The truth about superfoods

How hipster is seaweed? Are avocados actually a disaster for the environment? Do goji berries really make you live for ever? We examine the evidence

Few lies can be told in one word, but superfood manages it. It is such an appealing idea: that some foods are healthy, some unhealthy and some superhealthy. Why change your habits, when you can correct them by adding goji berries? Why settle for boring old good health, when chia seeds on your cereal can make you superhealthy? Little wonder that 61% of British people reported buying foods because they were supposed superfoods, according to a 2014 survey conducted by YouGov for Bupa.

Of course, there is always science talk, of omega-3s and glucosinolates and anthocyanins. Many of us may feel we understand the value of antioxidants that mop up the free radicals that damage our cells, causing ageing and cancer. Yet in 2011, the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) reviewed the evidence and found no actual benefit to health. Indeed, as Ben Goldacre pointed out in his book Bad Science, the body actually uses free radicals to kill bacteria. Does that mean a surfeit of antioxidants might weaken your immune system? The point comes when you have to give up and ask a doctor. (A real one, not Gillian McKeith.)

The truth so unappealing is that nutrition is fabulously complex, different for everybody and mostly mysterious. We know that if you eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables and do regular exercise, nothing is a superfood. And if you dont, no superfood will save you.

Kale

Kale
Kale chips a superfood upgrade on crisps? Photograph: Redphotographer/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Currently one of the coolest superfoods around, kale is also one of the most perplexing. Isnt it just one of the greens people have been told to eat for about as long as they have had a choice? Certainly, you would struggle to find a less exotic vegetable. Kale has grown in northern Europe, and plenty of other places, for thousands of years. In wartime, it was one of the stolid, practical crops that people were advised to grow in their gardens. Along with cavolo nero and red Russian kale, it is one of many cultivars of the magnificent Brassica oleracea species, which also gives us cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi and brussels sprouts, and is closely related to turnips, bok choy and Chinese cabbage.

Kale
Kale. Photograph: jenifoto/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Health benefits Well, we know that it is healthy to eat a diet containing plenty of vegetables, so really the question ought to be: is kale significantly better than the rest of them? And that is easy. No, it isnt. Fans of superfoods like to list the things that kale contains a lot of (iron, vitamins, fibre, antioxidants) and point out what those things do (make red blood cells; miscellaneous; help you poo; mop up free radicals/dont know), but that doesnt mean your body gets superpowers if you eat more than you need, especially if youre already getting enough from other sources. Its like trying to make your car go faster by putting in more petrol. All vegetables contain different amounts of vitamins and minerals, which also vary depending on the soil they are grown in, so there is not much point making them compete in a nutrient competition. Sure, by weight, typical kale contains more calcium, vitamin B6 and indeed calories than typical cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, spinach or carrots, but eating more of them will get you to the same place. Typical kale also contains less vitamin A than carrots, less iron, magnesium or potassium than spinach and less fibre than brussels sprouts. Big deal. No good evidence shows that eating plenty of fruit and vegetables with kale is any better than eating plenty of them without.

Eco rating Close to perfect you can grow it easily yourself (under a net to keep off the cabbage white butterflies).

Hipster rating Sky-high.

Stars in Crispy chips, colcannon, not-very-nice salads.

Avocado

Avocado
Avocado toast: an ecological disaster. Photograph: Vladislav Nosick/Getty Images/iStockphoto

A true delicacy, when just ripe, and now one of the most popular fruits in the US. (It is technically a fruit rather than a vegetable. Very technically, its a large berry.) So high is the demand for avocados, in fact, that the crop has recently caught the attention of Mexicos criminal gangs. To look at, use, and taste and, indeed, in its nutritional content avocado is certainly unusual. Whether it has superpowers is another matter.

