Are the Hipsters hijacking your health?

The hijacking of nutrition

There is a myriad of claims feeding contemporary society that superfoods can make you live longer, decrease cancer risk, or boost energy. There is a long history of marketing products that capitalize on teaching people to eat right, which itself transcends the dietary advise itself. In California, Chez Panisse Restaurant founder Alice Waters pioneered the locally grown, organic food movement for over forty years.  Teaching people to eat right can alleviate their morals, improve their characters and solve some of the most pressing social problems facing them at the time. The goodness of good citizenship suggests that owning a good juicer exercises personal responsibility and will power in making informed and rational choices in the market place in the pursuit of good health.

What we eat has changed more in the last forty years than in the previous forty thousand. The current attention on superfoods has likely been encouraged by a rapidly growing public interest in food and health, fuelled by a desire to be healthier, in the pursuit of optimal wellness, or as a remedy for degenerative disease. With 20% of the population at high risk for developing Diabetes Type 2, and 50% of new diagnoses over the next decade expected, more Australians are searching for superior solutions from food.

While the use of the term superfood has been recorded as far back as the beginning of the 20th century, it has only recently become popular within the last fifteen years the USA, and in the past five years in Australia.  The term is often used to grab your attention or sell you something, so I would say, buyer beware. Even for foods that have been studied, the data is modest, slim or none at all. In Australia, the superfood trend is predominantly driven by social media, food bloggers, nutritionists and marketers. However, the definition menu varies greatly.

For example, Superfoods are all the good, natural, wholesome foodstuffs that have successfully nourished the human race for millennia, and have the best flavours, the best textures and the highest nutritional values . From a nutrition supplement perspective, superfood marketing campaigns suggest that consumers who purchase superfoods reap better health for the consumer. Produced by nature and prepared by Swisse, the naturally delicious, premium quality superfood range will help put that extra skip in your step. Ideal for the whole family and designed to fit into even the most hectic lifestyle. These foods boast superior health benefits to the consumer, however the claims are often unsubstantiated with scientific evidence of efficacy. This paper investigates who the stakeholders are that make claims surrounding the healing properties of their superfoods products.

Dietary ideals have changed very much over the last century, just as ideals of what being a good citizen is. However, the relationship between dietary ideals and social ideals has remained consistent. Historically a good diet is one that provides that most nutrients, the most energy for work at the least possible cost. In 2014 a US study developed a classification scheme that defined national US nutrition guidelines that emphasize consumption of what they refer to as ‘powerhouse’ fruits and vegetables (PFV). These foods are strongly associated with reduced chronic disease risk; yet efforts to define PFV are lacking.

Table 1. Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables (N = 41), by Ranking of Nutrient Density Scores, 201

Calculated as the mean of percent daily values (DVs) (based on a 2,000 kcal/d diet) for 17 nutrients (potassium, fibre, protein, calcium, iron, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folate, zinc, and vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K) as provided by 100 g of food, expressed per 100 kcal of food. Scores above 100 were capped at 100 (indicating that the food provides, on average, 100% DV of the qualifying nutrients per 100 kcal).

ItemNutrient Density Score
Chinese cabbage91.99
Beet green87.08
Leaf lettuce70.73
Romaine lettuce63.48
Collard green62.49
Turnip green62.12
Mustard green61.39
Dandelion green46.34
Red pepper41.26
Brussels sprout32.23
Iceberg lettuce18.28
Winter squash (all varieties)13.89
Grapefruit (pink and red) Grapefruit (white11.64
Sweet potato10.51


The pursuit of good health and the politics of good food.

The consumer demand for the transparency of ingredients has never before seen such traction with the quest for authenticity about where our food comes from is gaining momentum. Do superfoods stakeholder have a duty of care when it comes to labelling their products, and ultimately who decides if a food is superior? The following report investigates if there are any criteria in place that qualifies a superfood.

Increasingly, popular superfood campaigns encourage consumers to try exotic powders; potions, tonics and treats that are often imported from far away destinations. Compared to every day fruit and vegetables, the marketing campaigns for superfoods often portray magical potions unearthed in wild jungles in remote lush regions, with happy workers in sustainable or fair trade working cooperatives.

As with food trends that urge people to consider sustainable food practice, food ethics – such as fair trade certifications – the superfood trend promotes appeal to ethical consumers and health advocates. This paper also discusses the implications of buying imported superfoods from remote destinations. In addition, the impact of fluorescent light in supermarket, foreign handling procedures, customs and intercontinental transit rules and regulations are also taken into account.

The phrase superfood is becoming increasingly utilized amongst healthy food lovers, yoga students and foodies around the world. However, at this point there is no clear definition of what the word actually means and the scientific, evidence-based research, is either conflicting, curative, or completely unsubstantiated. For decades, the Standard Australian Diet (SAD) and those who endorse it, have prescribed a well-rounded diet of nutritious wholefoods, fruit, and a rainbow of vegetables, complemented by good fats, animal protein, and fish.

Over the last two decades in Australia, we have seen a flight of new health foods, starting with wheatgrass in the mid nineties, to quinoa and sea vegetables, Goji berries, raw cacao, Spirulina, acai, maca, and ultimately arriving at ‘Peak Kale’. In the process of developing a theory for superfoods, this paper examines who decides what is a superfood.

Scientific Evidence

It is necessary to examine the scientific evidence that corroborates the classification of certain foods as superfoods to determine the veracity of possibly hyperbolic media reports. For instance, blueberries are commonly referred to as superfoods and have been analyzed by many scientists who are keen to determine their true nutritional value. Blueberries contain high levels of antioxidant plant compounds, anthocyanins in particular, which reportedly play a key role in slowing the growth of or completely eradicating cancerous cells in the colon. Other studies indicate that blueberries contain high levels of other antioxidants that have been proven to delay the ageing process and have been shown to reverse the loss of memory in rat test subjects.

Molecules that safeguard the body from dangerous free radicals are referred to as antioxidants. The main sources of free radicals in the body are alcohol and cigarette smoke, though free radicals are also generated naturally by the body’s metabolic system. If there are an excessively high number of free radicals in the body, oxidative stress may occur and this in turn may cause damage to cells and prompt the onset of unfavourable conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Several other types of fruit are classified as superfoods, such as pomegranates and acai berries. Scientists have found that acai berry pulp has strong antioxidant properties. However, the positive impact of these antioxidants has not yet been proven in human test subjects. In terms of pomegranates, it has been discovered that the juice of the fruit can help reduce blood pressure on a temporary basis.  Pomegranates may also lower oxidative stress in those whose immune systems have not been compromised. This is particularly noteworthy as high blood pressure and oxidative stress are key triggers of heart disease.

Similarly, beetroot has also been classified as a superfood on account of its ability to reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of blood clots through the conversion of nitrates into nitric oxide. It has also been claimed that cocoa with its high density of flavonoids can lower the threat of heart disease by reducing blood pressure and increasing blood vessel elasticity. Salmon, along with other types of oily fish, is also considered a superfood on account of new evidence that its omega 3 content can reduce the threat of heart issues in high-risk patients and also reduce the joint pain suffered by people who have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

To read more, please purchase my research paper here




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