Over the past few years food companies and their marketing departments have been rushing to espouse the supposed extraordinary health and nutritional benefits of their products. Many of them they have handily taken to referring to them as ‘superfoods’ that will have enormous benefits to our physical and mental wellbeing. From kale, to oily fish and blueberries there are several foods that have experienced an enormous surge in popularity over the past few years due to being successfully marketed to the public as having almost miraculous nutritional value. But do superfoods really represent the holy grail of healthy eating or are they simply more false messiahs in a similar vein to fad diets such as Atkins or the 5:2 diet?
Defending the rise of superfoods
In many cases, it is easy for one to be too harsh towards superfoods and dismiss them as ineffective, marketing fads. The reality is that many of these foods can provide us with positive health benefits and an increased knowledge of these benefits of certain food groups amongst the public consciousness is certainly positive. Kale, for example, which is generally thought of as the posterchild of the ‘superfood movement’, can help lower cholesterol and has nutrients that contain risk lowering properties for up to 5 different cancers and the nutritious value of fatty acids such as omega 3 contained in oily fishes like salmon and mackerel are well known.
Additionally, the fact that food and drink companies are now placing a greater emphasis on the health benefits of their products in their marketing campaigns is indicative of a society that is beginning to pay more attention to the nutritional value of their food. This can only be a positive thing in our society where overeating and obesity are generally very pressing concerns.
The other side of the coin
However, while there are numerous positives to the rise of superfoods, there are some negative aspects. For example, many companies claims of the nutritional benefits of their products are inevitably driven by their desire to capitalise on the aspirations of consumers to eat more healthily. Sometimes the reality of these claims is that they amount to little more than marketing ploys, rather than genuine nutritional advice. In recent years there have been quite a few prominent examples of companies that have gotten into trouble for aggressively marketing the health benefits of their products and then getting into trouble when it has come to light that there has not been sufficient scientific research that backs up their claims.
Other brands capitalise on the lack of knowledge consumers have towards certain groups of foods and nutrition in general. Because there are very little in the way of official restrictions on what can be marketed as a “superfood”, the nutritional benefits of certain foods can be overstated to consumers despite the fact that in reality, they may be no better for our health than common fruit and vegetables.
Finally, wider social issues that come into play with regards to superfoods, seeing as their marketing as such may allow brands to charge higher prices as many consumers will be willing to pay a higher premium for foods that they will believe will be most beneficial to their health. An unfortunate side effect of this is that this may result in the superfoods which do actually have significant health benefits products being priced out of the range of less well-off members of society.
Overall, while there are definitely benefits to many of the foods which term themselves “superfoods”, it is important to remember that it is not a scientific definition and such claims such usually be taken with a pinch of salt and remember that it is important to conduct one’s own research into how healthy a certain kind of food really is.