Avocado:
Avocado. Photograph: FotografiaBasica/Getty Images

Health benefits The high fat content stands out immediately. It is monounsaturated fat, which helps to protect your cardiovascular system, but you can also get that from oily fish, nuts, uncooked olive oil, sunflower oil loads of things. And you should. As result, despite seeming so light and barely filling you up at all, avocados are hugely calorific. A whole one provides about 240 calories. (A Mars Bar provides 228.) An excellent way of getting fat by mistake is to go on a misguided avocado binge. A review of eight preliminary studies in 2013 found that eating hass avocados may benefit the cardiovascular system. However, this is far from established and, more importantly, the review was paid for by who else? the Hass Avocado Board. Currently, there are no good-quality independent systematic reviews of the effects of avocados on health. There have been reports that an extract of avocados might treat leukaemia, but the extract in question avocatin B comes from the seed in the middle, so youll get none from eating it.

Eco rating Not good, Im afraid. Deforestation to make way for avocado trees is now a problem in Mexico. Even those trees that already exist need a very large amount of water perhaps as much as 272 litres for every half-kilo of fruit (two or three avocados). In California, where there is a long-term water shortage, this is an even more serious problem. On top of all this, avocados are heavy, have to be shipped from the tropics and kept cool en route.

Hipster rating Low. So predictable.

Stars in Guacamole, avocado toast, milkshakes, ice-cream, prawn cocktail (dont knock it).

Pomegranates

Pomegranate
Pomegranate syrup with pomegranate seeds and prosecco. Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images

Pink, sweet, tasty and a little bit exotic, pomegranates are an easy fruit to like especially when someone has already juiced them for you and removed the seeds (which contain all the fibre, by the way). Grenadine, the red syrup you last saw at the bottom of a tequila sunrise in 1992, was traditionally made from sweetened pomegranate juice. It is often replaced with less expensive fruit these days, since no one really notices.

Pomegranates:
Pomegranates. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

Health benefits In 2012, a US judge ordered POM Wonderful to stop making bold health claims for its products. As things stand, studies only hint at benefits for people with existing health problems. It has been suggested that drinking lots of pomegranate juice might help to reduce the artery damage caused by cholesterol and improve blood flow to damaged hearts, but the evidence is neither decisive nor well understood. There is also a very faint suggestion that it may slow the progress of prostate cancer. You will not be surprised to hear that there are lots of antioxidants in pomegranates (especially in the peel, which you cant eat), but that means exactly nothing until large doses of antioxidants, per se, are shown to improve peoples health.

Eco rating Pomegranate trees grow easily in hot places and manage well with limited water. Even so, the rush to get into the pomegranate business has left many central Indian farmers in trouble after years of inadequate rain.

Hipster rating Low, now that you can get it in washing-up liquid. Pomegranate molasses, which is basically sugar, is very cool.

Stars in Juice, couscous, and Persian, Indian and Pakistani stews.

Goji berries

Granola
Granola with goji berries: no healthier than any other fruit. Photograph: Elenathewise/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Once known as wolfberries, this fruit of the boxthorn has become highly prized, and fairly expensive, under its sort-of Chinese name. When fresh, the fruits look like pink, elongated grapes. When dried, they look like pink raisins. As such, they are very easy to snack on and mix into things. The Chinese herbalist Li Ching-Yuen was said to have lived for 197 (or even 256 years) on a diet high in goji berries, but didnt.

Goji
Goji berries. Photograph: Alamy

Health benefits Goji berries have played a big part in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, but dont take that as an endorsement. The best evidence suggests that traditional Chinese medicine, like traditional European medicine, was and is mostly a reassuring waste of time or actually harmful. Eating goji berries, or drinking the juice, almost certainly isnt bad for you, but there is simply no evidence that they do anything more useful than any other fruit. Studies claiming they treat cancer, heart disease and various other things have been tiny, badly run and generally based on large doses of goji extract that you couldnt possibly get by eating them normally.

Eco rating Fine. You can even grow your own, although most are shipped from China.

Hipster rating Good, especially if you can talk about how you grew them.

Stars in Juice, granola.

