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Healthy Superfood or Just Hype?

I was recently presenting at a conference called the Institute of Food Technology …

…I was part of a panel talking about whey protein and its role in the diet.

But then after the presentation, I had a chance to walk around the exhibit hall a bit before heading back to the airport to catch my flight.

First, it’s weird to think of "Food Technology" — why does technology need to be part of food anyhow? 

At the same time, there clearly is a role for a lot of what was there — various herbs, spices, and other very useful additions to the diet.

But when I was offered a "fiber filled ice cream sandwich" I thought it was a bit odd — really, now we’re trying to make ice cream into a "health" food.

Which brings up the next point.

Let’s explore some common foods that are advertised and marketed as the latest, greatest "health" foods — but are they really — or are they more hype than anything?

Acai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee)

Acai berry is often advertised as a super antioxidant, one that can boost weight loss and help shed belly fat.  But what is it, anyhow?

Acai is a dark berry from South and Central America.  It is high in antioxidants — like all dark colored berries — and is typically found in the freezer sections of stores, like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.  Of course you can also buy dietary supplement extracts as well. 

While it is a decent source of antioxidants, in our opinion the price doesn’t justify using the berry daily over other dark berries, like blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries, for example. 

As for the weight loss claims — there is a better chance the Earth is flat than there is for the magic weight loss properties of acai.

Chia Seeds

We covered this one earlier this year.  Click here for a short video about chia seeds

 Very simply, these seeds (which look like sesame seeds), are a decent source of the same omega-3 as flax seed (called ALA).  They’re also a solid source of fiber.  Do they have some health properties?  Sure.  Are they worth the cost — I’m not so sure about that. 

I’d personally opt for flax seed if it’s an "either or" decision when comparing the two.

Agave Syrup

This sweetener has been hyped up recently as the greatest thing since sliced bread…the most common claim is that agave won’t raise blood sugar, so therefore won’t be stored as fat quite as easily as other forms of sugar.

Without getting into the nitty gritty details of the composition, agave isn’t actually much different than honey, with a large portion of the sugars coming from fructose.  Well, there is some thought that eating too much fructose may negatively effect triglycerides. 

All in all, I wouldn’t hang my hat on this one. 

If you’re going to use a sweetener, opt for a raw, local honey.  But, that’s certainly not magical either — added sweeteners aren’t great, regardless of the type you choose, including agave.

Bottom Line

When it sounds too good to be true, it usually is, particularly when it comes to foods and/or supplements making outrageous health claims.



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2 Responses to Healthy Superfood or Just Hype?

  1. Paul Sumsion July 29, 2010 at 11:51 pm #

    Hey Chris,
    Great blog,
    This subject really gets me annoyed.
    there is so many so called magic potions from green tea ( only wu li OOLong style 220 % better) to acerola berries.

    I am a fitness leader and like top eat as clean as I can and advice my clients of this as well.
    I also enjoy a beer, so thats my vice.
    well you got yo live hey.

    keep up the good work.
    Im looking forward to you working with mmaca on the new sports nutrition course, i have just started the FNC course from nesta and completed the mmaca course earlier this year.

    Cheers from paul in austtralia.

  2. Katherine B July 30, 2010 at 9:58 am #

    Interesting post; liked the idea of asking if a touted superfood is really worth the extra cost when there are home-grown varieties available with similar nutritional profiles. One quibble: take care with giving raw honey a blanket recommendation. Honey can be dangerous for infants since it naturally contains botulism spores. Even pasteurized honey should not be given to children under one year of age (some say two years) due to the risk of infant botulism.

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