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Sorting the wheatgrass from the chaff

The term ‘superfood’ is here to stay but the foods that make the cut are ever changing

With the types of foods and their health-boosting claims forever changing, how do we know which foods deserve their hype and which are just a flash in the pan?

We have done the research for you to provide you with a check-list of some of the foods that definitely earn the title of superfood as well as the ones that fall short.  

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Almonds
Almonds richly deserve their place on the list. They have a proven role in improving heart health, helping to manage diabetes, helping to control cholesterol and blood sugar and in reducing inflammation.

Without changing anything else in their diets, people who eat almonds tend to lose weight. They are also a very good source of vitamin E, which is one of the most difficult nutrients to obtain in your diet.

Garlic 
While not the best aphrodisiac, garlic is a health food through and through. Studies show that using high concentrations of garlic extract is associated with improved blood circulation, healthier cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure, all of which reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, current evidence does not support the use of garlic supplements to improve health.

Garlic is particularly useful in cooking as it provides an alternative to salt in adding flavour to meals, along with lemon juice, chilli, herbs and spices.

Kale 
The jury is out on kale, with some experts arguing that this green cruciferous vegetable is no healthier than plenty of other vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, spinach, carrots or other cabbages.  It makes our ‘in’ list, however, because by weight kale more calcium and vitamin B6 than most of its competitors. Kale contains a lot of iron, vitamins, fibre, and antioxidants and, while many other vegetables do too, kale managed to tip the scale into our superfoods list because of its ecological credentials. Kale can be locally sourced in the UK and can even be grown easily in your garden.

Seaweed 
Seaweed makes the list because it is a rare example of a vegan food that that is rich in vitamin B12, as well as high in calcium and iron. This makes it a good food for vegans to include in their diets. For the rest of us, it remains just another healthy food with no super power above other healthy options.

Walnuts 
Walnuts contain a number of neuroprotective compounds, including vitamin E, folate, melatonin, omega-3 fats, and antioxidants. Research also shows that eating walnuts may support brain health. What makes them stand out from other nuts, however, is their anti-cancer credentials. Research from Marshall University School of Medicine in West Virginia discovered that walnuts inhibited breast tumours and slowed the growth of prostate, colon, and renal cancers.
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Avocados 
Technically a fruit, avocados are high in monounsaturated fat, which helps to protect the cardiovascular system, but you can also get that from oily fish, nuts and uncooked olive oil among other things. Avocados are also relatively high in calories, with one average avocado rivalling a medium size chocolate bar.  

Their eco-rating isn’t great either. Avocados are shipped from the tropics and must be kept cool on the journey. Deforestation to make way for avocado trees is now a problem in Mexico and they need a large amount of water to thrive. Perhaps it is time for our avocado obsession to come to an end.

Chia seeds 
Chia seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are also found in oily fish. One hundred grams of chia seeds contain about 17g of omega-3s, which is about eight times as much as salmon.

The reason they didn’t make the ‘in’ list however is because the omega-3s in chia seeds are different from the ones in fish. Our bodies are inefficient at turning this kind into the connected to health benefits. This means you will actually absorb fewer nutrients than eating fish by weight.

Chia seeds are also surprisingly high in calories. Not a deal-breaker in itself but something to be aware of when sprinkling it in your granola and smoothies. 100g of chia amounts to 486 calories, which is about the same amount as the average burger.

Goji berries 
Most goji berries are shipped from China, although there would be nothing to stop you growing your own. There is no evidence that goji berries do anything more ‘super’ than any other fruit. There are studies claiming that goji berries can treat cancer, heart disease and various other health problems, all of which have been small, unreliable and generally based on large doses of goji extract, which you couldn’t get by eating them normally.

Wheatgrass 
If you believe the hype, wheatgrass has more nutrients than any vegetable, improves circulation and protects against inflammation. However, there is no substantive evidence to back up these claims.

Wheatgrass does contain essential vitamins and minerals, but these minerals are in small amounts and can’t be considered a worthwhile vitamin or dietary supplement. Tests show that, pound for pound, spinach and broccoli are just as beneficial.
None of this means you shouldn’t be eating any of the foods in the non-superfoods list – I mean, come on, avocados are delicious. Foods are still good for you and should certainly be part a balanced diet. They’re just not spectacularly better than other health foods. As with everything in life, there is no short cut and balance is the key to good health.

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