with promises of eternal life (well…almost).

The truth may surprise you…

Forget superfoods, we need the Clark Kents of health foods

Superman is perhaps the best known superhero, he’s the full package – super-strong, super-fast, his eyes can do every trick in the book and, as if that wasn’t enough, he can fly! But when he’s not wearing the red cape, Superman is an ordinary, boring guy.

He’s Clark Kent.

As it turns out, the real superfoods on our supermarket shelves are much like Clark Kent himself. As Rachel Collins, The Happy Mummy Health Coach explains, “the most important foods to add to your diet are everyday fruits and veggies: broccoli, spinach, bananas etc. These are superfoods; they’re just not ‘cool’!”

Rachel is far from alone in this opinion, as Rebecca Boulton, of Simple & Clean Nutrition agrees. Rebecca told MeMeMe that, “as superfoods go, my favourites are blueberries, broccoli and spinach.”

It would seem that filling up on everyday fruits and vegetables and maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet is still the way to go. As Rebecca explains, “the new ‘superfoods’ all over the media are usually overpriced. They’re for people looking for a ‘quick fix’”.

Most of us have learnt the hard way that in nutrition there are no quick fixes. A truly healthy diet and lifestyle takes consistent effort and a lot more variety than a few magic powders, outlandish honeys, and mysterious salts.

The true superfoods are neither exotic nor outrageously expensive. They’re the mundane items we stroll past in the supermarket, the foods we know we should eat more of but somehow never manage to.

Superfoods are supposed to be cool. They’re our Superman in the world of subsistence. Broccoli on the other hand is just a bit…Clark Kent. Boring, mundane…but totally Super underneath.

In our hectic, non-stop modern world, it’s far easier to take a pill or switch your brand of honey, and call yourself healthy, than it is to take the time to cook real, wholesome meals from fresh fruits and veg. Kate Knowler, The London Nutritionist, is an advocate of having a superdiet rather than depending on a superfood. “There’s no benefit to a diet of sugar with highlights of kale,” Kate told MeMeMe, “but there is a benefit to a diet rich in wholefoods, highlighted with some superfoods.”

The real benefits of superfoods

But should we dismiss superfoods entirely? All of the nutritionists we spoke to agreed with the notion of superfoods being the complimentary cherry on top of a super diet.

“Superfoods are often touted as having medicinal properties,” Rachel explained to us. “Because of this, their effectiveness depends on what you are hoping they will do.”

Raspberry Ketones and Green Coffee Extract are both hailed as miracle weight-loss aids, superfoods like acai berries are strong antioxidants, and mānuka honey has antibacterial properties. If you are trying to lose weight, a weight-loss aid might prove helpful. If you are looking to eliminate free radicals, antioxidants are great. But none of these superfoods were intended as a catch-all miracle drug to ensure perfect health.

Catherine Jeans, The Family Nutrition Expert agrees:

“Superfoods can be very helpful, as they can optimise nutrient intake. They shouldn’t replace a good diet though – you can’t think by adding in a few expensive powders a poor diet will do. Having said that, if I’m feeling extra stressed, or I know I haven’t eaten enough fruit or veg that day, I’ll make up a smoothie and pop a couple in—just to give my nutrient intake a boost.”

So, let’s get specific and look at some of the more popular superfoods in detail…

Raspberry Ketones

What are they?

Raspberry ketones are the natural phenolic compound that give red raspberries their distinctive, delicious scent. Until relatively recently they were primarily used in food manufacture and perfume making. They’re now sold as a (ironically vile-smelling) supplement, in capsules containing a red powder.

What’s the hype?

The weight-loss industry was taken by storm when this seemingly innocuous substance was introduced a few years ago. Touted as a miracle weight-loss aid that helps your body metabolise and break down fat more effectively, Raspberry ketones are all the rage.

What’s the truth?

Well it seems there may be a kernel of truth to this… “There is some evidence that raspberry ketones—like green coffee extract—support weight loss.” Catherine explains.

But before you go rushing to the pharmacy, heed a few warnings. Rebecca’s view of both raspberry ketones and green coffee extract is that they are both “more faddy” than anything else on our list. Catherine was also keen to emphasise that, “you’re not going to get results if you have a diet full of starch and sugar. It’s better to stick to professional dietary advice, instead of trying to use supplements for weight loss.”.

Acai Berries

What are they?

Acai berries are small, round, reddish purple fruits. Like raspberry ketones they can be bought in powder form, either in capsules that can be taken daily, or as loose powder to add to smoothies and other food. Unlike raspberry ketones, it’s the berry as a whole that’s causing the fuss—no need to remove a specific bit and concentrate it, you can simply eat the fruit.

What’s the hype?

Acai berries are perhaps the most super of all superfoods, if we are to believe their promises. With supposed health benefits including weight loss, heart health, energy boosts, age defiance, improved mental function, better skin, better digestion, and better sex, it’s hardly surprising everyone is after this pretty little purple fruit. It’s even been promoted as a possible cancer treatment.

What’s the truth?

Acai berries are genuinely very high in antioxidants, much like other berries (cranberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries), however the concentration of antioxidants in acai berries is considerably higher. This means that you can get a lot more antioxidant power from the same amount of fruit.

In this sense, the acai berry truly is a superfood, not because it has a unique power, but because it’s stronger in that power than other alternatives.