Chia seeds

Chia
Chia pudding: gloopy but good for you? Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images/Westend61

An obscure Central and South American seed with an ancient history and a weirdly high omega-3 content: chia seeds were destined to become a superfood long before anyone knew what, if any, good they did. They also behave quite excitingly in the kitchen, forming a gloopy kind of gel when mixed with liquids, which means you can use them to thicken drinks or even make strange jellies. Otherwise, you can scatter them on almost anything or grind them into a flour to bake with. They dont taste of very much.

Chia
Chia seeds. Photograph: Marek Uliasz/Alamy

Health benefits Chia seeds are all about the small print. Omega-3 fatty acids, in case you hadnt heard, are found in oily fish, and a broadly Mediterranean diet including oily fish seems to be a very healthy way to eat. One hundred grams of chia seeds contain about 17g of omega-3s, which is enormous about eight times as much as salmon. However the omega-3s in chia are different from the ones in fish, and your body turns the chia kind into the fish kind very inefficiently, meaning that you will actually absorb less, by weight about 1.8g per 100g, compared with 2.3g. Nor is it easy to eat a full 100g of chia seeds, which, by the way, also contain 486 calories, almost as much as a Big Mac. And however part two: why do you want to eat lots of omega-3s? Fish is definitely good for you, helping to protect against cardiovascular disease. (The government recommends two portions, one oily, a week.) But the evidence for omega-3s from other sources is vague, and there is little evidence to suggest health benefits for chia in particular.

Eco rating Certainly an ecological improvement on fish, if youre determined to get omega-3s from somewhere.

Hipster rating Getting a bit pass now.

Stars in Bread, granola bars, smoothies, weird jelly.

Beetroot

Beetroot
Beetroot salad: dont eat more than two beets a day. Photograph: MarynaVoronova/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Not long ago, beetroot was a relic. You would see mushy spheres of it sealed in plastic, maybe soaked in vinegar. Only old people still had a taste for beetroot, like condensed milk or tongue. Now, like so many relics, it is cool again, and deserves to be. Freshly roasted, or grated, or pickled (carefully), or juiced, it is one of the great vegetables. You can eat the leaves, which are basically chard, and the classic purple beetroot has the jolly side-effect of dyeing you, your plate, your kitchen and your excreta red for the rest of the day.

Beetroot:
Beetroot. Photograph: Melanie Major/Getty Images/Flickr RF

Health benefits As vegetables go, beetroot is a fairly unspectacular source of vitamins and minerals. (Not that this matters. See kale.) Yet, like many vegetables, it is rich in nitrates, which somehow manage to make it a superfood, a sports supplement and a health scare, all at the same time. The good part is that beetroot juice does seem to lower blood pressure, a little, probably because of the nitric oxides that your body converts nitrates into. In practice, this is is not much use, however. If your blood pressure needs to be lowered, you are much better off doing exercise, eating less salt and taking the drugs your doctor gives you. Other research suggests that drinking beetroot juice before exercise improves the endurance of casual athletes by allowing more oxygen to be delivered around the body (but has little effect on serious ones). When added to red meat, however, nitrates worry people, as they form nitrosamines, and do lead to an increased risk of bowel cancer (from about a 5.6% lifetime risk in people who eat almost none, up to about 6.6% in people who eat lots). It is possible that the nitrates in beetroot could also form nitrosamines in your body, so Efsa recommends eating no more than about two beetroots a day.

Eco rating Excellent. Grow it yourself.

Hipster rating High, given its traditional unpopularity.

Stars in Everything. Salt-baked slabs with cheese, pickled in a jar, julienned in a salad, juiced for breakfast You can even make beetroot cakes, or turn puddings pink with the dye.

Seaweed

Seaweed-wrapped
Seaweed-wrapped maki sushi: rich in vitamin B12. Photograph: Glow Cuisine/Getty Images

Seaweed is definitely having a moment right now. It plays a big part in east Asian food, especially in Japan, and also crops up in the Philippines and in Welsh laverbread which, in case youve never tried it, is very unlike bread. Given its weirdness to those not used to eating algae, it is surprising that seaweed hasnt had its moment sooner. It comes in many edible forms laver or nori (they are similar), kelp, sea grapes, dulse and plenty more. All are different, and some have special claims attached to them, but it is possible to generalise a bit.

