Is it worth shelling out big bucks for ‘superfoods’? We compare the trending superfoods with everyday staples to see if you’re actually buying better nutrition.
Star nutrient: Healthy fats
Superfood: Coconut oil
Why the health halo? With claims it can tame your sweet tooth, speed up your metabolism and help you lose weight, it’s easy to see why coconut oil is gaining popularity.
Is the hype justified? No, and you could be harming your health. Coconut oil is almost pure saturated fat, which the Heart Foundation warns may increase cholesterol levels and heart attack risk. No study has found coconut oil helps weight loss. In fact, excessive amounts may push up your weight.
Everyday hero: Olive oil
Olive oil is a source of healthy monounsaturated fat, which unlike coconut oil is scientifically proven to benefit your heart. The latest research shows that it is safe to cook olive oil at high temperatures. And… it’s delicious to drizzle over salad.
Star nutrient: Fibre
Why the health halo? People are so keen for quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-wa’). It’s gluten free and has a low glycaemic (GI) index, which gives you sustained energy.
Is the hype justified? Yes. Quinoa is nutritious and filling, plus a great source of fibre if you’re following a gluten-free diet. But we’re not convinced it’s nutritionally superior to other, more affordable whole grains.
Everyday hero: Brown rice
Brown rice is a good source of fibre, which means it also gives you sustained energy. It’s gluten free too. Importantly, you can buy a low-GI variety at the supermarket for a third of the price of quinoa!
Star nutrient: Vitamin C
Superfood: Goji berries
Why the health halo? These popular, dried red berries are renowned for high levels of antioxidants, such as vitamin C, which boost your immune system and also fight inflammation.
Is the hype justified? No. Evidence suggests dried goji berries actually contain very little vitamin C. Fresh goji berries do contain more, but they’re hard to find in Australia. Plus, there’s little evidence to support its superfood status. Most studies use purified extracts or goji juice.
Everyday hero: Strawberries
A handful of strawberries has more vitamin C than a spoonful of dried goji berries — and they cost less. Enjoy fresh strawberries sliced on your cereal, or as a low-kilojoule snack or dessert.
Star nutrient: Omega-3 fats
Superfood: Chia seeds
Why the health halo? Spruikers of these tiny seeds say they will give you longer-lasting energy and promote weight loss. They’re also marketed as full of heart-healthy omega-3 fats.
Is the hype justified? Partially. We recommend chia seeds because they are a good plant source of omega-3s and full of fibre (around 5g in one tablespoon). They can satisfy your appetite, which helps with weight loss, but these seeds are not a silver bullet.
Everyday hero: Canned fish
Two serves of oily fish each week meet the target for omega-3 fats, plus it’s a source of protein and bone-strengthening calcium. Canned fish also offers better value for money and versatility than chia seeds. Buy cans with at least 0.2g omega-3 per 100g.
Star nutrient: Vitamin B12
Why the health halo? This dried algae extract is touted as having more nutrients than any other plant, grain or herb. It’s targeted at vegans as a plant source of vitamin B12 that only animal foods otherwise have.
Is the hype justified? On paper, it looks like a good source of vitamin B12 — but it’s not in a form your body can use once digested, so spirulina won’t give you the same benefits.
Everyday hero: Beef mince
Just 100g of mince has all your daily needs for B12 in a form your body can use. If you don’t eat meat, look for foods fortified with B12, including breakfast cereal and some soy milks.
Star nutrient: Iodine
Why the health halo? Wellness bloggers can often make seaweed sound like the best thing since sliced bread, from improving your gut health through to giving a boost to your immunity and metabolism.
Is the hype justified? No. One sheet of nori seaweed (the type you use to wrap sushi) has around 7 per cent of your daily iodine. So you’d have to eat a lot of sushi rolls if you tried to meet your daily target with nori!
Everyday hero: Eggs
A hard-boiled egg has more iodine than a sheet of seaweed, and is a source of satisfying protein. Enjoy eggs whole, as a snack or cut in half, and sprinkle with chilli flakes or dukkah.
Star nutrient: Folate
Superfood: Bee pollen
Why the health halo? Manufacturers claim it boosts stamina and is buzzing with folate, the B-vitamin needed for a healthy nervous system.
Is the hype justified? No. It’s been reported that one tablespoon of bee pollen has around 17 per cent of your daily folate, but we couldn’t find folate listed on the label to support this claim. Plus, expect to pay up to $69.50 per 500g packet.
Everyday hero: Broccoli
Half a cup of broccoli contains more folate, plus fibre to help fill you up. It also counts as a daily serving of veg. Enjoy it raw or lightly steamed, with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice.