Superfoods - are they really a 'cure all'?
Written by: Zoe Copsey, Head of Nutrition at [email protected] – Lomax Bespoke Fitness, Nutrition & Wellbeing
‘Superfood’ is the term often used to describe a food that contains high levels of phytonutrients which provide an active health benefit. Whilst it is certainly true that there are identifiable beneficial foods and food groups, it is important to bear in mind that ‘superfoods’ is not a phrase commonly endorsed by qualified dieticians and nutritional scientists in the absence of scientific evidence.
The common understanding of superfoods is that they are especially good for you in some way – be it that they are particularly rich in nutrients, vitamins or minerals or are considered powerful antioxidants. Some of the foods frequently believed to constitute superfoods include broccoli and blueberries which are thought to help the immune system, and garlic, which is thought to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol.
Other foods commonly believed to have excellent health benefits are oats, avocados, nuts and seeds, oily fish, pomegranate and green tea. Some of the more unusual ingredients include maca powder – a root powder that can be added to porridge or smoothies – goji and acai berries, manuka honey and pink Himalayan rock salt, which can be used as a substitute for table salt in cooking.
Many studies have been done into the therapeutic effect of these and many other foods, however, more often than not, the mix of findings from various studies and different sources mean the results can never be said to be totally conclusive. Nutritionists, therefore, tend to err on the side of caution with regard to recommending that particular foods have a specific health benefit.
Furthermore, changes to the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) laws actually mean that it is now a criminal offence to make any unsubstantiated claim regarding the benefit of any food or ingredient. The Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation was adopted in 2006, but it is only now that food companies are starting to feel the effects of the regulation, with the vast majority of health food claims submitted to EFSA by manufacturers being rejected. Among those claims that have already been thrown out are claims that “cranberry juice can reduce the risk of urinary tract infections in women” or that “green tea is good for blood pressure, cholesterol levels, bones, teeth and eyesight and that it works as an antioxidant.” This clearly demonstrates the importance of establishing the scientific evidence behind many so-called superfoods.
The reason why blanket claims can be so misleading is essentially that no two humans are the same and require different nutrients at different levels. One person may have a stronger immune system, whilst another may be much more susceptible to the common cold but is less likely to suffer from cardiovascular health issues. Individual requirements in terms of age and life stage are important too. For example, an elderly person will require a diet that is lower in calories due to a natural decrease in their basal metabolic rate, yet will have to ensure that it is nutrient dense to prevent disease or ill-health in their older age. Therefore, as an individual’s requirements will affect the foods which will be most beneficial to their body, it is not always appropriate to encourage the notion that certain food groups are ‘super’ for all those who consume them.
However, this has not stopped the general population yearning for foods that offer a magic cure for illnesses. The reality is that if you are unwell with a cold, a handful of blueberries, acai or even goji berries is not going to rid you of it. These so-called therapeutic foods need to be part of a well balanced diet, with good quantities of varied nutrients.
And mindful that it can be terribly complicated to keep track, a new Index – the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) – has recently been developed. This rates foods from 1 to 1000 depending on their nutrient composition for a given quantity, for example, levels of micronutrients including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidant capacities. The ANDI system recommends making up meals that are predominantly plant-based as these foods are richer in micronutrients compared to total calorific content. This is a good way of ‘nutrient counting’, which at Lomax we always recommend in place of ‘calorie counting’, as a food’s nutritional value is more important than its calorie content.
Taking an in-depth and holistic approach to healthy living is the hallmark of the ‘Lomax Way’; we combine nutritional advice tailored to the individual’s needs with the appropriate levels and styles of exercise to achieve the fitness goal desired. Ultimately, the most beneficial lifestyle is one that is balanced with a healthy diet, exercise and practices to promote the wellbeing of both mind and body. By taking this holistic approach, we reduce the need for dependence on any one superfood, focusing instead on adopting a sustainable, balanced and healthy way of life.
Food and nutrition planning with Lomax:
About Lomax Bespoke Fitness, Nutrition and Wellbeing
Established in 2007 by Jonathan Lomax, Lomax Bespoke Fitness, Nutrition and Wellbeing is a unique health concierge company, providing a contemporary and highly personal service beyond the reaches of pure fitness. Taking an unusually in-depth and holistic approach to healthy living, Lomax combines exercise, nutrition and wellbeing treatments in an innovative way – pioneering the next generation in health and wellbeing. The trusted team of specialists deploy the latest, cutting-edge techniques in Metabolic Conditioning, making exercise and nutrition fun, accessible and cost-efficient either by operating in-home, in-office or in their gym in Victoria.