Forget five a day, eat 10 portions of fruit and veg to cut risk of early death

Scientists say even just 2.5 portions daily can lower chance of heart disease, stroke, cancer and premature death

Five portions of fruit and veg a day is good for you, but 10 is much better and could prevent up to 7.8 million premature deaths worldwide every year, say scientists.

The findings of the study led by Imperial College London may dismay the two in three adults who struggle to manage three or four portions perhaps some tomatoes in a sandwich at lunchtime, an apple and a few spoonfuls of peas at dinner.

All of that is good because a daily intake of even 200g, or two and a half standard 80g portions, is associated with a 16% reduced risk of heart disease, an 18% reduced risk of stroke, a 13% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, 4% reduced risk of cancer and a 15% reduction in the risk of premature death.

But the study suggests we should be piling up platefuls of vegetables and raiding the fruit bowl every day if we want the best chance of avoiding chronic diseases or an early death.

We wanted to investigate how much fruit and vegetables you need to eat to gain the maximum protection against disease, and premature death. Our results suggest that although five portions of fruit and vegetables is good, 10 a day is even better, said Dr Dagfinn Aune, lead author of the research from the School of Public Health at Imperial.

Eating up to 800g of fruit and vegetables equivalent to 10 portions and double the recommended amount in the UK was associated with a 24% reduced risk of heart disease, a 33% reduced risk of stroke, a 28% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, a 13% reduced risk of total cancer, and a 31% reduction in premature deaths.

What does 800g look like?

And not all fruit and veg are created equal. Apples and pears, citrus fruits, salads and green leafy vegetables such as spinach, lettuce and chicory, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower were found to be best at preventing heart disease and stroke.

To reduce the risk of cancer, however, the menu should include green vegetables, such as green beans; yellow and orange vegetables such as peppers and carrots; and cruciferous vegetables.

The researchers did not find any difference between the protective effects of cooked and raw fruit and vegetables.

Fruit and vegetables have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and to boost the health of our blood vessels and immune system, said Aune. This may be due to the complex network of nutrients they hold. For instance they contain many antioxidants, which may reduce DNA damage, and lead to a reduction in cancer risk.

Compounds called glucosinolates in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, activate enzymes that may help prevent cancer. Fruit and vegetables may also have a beneficial effect on the naturally occurring bacteria in our gut, he said.

Toddler
Most people struggle to eat three or four portions a day, the study shows. Photograph: Simon Masters/Getty Images/Vetta

And it will not be possible to bottle the effects of fruit and vegetables or put them in a pill, he said. Forget the supplements. Most likely it is the whole package of beneficial nutrients you obtain by eating fruits and vegetables that is crucial to health, he said. This is why it is important to eat whole plant foods to get the benefit, instead of taking antioxidant or vitamin supplements (which have not been shown to reduce disease risk).

The analysis in the International Journal of Epidemiology pooled the results from 95 different studies involving a total of approximately 2 million people. They assessed up to 43,000 cases of heart disease, 47,000 cases of stroke, 81,000 cases of cardiovascular disease, 112,000 cancer cases and 94,000 deaths.

Aune said more research was needed, but it is clear from this work that a high intake of fruit and vegetables hold tremendous health benefits, and we should try to increase their intake in our diet.

Sarah Toule, from the World Cancer Research Fund, said: This interesting research shows just how incredibly important vegetables and fruit are as part of a healthy diet. In fact, theyre essential for maintaining a healthy weight, which our own evidence has shown reduces the risk of 11 common cancers.

People should aim to eat at least five portions of vegetables and fruit a day but the more the better. If people find this hard, why not start by adding an extra portion of fruit or veg a day to your lunch or try swapping one of your naughty snacks for a piece of fruit?

