We’ve all heard the hype surrounding some of these ‘superfoods’ - foods that are thought to be best for our health - things like bone broth, coconut oil and seaweed. But are they all really that good for us? And are there any little-known, everyday foods that can do wonders for us, too? We ask nutrition experts to give us the lowdown…
We’re stir-frying with it, spooning it into green tea and swishing it around in our mouths to get whiter teeth, lose weight and fend off cancers and diabetes. But what do the experts say? Emma Brown is a nutritionist at Nutracheck. “Coconut oil contains a large amount of lauric acid,” she says. “This is a type of saturated fat which has been found to increase the good cholesterol in our blood - which may lead to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.” However, she adds that, “in terms of its superfood status, there is simply not enough conclusive scientific evidence and trials in humans to conclude that coconut oil protects against various diseases or aids weight loss.” She also says that the “high saturated fat content may be harmful to our health if consumed in excess.” Anne Iarchy, personal trainer and weight loss management coach, reckons we should aim for variety. “Ideally, you would get your daily fat intake from a mixture of coconut and olive oil, as well as avocado, fatty fish or fish oil, seeds and nuts,” she suggests.
Hands up if you’ve gone out and bought a load of these wrinkly little berries to boost your immune system? “Goji berries, like most berries, are full of antioxidants,” Anne tells us. But you might be better off grabbing a punnet of fresh berries, instead. “Goji berries do contain more antioxidants than blueberries, however as they are so expensive, I personally wouldn't rush to use them over fresh blueberries.” Also, a quick trawl through the medical papers shows that many scientific studies use concentrated extracts of the berry, delivering much more in the way of antioxidants in one dose than you’d get from a handful in your porridge or a smoothie. Anne also warns that they might not be for everyone. “Goji berries are also to be avoided for anyone on blood thinners, and can interfere with diabetes and blood pressure medication. So if you're on any of those, avoid and just focus on the other berries you can find.”
Over the years, seaweed has been associated with preventing cancer and aiding weight loss. Emma tells us more. “As far as foods go, seaweed is a great addition to your diet. It is very low in fat and is packed full of important nutrients such as fibre, protein, vitamin A, C and E, iodine, calcium and iron. It’s a very nutrient dense food which can have a place in a healthy balanced diet.” Great. Pass us the sushi. And the weight loss? “Weight loss claims suggest that the alginates (complex carbohydrates) found naturally in seaweed can slow the action of certain enzymes involved in fat digestion. However, studies looking into this effect have only seen results in lab settings, and no results have been observed in humans.”
Chamomile tea? A superfood? Well, according to Anne, this innocent little tea bag doesn’t only aid sleep and de-stress us; it’s great for digestion, too. “Chamomile tea is also fantastic at soothing a disturbed digestive system by easing flatulence, stomach aches, ulcers, and cramping and by assisting in overall digestion and elimination,” she says, adding that it’ll sort out dark eye circles, too. “Simply apply a cooled tea bag to the eyes for five minutes at night as a gentle and effective compress. And a cooled chamomile tea can be applied to the skin to help soothe rashes and burns including sunburns.”
“Bone broth is a quite a new craze, even though we have been making it for years.” Emma tells us. “Recent claims suggest that bone broth, which is made from animal bones that have been simmered for as long as 24 hours, may have huge health benefits. It is claimed that this type of bone broth can improve our skin, reduce inflammation, increase immunity and aid digestion. This is believed to be because the extra cooking time helps to break down the bones and further release the nutrients from within.” Sounds great. But (and we knew this was coming), Emma goes on to say that the health claims of bone broth are not yet backed up by scientific studies and are currently “unfounded”.
“Another relatively new craze is bulletproof coffee,” Emma tells us. Developed by Dave Asprey, it’s coffee blended with butter and oil - often coconut oil. Fans of the drink, who often drink it instead of eating breakfast, say it improves alertness and makes it easier to burn fat. But although Emma explains that caffeine is a stimulant, and so would make you more alert, butter is very high in saturated fat. “Although emerging research is suggesting that some forms of saturated fat may not be as bad for us as we first thought, this is a very new area of research with inconclusive findings so far. The guidelines still state that we should reduce our saturated fat intake.” Until researchers look in to this buttery drink further, Emma suggests we “stick to our normal coffee and porridge in the mornings, before replacing this nutritious meal with this unsupported craze.”
You probably use it every day without realising, but Emma tells us that milk isn’t to be underestimated. “Another great source of high quality protein,” she says, “in fact eggs and milk have two of the highest biological values from all protein foods. This means they provide all 9 essential amino acids, which we cannot make ourselves and therefore must get from our diet.
Milk has also been found to be a great post exercise recovery drink - even better than specially designed sports drinks, as it has been found to provide better rehydration. As well as this the protein in the milk is great for aiding our muscles recovery post work out.” And of course, it’s rich in calcium, too.
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