Clients are supported by the provision of nutritionally balanced meals and a range of treatments available at the [email protected] – including massage and aromatherapy, osteopathy and acupuncture alongside comprehensive health MOTs which combine with the rest of the programme to ensure a balanced, realistic and effective health and wellbeing routine.
Our magazine is now available on the iPad. Click here to download it.
The 5 most successful COVID-19 vaccine rollouts
Bhutan recently announced it had fully vaccinated 90% of its population within just seven days of launching its vaccine drive. What made this so successful, and which countries round the world have delivered the most efficient vaccination programmes? Healthcare Global takes a look at the top 5.
Bhutan has very quickly become the nation with the most successful vaccine rollout. The tiny Himalayan country has a population of 800,000, and has reported 2,518 infections and two coronavirus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.
In April, India donated 550,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but had to pause its supply as infections increased, leading to a rise in demand. In July Bhutan restarted vaccine distribution after 500,000 doses of Moderna were donated by the US under the COVAX programme, and a further 400,000 doses of AstraZeneca arrived from Denmark, Croatia and Bulgaria.
As well as highlighting the importance of wealthier nations donating vaccines to countries that need them, Bhutan's government counts several doctors among its members, including the Prime Minister Lotay Tshering. This has helped tackle vaccine hesitancy - with regular government announcements and answering citizen's questions on platforms like Facebook.
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
The UAE has fully vaccinated 71% of its population. The first vaccine to become available here was Sinopharm, manufactured in China, a major buyer of UAE oil. The two nations struck a partnership to produce the vaccine locally in the UAE. After this Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine also became available free of charge.
To date the UAE has had 682,000 reported cases of COVID-19, and 1,951 deaths. It was the first country in the region to report cases of coronavirus, and the government implemented swift public measures including a strict lockdown and drive-through PCR testing to keep infection rates under control - the number of PCR tests conducted reached more than double the population in January 2021.
In 2020 Uruguay was hailed as a success in terms of its COVID-19 response. Despite sharing a border with Brazil, which has seen one of the world's worst rates of infection, COVID-19 cases were low thanks to a very efficient testing programme, reporting only 1,400 cases by June 2020.
These statistics changed dramatically this year when the government decided to drop COVID-19 restrictions and rely on vaccinations; as a result Uruguay now has the world’s fifth-highest death rate, and the highest in Latin America.
However it does have the second-fastest vaccination rollout in the continent, with 64% of the population fully vaccinated. In June it also began giving vaccines to people aged 12 to 17.
Experts are hopeful this speedy vaccination programme will stem the rise in infections. Speaking to Nature.com, Zaida Arteta, secretary of the Medical Union of Uruguay, said: “It’s not over yet, we still have dozens of serious cases and expect more deaths. But the vaccine roll-out is one of Uruguay’s strengths. They are efficacious, and we are vaccinating very well and quickly. I hope the trend continues.”
Chile has been hit hard by the pandemic, with 1.62 million cases and over 35,000 related deaths since it began. In response the government imposed a strict lockdown between March and November 2020 which drove infections down. In February 2021 it began administering vaccines, and within eight weeks more than a third of the population had received a first dose.
Currently 64% of the population have received two doses, however Chile is battling surges after restrictions were relaxed and Chileans were given special holiday permits to travel freely around the country during the summer months.
In June the capital city of Santiago went into another lockdown, but there are positive signs - the daily average rate of infections has dropped from 7,200 to 1,100 in the space of a month.
Before Bhutan's announcement, Israel had the fastest vaccine rollout in the world. The country's efforts to tackle COVID-19 have been labelled among the most efficient, thanks to a combination of population data and a campaign to encourage vaccine take-up driven by a mixture of text messaging and emails as well as outreach by ultraorthodox rabbis and leaders in Arab communities.
To date 62% of the population have received two doses of the vaccine, however like many other regions around the world new variants are surging. In June the requirement to wear a facemask indoors was re-introduced after a rise in cases.
A third booster vaccine is now being introduced for people over the age of 60 and those with weakened immune systems. The Pfizer booster vaccine will be given to people who received their second dose at least five months ago.