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/feb/23/five-day-10-portions-fruit-veg-cut-early-death

How Some Healthy Foods Can Be Bad For The Environment

Vegetarians,put down your pitchforks. Meat-eaters, less of the smug grin. Yes, this article is about some of the environmental issues associated with vegetable-rich diets within the U.S., but it is not an attack on the ethics-drivendietary choices of people and it shouldnt be used as such.

A new study has looked at what would happen if the entire U.S.populationfollowed exactlythe dietary guidelines from the Department of Agriculture(USDA). The team modeledthree different scenarios: a reduction in calories consumed but no changes in diet;a shift to a more vegetable-heavy diet but no caloric reduction;and a mix of the two, which is the one recommended by the USDA.

The study, which is published inEnvironment Systems and Decisions, aims to highlight how complicated it is to balance environmental issues and human needs.

The researchersinvestigated three parameters for thescenarios: energy use for food production, blue water footprint (the amount of freshwater necessary to produce a product), and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In scenario 1,quantities of these variables were reduced by about nine percent, which is unsurprising since the only change was the consumption of fewer calories.

The diets in scenario 2 and 3 have more fish, vegetables, and fruit compared to the average U.S. diet. The higher intake of these healthy foods is balanced by a reduction in meat, solid fats, and added sugars. While this diet is good news for our bodies, as evidenced by the many benefits thought to be offered by the famous Mediterranean diet,the study suggests it might not be so good for the environment.

All three parameters actually increased under scenarios 2 and 3. For scenario 3, energy use went up by 38 percent, water use by 10 percent, and greenhouse gas emissions by six percent. Scenario 2 was found to beeven worse. But why is that?Per Calorie, production of vegetables requires more energy and water than meat, but generates only one-quarter of GHG emissions compared to beef.

Also, the study investigated a vegetarian diet, not a vegan one. “Dairy, by far, has the greatest impact on increased GHGemissions because it has the third highest emissionsintensity value, which is then compounded by USDA recommendationsfor substantial increases in dairy,” wrote the authors in thepaper.

Theres a complex relationship between diet and the environment, Michelle Tom, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University and lead author on the paper, said in a statement. What is good for us health-wise isnt always whats best for the environment. Thats important for public officials to know and for them to be cognizant of these tradeoffs as they develop or continue to develop dietary guidelines in the future.

Another food grouprecommended by the USDA guidelines is fish.Fish has a tiny blue water footprint, as most of the fish that reachour tables come from the ocean, but this advantage is offset by high energy demands. Fisheries often need to move far from the shore, requiring significant amounts of fuel for transport and creating GHG emissions along the way.

This study is not universal, though. Its specific to the U.S., so dietary requirements, infrastructure, andcurrenteatinghabitsneed to be taken into account when makinggeneral conclusions about vegetable-rich diets. A similar dietary guideline inEuropewould actually reduce energy use, blue water footprint,and GHG emissions, largely due to the fact that food is often produced more locally.

The researchers also looked at how the parameters changefor the three scenarios based on food waste.Between 34 and 42 percent of food produced is wasted every year. The paper shows that if we could significantly reduce the amount of wasted food, our impact on the environment wouldbe drastically reduced no matter our diet. Last week, for example, Francepassed a very strict lawto fightfood waste, an important step toward a global culture of sustainable food production.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/environment/could-some-healthy-diets-be-bad-news-environment-0

Nutrition : How to Eat Salty Foods to Avoid High Blood Pressure

Avoiding high blood pressure means avoiding salty foods, though ingesting between 2400 and 3500 milligrams is recommended. Maintain a low to moderate level of sodium in your diet with information from a licensed and registered dietitian in this free video on nutrition.

Expert: Charlotte Lawson
Bio: Charlotte Lawson, a licensed and registered dietitian and nutritionist, works with the Florida Department of Health's nutrition division as a senior public health nutritionist.
Filmmaker: Christopher Rokosz

Series Description: Maintaining good nutrition involves taking into consideration any diseases or conditions that could require special diets. Eat healthily for your body with information from a licensed and registered dietitian in this free video series on nutrition.

