As we move from the cool winter months into the bright, chirpy spring sun we are bombarded with the latest weight loss regimes and ‘superfood’ claims. It’s hard to ignore the relentless promotion of these products, but what actually is a superfood, and what are the benefits?
All foods have different nutrient profiles. No foods provide a complete source of nutrition, and some foods are more nutrient dense than others. These foods are not ‘super’, they are nutritious. No foods themselves cure major illness. No foods in isolation cause severe illness. Some foods reduce your risk of certain diseases but this is dependent on your overall diet, family history and other lifestyle factors.
Superfoods have no legal definition, with the term being coined by major food companies with significant marketing budgets to promote healthy foods.
Often superfoods are promoted as ‘hard to find’, ‘difficult to source’ and ‘exotic’, designed to increase their perceived value.
While these foods may be promoted as nutrient dense, it is important to be aware that often the quoted nutrient quantities of superfoods can be misleading. We need to consider how much of this food we could actually consume to assess its health benefit.
Spirulina, for example, is a type of algae powder often added to green smoothies and promoted for its high protein content, with 100g of spirulina providing around 65g of protein. However, the recommended serving size is 3g, which provides approximately 2g of protein. In contrast two eggs provides 10g of protein.
While there is nothing wrong with consuming a food labelled as a superfood, you need to be realistic about what you expect to gain from eating it.
It’s important to remember that just because something is expensive it is not always better. In fact, when it comes to food, the opposite is often true. When fresh fruits and vegetables are in season and at their flavour and nutrient best, they are usually more affordable. Furthermore, the nutrients provided by superfoods are no different to the nutrients provided by other healthy foods.
There are many healthy everyday foods such as fish, avocado, oranges, and oats that are just as nutritious, and significantly cheaper than foods marketed as superfoods.
So, what’s the verdict? Superfoods are expensive ‘exotic’ foods with good nutrition profiles. However, fresh local and seasonal produce is just as nutritious, more readily available, much more affordable and when you buy local you’re supporting local. The decision is up to you.
Lamb & asparagus nicoise salad
- 8 baby potatoes, halved
- 2 bunches asparagus, each spear cut into 4 lengths
- 400g green beans, topped and tailed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus one tablespoon extra
- 400g lamb back strap, loin chops or cutlets
- 3 rosemary sprigs, leaves picked
- 1 baby cos lettuce, leaves separated
- ½ fennel, thinly sliced
- ⅓ cup kalamata olives, pitted
- ½ bunch of basil, leaves picked
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Boil potatoes for 5–6 minutes or until tender. Add asparagus and green beans for the last minute of cooking. Remove from the heat, drain and allow to cool.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large frypan over medium–high heat. Add lamb and cook for 3–4 minutes on each side or until cooked to your liking. Add rosemary to the pan for the last minute of cooking. Remove lamb from the pan and set aside to rest before slicing.
- Meanwhile, make the salad dressing. Combine garlic, mustard, capers, vinegar and remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small bowl. Pour over salad and toss to coat.
- Combine potatoes, asparagus, beans, cos lettuce, fennel, olives and basil leaves in a large bowl. Pour over salad dressing and toss to coat.
- Divide salad between serving plates and top with lamb. Garnish with crispy rosemary leaves from the pan.