The evolution of Superfoods

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Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 12.29.10 pmby Jacqueline Yeo

Hooray! A team of researchers recently discovered a new ‘superfood’ – a red marine algae – that has twice the nutritional value of kale yet tastes like bacon when cooked. That’s good news for health-conscious bacon lovers out there, right? Here’s the catch though – it costs USD$60 per kilo.

Our society’s burning desire to be healthy has obviously not gone unnoticed by the food industry. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that it was only a matter of time before someone perfected a bacon-flavoured superfood. Jumping onto the bandwagon, countless miracle supplements and superfoods have sprung up, all claiming to possess particular phenomenal health effects. It would be great if these nutriments were really as good as they’ve all claimed, but the truth is, in their rush to reach the market and be the next big thing, many of these products have their real nutritional values blown up before science has had any sufficient evidence to prove their claims.

Take for example all the years of hype about royal jelly. Although the buzz started way over a decade ago, it was only in 2011 that some of its actual benefits had been scientifically proven, verifying only about 200 of its 2,500 proclaimed health properties – which while that’s still a lot of proven health benefits (such as lowering blood pressure), that’s far more disproved ones. This begs the question then: If it only delivers on 8% of what it claimed, was it worth the attention it picked up originally?

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Acai berries also hit the market a few years ago and the hoo-ha began once again – “the newest superfood!” – which raises the point: are we going down the same old road again? The apologists of acai berries purport that it has dozens of health benefits, with only one or two of them proven thus far. Yet, acai berry powder still commands a price of about SGD$350/kg and there are even stores in Singapore which focus on selling this superfruit.

At SGD$350/kg, that’s nearly the same price as about 700 small apples. Even if evidence for its other benefits do surface eventually, experience has told us that no one can know for sure if these results are really reliable – since as the old adage goes, if you torture data, it will confess to anything; while it’s a bit of hyperbole, the point is at $350/kg you can see why potential profiteers may be tempted to exaggerate the berries’ effects. Maybe that sounds like a corporate conspiracy, right? After all, at $350/kg, acai is getting into the same price range as foods like truffles, caviar and very expensive wagyu beef made from hand-reared cows that are massaged daily while listening to classical music. Yet, we don’t even know if they really have the benefits that they claim.

Hmm….

If you’re already feeling a tad bit jaded by the whole superfood controversy by now, consider this: cauliflower costs about SGD$7/kg and tofu costs about SGD$4/kg. While old-fashioned healthy foods like these can’t match the marketing hype of the almighty superfoods, if you ate a normal diet filled with inexpensive stuff like tofu, fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains more often, you’d wouldn’t need expensive superfoods in the first place. Food for thought next time you’re at a supermarket and torn between a bag of apples and the bacon-flavoured seaweed.

 

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