Catherine filled us in on the benefits of antioxidants, and why acai berries are a good superfood to try: “Antioxidants are important for keeping our cells healthy and preventing free radical damage. There are lots of other foods, such as dark green leafy vegetables, and other brightly coloured fruits that are also rich in antioxidants, but acai has a lovely flavour—they’re nice to use in baking as an alternative to raisins!”

Agave Nectar

What is it?

Agave nectar is the sugar substitute with a divine name that makes it sound somewhat heavenly. It’s a syrup that’s sweeter than honey and generally less viscous.

What’s the hype?

Despite the fact there are other natural sweeteners out there, such as honey and maple syrup, agave is famed for its low GI and extra sweetness. The low GI ensures your energy levels are more stable, and the extra sweetness means you need roughly a third less agave than you would sugar. This is seen to be a weight-loss benefit, allowing you to get all the taste with fewer downsides.

What’s the truth?

For a full explanation, check out Dr. Weil’s article on what’s wrong with agave nectar. Rebecca, however, succinctly summarised the issue for us: “Agave syrup is still just sugar.”

While it may have a lower GI, this is caused by high levels of fructose, which cause liver and weight gain issues. This not only contradicts one of the supposed benefits of agave (weight loss), it’s also very worrying. As Catherine explains: “High fructose diets have been associated with increased food-seeking behaviour (i.e. more food cravings). Any sweetener, however natural, will also feed a sweet tooth.”

Pink Himalayan Salt

What is it?

An enigma wrapped in a mystery, pink Himalayan salt has everything a good superfood needs: a funky, exotic-sounding name, a cool appearance, and a reasonable amount of science backing up its claims. It’s also – unusually for a superfood – very inexpensive. It is essentially rock salt with a distinctive pink colour, but its origins (and the reasons for that pink hue) make it rather special.

What’s the hype?

Mined in Khewra, Punjab, from the Himalayan mountains, pink Himalayan salt comes from sea salt beds that were covered with lava around two hundred million years ago. The theory goes that the lava acted as an impenetrable barrier between the salt and the world, protecting it from pollutants and giving it that unique colour. Pink Himalayan salt is prized for its high concentrations of minerals, and the fact there is less sodium in it than normal salt. This means there is less of the damaging element of salt and a lot more things present that are good for you.

What’s the truth?

This enigmatic salt is a huge hit with our nutritionists, who all agree it has tangible benefits, no discernible downside, and a nice low price. Kate told us it’s the only item on our list that she would actually recommend to her clients, while Rebecca and Catherine both agree it has fantastic health benefits.

“I love this pink salt,” Catherine explains. “I use it in my everyday cooking. It has much higher levels of lots of different essential minerals and has a better balance of nutrients than refined salt. I also throw it in the bath!”

Mānuka Honey

What is it?

Mānuka honey is a monofloral honey—honey made from a single type of plant—that is produced exclusively in New Zealand and Australia from the nectar of the mānuka tree. It’s highly prized for its rarity. The fact that it must be produced from a single flower makes it difficult to manufacture, and there is a grading system that assesses how much mānuka is in a jar. The higher the grade, the higher the price tag.

What’s the hype?

Mānuka honey is prized for its antibacterial properties and is a sought after alternative medicine. It’s high in amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, and because it’s raw and doesn’t undergo heat treatments, it retains these nutrients. Mānuka honey also has unique enzymes that aren’t present in other forms of honey. All of this, combined with the difficulty of production and limited places it can be made, gave mānuka honey a truly unique selling point. It’s become the go-to honey recommended by health shops. Careful though, a small jar of real New Zealand, high-grade mānuka honey could set you back as much as £50.

What’s the truth?

As Kate explained to us, makuka honey is the same as any raw honey, but because all the research has been done on mānuka honey alone, manufacturers are able to make lofty claims that competing brands can’t. Rebecca is in agreement on this point, explaining that “local honey has excellent benefits at a smidgen of the cost of mānuka honey.”

While Catherine is in favour of the health benefits of mānuka honey, she’s also quick to caution against using it in several ways. “Make sure you don’t heat it, as you’ll lose all the antibacterial properties, and certainly don’t cook with it, or put it in your hot drinks.”

Mānuka may be good for you, but is it worth the excessive price tag? Local, raw honey still offers all the health benefits of mānuka, plus the added bonus of treating hayfever (as it’s made with local flowers), and costs a fraction of the price!

Meet our experts…

Catherine Jeans, DipION mBANT CNHC The Family Nutrition Expert

Catherine is The Family Nutrition Expert, a highly qualified Nutritional Therapist, Family Food Educator and author of the 30 Day Sugar Detox. She is based in Norfolk.

Kate Knowler – The London Nutritionist

Kate is a self-confessed recovering perfectionist. She retrained as a nutritional therapist after using food to restore her health ten years ago, when a career in corporate IT ended with burnout and fatigue. Kate believes in empowering her clients to make choices that can support their overall wellbeing.

Rachel Collins – The Happy Mummy Health Coach

Rachel is The Happy Mummy Health Coach, helping Mums who are feeling S.H.I.T (Stressed, Hungry, Isolated and Tired) use The Happy Mummy Cleanse to take back control of their body and enjoy every magical moment of being a mummy.

Rebecca Boulton – Simple & Clean Nutrition

Rebecca is a Nutritional Therapist who works with busy professional mums, helping them to balance their hormones so they can feel energised, get back in control of their body and emotions, and feel like themselves again!

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