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Opinion: How Super is a Superfood?

We all know about the EU regulation that banned companies from describing foods as ‘superfoods’ unless they could scientifically prove it, but one of our lead judges, Simon Wright, also questions why we single out some foods as being ‘super’ in the first place…

SimonWrightMy background is in wholefoods. My first jobs were working for Unilever, Nestle and United Biscuits. That drove me into the arms of the nascent UK  natural foods industry in the form of Whole Earth Foods, the peanut butter kings of Portobello Road. So in theory wheatgrass, maca and spirulina should be right up my street.

But they are not.

Firstly I don’t like singling out some foods as “Super”. Does that mean other foods are less than super? We are so fortunate in the UK to have an infinite number of wonderful food possibilities presented to us on a daily basis  – why elevate just a few ?

Secondly I don’t believe in extracting nutrients. We now know that removing bran from wheat and adding it to other foods makes the fibre content less effective than if the bran were consumed as part of wholegrain wheat. Nature is keen that we eat whole foods.

Thirdly I don’t like the league table aspect. Blueberries are high in anti-oxidants. But goji berries are higher! And next week there will be another berry which is even higher!  Such concerns are trumped by the humble blackberry which grows abundantly near me in Richmond Park, is free and delicious in a crumble.

Fourthly I am suspicious of how superfoods are used. My wife used to have lunch with someone who was convinced that it did not matter what foods she selected as putting yoghurt on top would magically make them nutritious (she used to call it ‘adding a bit of healthy’).

Fifthly I am unconvinced they are necessary.  My two favourite nutrition writers are currently Michael Pollan and Tim Spector. Spector says “every  fresh fruit and vegetable is a superfood”. Pollan gives this dietary advice: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Neither makes a case for the importance of eating sea buckthorn, camu camu or any other expensive and unpronounceable extract.

So…who would like to show me the error of my ways?