The Truth About Superfoods

Richer in nutrients, healthier, better – Superfoods are on everyone’s lips and provide pure euphoria in food blogs and health forums. But what is actually behind it? I once asked some real experts if superfoods are really that great.

When it comes to superfood, I inevitably have to think of Popeye the sailor who eats a can of spinach in every one of his adventures and thus develops undreamt-of bear powers. At the moment, the good-humoured sailor would be spoilt for choice between numerous trendy superfoods that outrank his spinach.

The term “Superfood” refers to natural, preferably unprocessed foods that are said to have a particularly high nutrient density and healing effect. You will find an impressive list of health promises for almost every superfood from manufacturers and convinced fans: The fruits, algae or seeds should not only contain umpteen times more nutrients than “ordinary” foods, but even fight serious diseases such as hepatitis, cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.

But is a handful of berries enough to make me fit, healthy and powerful? Are two teaspoons of coconut oil a day an effective protection against Alzheimer’s? At least some sources would like to suggest this and refer to scientific findings.

But only recently a scandal around a doubtful chocolate Di?t study showed, how easily the results of such single investigations are overestimated and misinterpreted.

I am neither lady doctor and would not like myself also not to rely on the pieces of advice of self-proclaimed health gurus, which laugh at one in the Internet so rather at each corner. Therefore I asked some specialists for advice and asked them to give me a scientifically founded estimate to the alleged superpowers of the most popular Superfoods.

Superfoods critically questioned

Antje Gahl, ecotrophologist and press spokeswoman of the German Nutrition Society (DGE), can at least confirm that many superfoods contain a high proportion of vitamins, minerals or essential amino acids. “However”, so the Expertin, “most (imported) Superfood products are much more expensive than domestic products, in which anyway many of the positive contents materials are contained. Germany is not a country of vitamin deficiency and no exotic fruits are necessary to cover our daily nutritional needs.”

Sounds sobering at first. Nevertheless, superfoods are very attractive – especially when they are advertised as a miracle weapon against diseases. Harald Seitz of aid infodienst Ernährung, Landwirtschaft, Verbraucherschutz e. V. takes a critical view of such flowery advertising promises: “Individual foods – no matter how brilliant their ingredients may be – can neither prevent disease nor make you slim or similar. There are so many great foods that the restriction to a few with a few milligrams or micrograms more of a certain ingredient would be downright negligent,” says the graduate ecotrophologist.

What Superfoods really can do

So are superfoods just a marketing gag? Not necessarily, because even if they don’t work miracles, most Superfoods are rich in nutrients that do you good and keep you fit. I notice how the confrontation with Quinoa, Matcha and Co. also makes me want something new. Instead of shopping for my “long runners” (apples and tomatoes), I go for avocado and pomegranate and enjoy the variety on my menu. In addition, the superfoods also include many local foods – cabbage, for example – that give off their dusty image and are appreciated for their many positive qualities.

But how do the various superfoods perform in the individual standings? To answer this question, I rummaged through mountains of studies (not sponsored by any superfood manufacturers) and asked the experts for their opinion again. Here are the results:

Coconut oil

Coconut oil is obtained from the pulp of the coconut and melts at temperatures between 20 and 25 °C. It is heat-resistant (smoke point 200 °C) and can be used for frying, cooking or baking.

What it promises: coconut oil – thanks to a high content of lauric acid and medium-chain fatty acids (MTC) – is regarded as an antiviral slimming agent that is also said to have positive effects in the treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

What experts say: Due to their chemical structure and properties, MCT fats seem to stimulate fat burning. “However, these effects were only measured in short-term studies,” said Gahl from the DGE. “Already after approx. 2 weeks the body has adapted itself to the MCT fats, so that they offer then no advantage to normal fat any longer. Reliable research results, which can prove other positive effects on the health, would not exist so far. In addition, the nutritionist classifies the excessive consumption of coconut oil as unfavourable due to the high proportion of saturated fatty acids (90%): “It can have a negative effect on blood fat values and cholesterol levels. It should therefore only be used occasionally.

Conclusion: Healthy flavor carrier that boosts fat burning? Unfortunately too good to be true. However, when consumed in moderation, coconut oil is a delicious alternative to olive or vegetable oil.