Kombucha, quinoa, kale, acai, cordyceps. How much do they really help? Are there less expensive equivalents or ingredients in traditional cuisine that do the same job?
The term “superfoods” is a poorly regulated marketing term which refers to nutrient-dense foods perceived to be beneficial for health and well-being. It includes fashionable foods such as chia, and some of the above-mentioned examples. While these superfoods can add variety and nutrients to one’s dietary routine, they cannot replace a sensible balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. In fact, many of the health claims of these superfoods have not been proven by scientific research and they are likely no superior to less expensive alternatives.
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Kombucha is fermented drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. It contains probiotics which are beneficial to gut health but it can be replaced by yogurt or other fermented foods such as kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut or tempeh. Do remember that all probiotics are live bacteria and these beneficial bugs can be killed by pasteurisation or any form of heat treatment.
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Quinoa is actually a seed but it is commonly considered to be a gluten-free grain. It has a low glycaemic index and is high in protein and iron, but it can be replaced by any other whole grain or even legumes.
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Kale is a popular vegetable that is packed with fibre, antioxidants, calcium, potassium and vitamins C and K. It is definitely a healthy option but no more so than any other green, leafy vegetable such as watercress, lettuce and spinach.
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Acai is a red berry fruit grown in Amazonian rainforests. It does contains nutrients, polyphenols and antioxidants which are beneficial but it can be replaced by cheaper alternatives such as any other common berry fruits (such as blueberries or strawberries) or goji berries found in traditional Asian cuisine.
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Cordyceps is a fungus that grows on caterpillar larvae. Both are contained in the product consumed in Traditional Chinese Medicine for a wide range of conditions including fatigue and poor immunity. Since the natural product is hard to harvest and expensive, the majority of cordycep supplements are synthetically grown. It lowers blood sugars and has blood thinning properties, and should be used with caution for patients on anticoagulants and diabetic medication.
(Related: TCM goes modern to break new ground)
The above are views expressed by Dr Melvin Look, who is the director of PanAsia Surgery in Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital and Parkway East Hospital. He is a consultant surgeon in gastrointestinal, laparoscopic and obesity surgery, and has a special interest in endoscopy and treatment of digestive diseases.
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