We’re forever being told about the health benefits of chia seeds, goji berries and other expensive and exotic foods. But is a balanced diet of less glamorous foods just as good for us?
There appears to be an endless list of superfoods that promise to protect us from disease and make us live longer.
Health gurus stress the benefits of wheatgrass, spirulina and probiotic drinks. Most superfoods are unpronounceable, costly, and only found in health food shops.
But could everyday fruit and veg be just as good for you?
Nutritionist Fiona Hunter says the term ‘superfood’ is meaningless.
She says: ‘Anyone can call anything a superfood. It’s a term that’s been hijacked by marketers — not one nutritionists like to use.
‘People know that if they label something a superfood they can charge a premium for it.
‘There’s no strict scientific definition, but I think it’s any food that’s rich in a particular nutrient, so a vitamin, mineral or something like omega-3 fatty acids.’
According to Fiona, many everyday items at supermarkets are packed with just as many healing vitamins and minerals as ‘superfoods’ — you might even find some in your cupboard.
She says: ‘Superfoods don’t have to be expensive and flown in from the Amazon rainforest.
‘Even the humble carrot is a superfood — it’s very rich in certain nutrients, like beta carotene, that offer particular health benefits for eyes and skin.
‘Leeks, onions and garlic contain prebiotic fibre, which encourages the growth of good bacteria in the gut.
‘Any fruit or vegetable can have superfood qualities, and most are cheap and easily accessible. Seasonal foods tend to be cheaper still.
‘Another common misconception is detox teas — they do not have any more antioxidants than you’d find in common “builder’s” tea. Buying into fads like this is throwing money down the drain.
‘The body is perfectly capable of detoxing itself without any help or special potions.’
It’s not just fresh foods that offer fantastic health benefits. It might come as a shock, but frozen and canned foods offer just as many, if not more.
Fiona says: ‘People often think fresh foods are the healthiest option, but that’s not the case.
‘For those on a budget, frozen and canned foods are often a lot cheaper, and they’re just as good for you.
‘Frozen peas are an incredibly rich source of vitamin C, which is great for boosting the immune system, and a good source of dietary fibre, and frozen berries are just as good as fresh with exactly the same benefits.
‘While people might frown upon canned foods, the process of canning actually increases the availability of some nutrients.
‘Tinned tomatoes, for example, are often cheaper to buy and contain more lycopene, an antioxidant which helps protect against certain types of cancer and heart disease. Fresh tomatoes have lycopene, but it’s harder to digest — when you cook or can tomatoes their cell walls are broken down, and it makes it easier for our bodies to absorb the nutrient.
‘Vitamin C and zinc boost the immune system, and will help fend off those winter colds that so many of us pick up in the colder months. Things like leeks, onions, red peppers, oranges and wholegrains are packed with vitamin C, and these are all things you can buy in any supermarket.
‘We need to demystify the concept of “superfoods”. They don’t have to be expensive or exotic, we have plenty of our own cheap, home-grown and tasty food that’s full of exactly the same benefits.’
Edited by Hannah Crocker
Top 10 bargain superfoods
1 Spring greens
Kale might be the superfood of the moment, but any dark green leafy veg is just as good. There isn’t much between them, nutrition-wise, but cost can vary a lot.
Everyone’s heard about the supposed benefits of goji berries — but blackberries are higher in vitamin C and have less sugar.
Health gurus shun porridge in favour of quinoa — but porridge oats have more fibre and a similar amount of protein. Beta glucan, a fibre found in oats, can help lower blood cholesterol, reducing risks of stroke and heart attack.
Teff, a new superfood hailed as an ancient grain, is often used in place of lentils. However, lentils have more than twice the fibre and protein, and contain more essential minerals.
Some claim that a 30ml shot of wheatgrass contains as many nutrients as 1kg of veg. But tests have shown that the nutrient content is about the same as that of common vegetables, such as spinach.
6 Canned fish
Canned fish is much cheaper than fresh, but contains the same benefits.
Chia seeds are ‘in’, but linseeds are more purse-friendly and contain more potassium, magnesium and vitamin B6.
Coconut water and sports drinks are said to be the best way to rehydrate after exercise. But a glass of milk will do the job, and contains a similar amount of electrolytes. Milk has protein and carbs for muscle recovery, and it’s good for your teeth too!
9 Plain yogurt
People throw money away on probiotic yogurts and drinks, thinking it’s the way to keep the gut healthy. But plain live yogurt contains the same bacteria, as well as protein, calcium and vitamin B12.
10 Builder’s tea
Green and detox teas are trendy right now — but a cup of black tea contains exactly the same benefits and antioxidants, without the cost.