Goji berries, chia seeds, kale and other products marketed as "superfoods" are widely touted as energisers and cures. However, their alleged effects do not stand up to scientific scrutiny. The nutrients in "superfoods" are also found in similar native, natural products. So why look so far afield?
Goji berries are one of the superfoods. But are they really as unbeatable as claimed?
Did you know that there is no clear definition of the term superfoods and that this is not a legal term? The list of what is known as superfoods is long and is growing ever longer. This list includes very different food products such as seeds (e.g. chia seeds), berries (e.g. açai) or old vegetable varieties (e.g. kale, also known as borecole or leaf cabbage), to mention just a few. All of them are said to have almost miraculous properties. Superfoods are supposed to inject our bodies with additional life-giving nutrients and even to help with fatigue, exhaustion, ageing and many illnesses. Most of these claims are not based on scientific fact. There is no evidence to date that the conscious consumption of superfoods has any specific advantages. Total lifestyle - which includes nutrition, exercise and relaxation - is important for human health, not just individual products.
The long distances that some of these superfoods have to travel to reach our tables also deserve criticism. For example, goji berries often come from China, chia seeds from South America and açai berries from the Amazon rain forest. These distances are a particular problem where indigenous foods have a similar nutritional profile to the exotic foreign product. Local linseed, for example, has just as many Omega-3 fatty acids as chia seeds. Blueberries are very similar to the aronia berries that come from far away, and quinoa has few, if any, advantages over millet.
Stéphanie Hochstrasser, Nutritional Consultant BSc BFH
Stéphanie Hochstrasser works at the Swiss Society for Nutrition SGE in Bern. She manages the free Nutrinfo information service, which answers questions related to nutrition.