Flatlay image of trays and bowls with different vegetables
Introducing fibre is essential to our daily diet. Image by Dan Gold on Unsplash.

‘Superfoods’ – nutrient-dense foods, noted for their extraordinary health benefits – have captured the attention of consumers worldwide over the last two decades.

From exotic berries to seaweed and kale, their allure lies in their perceived ability to enhance health.

But is there scientific substance to these claims? Or is it all just hype?

Dietitian Bari Stricoff, 30, is head of marketing for WellEasy, an online members club helping people to shop healthy without overpaying.

“The word superfood is 100% a marketing claim,” she says. “In terms of nutrition and health, there is no standard definition of what a superfood is. It’s very much a descriptive term to describe a food substance that offers additional health benefits, which is interesting because it’s unregulated.”

Stricoff advises that the term is taken with a pinch of salt as health marketing continues to lure consumers through it. She adds that superfood brands can make claims about their products when they have one ingredient that can be linked to a benefit.

“To a lot of consumers, it’s really compelling. People want to take a pill to make themselves feel better and healthier, so it really appeals to that psychology,” she says.

But for Stricoff and those clued up on health, ‘superfood’ is a meaningless term because it’s varied and requires no criteria.

“’Super’ just means that it’s high in a nutrient. There’s no definition, but the implication is that it’s really rich in something that’s good for your health.

“I think it’s taken to the extreme sometimes. You get a lot of ‘superfood’ products which tend to be ultra-processed, super expensive or take away from the food-first approach,” she says.

A food-first approach is eating food instead of ultra-processed foods or a supplements. Stricoff suggests eating an egg instead of a protein bar. “You can’t out-supplement a bad diet,” she adds.

Stricoff recommends people introduce more frozen fruit and vegetables into their diet, emphasising that they are picked at peak ripeness. She says: “It’s the same amount of nutrients and a great way to offset the cost – don’t be afraid of them.”

The science behind it is that if you eat foods that are in season, they’re higher in nutrients, and those nutrients more easily absorbed, she adds.

Stricoff also stresses the importance of fibre in our diet, arguing that people naturally do not consume enough.

“The food you eat directly impacts what bacteria is in your body. The positive impact can show up in different ways,” she says.

Gut health is also important, she emphasises.

“Gut health helps with digestive health, inflammation, blood sugar balance, cardiovascular health, weight maintenance, and longevity. It’s super important.”

Stricoff understands that there are financial and time constraints with prioritising our health and advises people to take it one at a time. She adds: “It’s really important to view health as a holistic thing. If you nail your nutrition, but you’re not sleeping, you will see the consequences. It’s important to balance the multiple pillars of health.

“Sleep links to anxiety, memory and stress. Sleep is when your body has time to recover. You need to nourish your body, and everything will fall in line.”

But what does she recommend?

“Go back to the basics. Cooking from scratch at home is a really great way to save money. You can buy inexpensive things. You don’t need these crazy supplements to live a healthy life; just have a food-first approach. Don’t let these superfood brands scare you into thinking you can’t be healthy without them.”

Stricoff’s top five nutrient-rich suggestions:

  1. Dark green leafy vegetables – rich in vitamin C, folate, calcium, e.g. spinach, kale

    bunch of spinach
    Spinach is packed with nutrients and antioxidants. Picture by Nathan Nugent on Unsplash
  2. Berries – rich in antioxidants, fibre, lower in sugar, e.g. blueberry
Plum cherry raspberry strawberry and red grapes on marble surface
Berries not only protect your cells but the plant compounds may reduce disease risk. Image by Yashaswita Bhoir on Unsplash

3. Oils – healthy fat, protective against cardiovascular disease, linked to longevity, e.g. extra virgin olive oil

Olive oil behind an empty champagne glass with a pink sky background
Olive oil is a healthy fat packed with anti-inflammatory compounds. Image by Dimitri Karastelev on Unsplash.

4. Legumes – rich in fibre, pre-biotic, e.g. tinned beans

Mixed legumes
Legumes are naturally low in fat and cholestrol-free. Image by Shelley Pauls.

5. Fermented foods – probiotics, gut-health e.g. kimchi, sauerkraut

Jars of pickles and different fermented food f
Fermented foods are a source of good bacteria. Image by Brooke Lark on Unsplash