The term ‘superfood’ is very popular now and seems to be bandied around a lot by the media and nutrition and wellness bloggers, but very rarely used by dietitians and nutritionists. This is because no one food should be thought of as the ‘holy grail’ of healthy living – a healthy diet includes a wide variety of foods from the different food groups. It’s also important to remember that the consumption of one, perceived, particularly healthy food is not going to repair the damage done by other unhealthier habits and vast overconsumption of one type of food could even cause adverse effects.
But I have always been intrigued by the idea that some foods are particularly nutrient-dense so I have tried to look into the research behind the (sometimes outlandish) health claims.
I have decided to review some research on various foods which have been branded as ‘super’ over the next few blog posts.
- If you need to make essential additions to your diet, a doctor or dietitian will advise you to make these changes.
- Never feel as though you should go out and bulk buy a particular food just because it is deemed to be especially healthy. Many of these foods would have to be eaten in huge (unrealistic) amounts to provide many of the health benefits often proclaimed.
- Many of these foods are often pretty pricey. This is because the term ‘superfood’ is really just a marketing ploy!
This grain has a long history of use in its native Mexico and Guatemala, but you can now find it in health food stores and some supermarkets, either as dried seeds or in the form of ‘puddings’ or similar products.
Chia seeds are high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid (which means our body can’t produce it). Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain health and shown to be cardioprotective. (1)
They are also relatively high in protein, with 1.7g protein per 11g serving of dried chia seeds.
You could add them to smoothies or porridge, but just remember that they do contain calories even though they’re so small, so don’t overdo it – there are 53 kcals per 11g serving.
(It is shown that chia seeds do not increase weight loss or disease risk factors in obese individuals (2).)
Flaxseeds, also known as linseeds, are from a blue flowering crop first identified in Eastern Turkey as early as 6000 BC. Its popularity in the Western diet has increased in recent years because of the perceived health benefits.
They have a similar energy and omega-3 content to chia seeds, and are also high in fibre (1). Due to the fibre content, flaxseeds have been shown to decrease the rate with which we absorb glucose from our food (3), and so improve our glucose tolerance (how well our bodies respond to the amount of glucose in the blood), although more research is needed. Fibre is also beneficial for digestive health, and current recommendations suggest that we should be consuming 30g fibre per day. (The average UK adult only consumes about 18g per day).
Flaxseeds could be added to flapjacks or sprinkled on top of your cereal in the morning to boost your fibre intake.
Adding a few of these foods to your diet here and there would increase your intake of certain nutrients, but remember not to put a huge focus on one food or nutrient in your diet – you always need to look at your diet in an all-rounded way.
- Salvia Hispanica L.(Chia) Background [Internet]. PEN: Practice-based Evidence in Nutrition. 2017 [cited 17 January 2017]. Available from: http://www.pennutrition.com/KnowledgePathway.aspx?kpid=21548&trid=8653&trcatid=38
- Nieman D, Cayea E, Austin M, Henson D, McAnulty S, Jin F. Chia seed does not promote weight loss or alter disease risk factors in overweight adults. Nutrition Research. 2009;29(6):414-418.
- Bloedon LSzapary P. Flaxseed and Cardiovascular Risk. Nutrition Reviews. 2004;62(1):18-27.