Meal Ideas for Losing Weight With High Blood Pressure : Fit Food

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If high blood pressure is an issue for you or anyone you cook for, cauliflower chickpea burgers are fantastic. Get meal ideas for losing weight with high blood pressure with help from the CEO of The Food Evolution in this free video clip.

Expert: Diane Hoch
Filmmaker: Mathias Magnason

Series Description: If you want to be as healthy as possible, you're going to have to start paying very close attention to the types of foods that you put into your body. Get tips on eating right with help from the CEO of The Food Evolution in this free video series.

How to Treat High Blood Pressure with Diet

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DESCRIPTION: The first-line treatment for hypertension is lifestyle modification, which often includes the DASH diet. What is it and how can it be improved?

This is the companion video to How to Prevent High Blood Pressure with Diet ( ).

The DASH diet is one of the best studied, and consistently ranks as US News & World Report’s #1 diet. It’s one of the few diets that medical students are taught about in medical school. I was so fascinated to learn of its origins as a compromise between practicality and efficacy.

I’ve talk about the patronizing attitude many doctors have that patients can’t handle the truth in:
• How to Prevent a Stroke ( )
• Convergence of Evidence ( )
• Halving Heart Attack Risk ( )

What would hearing the truth from your physician sound like? See Fully Consensual Heart Disease Treatment ( ) and The Actual Benefit of Diet vs. Drugs ( ).

For more on what plants can do for high blood pressure see:
• Hibiscus Tea vs. Plant-Based Diets for Hypertension ( )
• Flax Seeds for Hypertension ( )
• Drugs and the Demise of the Rice Diet ( )

Have a question for Dr. Greger about this video? Leave it in the comment section at and he'll try to answer it!

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Can Oatmeal Reverse Heart Disease?

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DESCRIPTION: Less than 3% of Americans meet the daily recommended fiber intake despite research suggesting high-fiber foods such as whole grains can affect the progression of coronary heart disease.

Oatmeal offers a lot more than fiber, though. See my last two oat videos Oatmeal Lotion for Chemotherapy-Induced Rash ( ) and Can Oatmeal Help Fatty Liver Disease? ( )

Trowell’s work had a big influence on Dr. Denis Burkitt. See Dr. Burkitt’s F-Word Diet ( ).

This reminds me of other interventions like hibiscus tea for high blood pressure (Hibiscus Tea vs. Plant-Based Diets for Hypertension ) or amla for diabetes (Amla Versus Diabetes ). Better to reverse the disease completely.

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Oxygenating Blood With Nitrate-Rich Vegetables

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DESCRIPTION: Vegetables such as beets and arugula can improve athletic performance by improving oxygen delivery and utilization, but what about for those who really need it—such as those with emphysema, high blood pressure, and peripheral artery disease?

Nitrates are one of the reasons I recommend eating dark green leafy vegetables every day. Beets are another good option (not just drinking the juice—see my last video Whole Beets vs. Juice for Improving Athletic Performance ).

What else can we do for high blood pressure? See:
Hibiscus Tea vs. Plant-Based Diets for Hypertension ( )
Flax Seeds for Hypertension ( )
How to Prevent High Blood Pressure with Diet ( )
How to Treat High Blood Pressure with Diet ( )
High Blood Pressure May Be a Choice ( )

Why is blood flow to the brain so important? I go into depth on the potential consequences in Alzheimer’s and Atherosclerosis of the Brain ( ).

More on diet and pelvic blood flow in men here:
Atkins Diet: Trouble Keeping It Up ( )
Watermelon as Treatment for Erectile Dysfunction ( )
Survival of the Firmest: Erectile Dysfunction and Death ( )
Pistachio Nuts for Erectile Dysfunction ( )
BPA Plastic and Male Sexual Dysfunction ( )

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