Food and health is hotter than hot at the moment. Mainstream media like newspapers Volkskrant and NRC but also television publish one after the other article or program. Unfortunately they don’t always contain a lot of journalistic quality, but at the same time I’m content with any publicity this subject gets. #Softpaleo gets more and more positive attention (although it’s always fun to enter into some point-scoring contest or to describe it as a mere trend). This is a good thing, because in my opinion the Dietary Centre (ergo also the Health Council) are always one step behind. The hype of the last year of course is superfoods. Nothing wrong with these highly concentrated products, a good supplement to a healthy food pattern, but if you eat poorly you don’t get any healthier by consuming some extra chia seeds.
The TV show “Keuringsdienst van Waarde” (Inspection Authority of Value) devoted two broadcasts to the subject. Good television isn’t about content, but about ratings. TOP cooperated in the last broadcast. There was criticism from the foodies, which I largely understand. Why ridicule all types of seeds – the most recent broadcast was about Niger seed – while the real un-health lies in the sugary, salty packs and bags of the big-food. Why then this attention to the innocent superfoods? I can understand these pleas, and yet I was proud of our contribution, also now in hindsight. You see, what this broadcast illustrated is how clever marketing, use of paid bloggers (indirect advertisement), infiltration through a group of consumers who simply like ‘health and food’, can lead to making a hype of new products. You could say food innovation anno 2015. Especially the naivety of many passionate consumers combined with advertisement through paid bloggers simply results in extra sales.
The public broadcast stopped being free of judgement and in fact depends on advertisement income just as much as the commercial broadcasts. Newspapers have become more and more advertisement platforms and the little bloggers really do need to make a living. It’s naïve to think those sympathetic foodies always tell the truth. In America the food babe has become a celebrity, but I reckon that this lady also has a good business model. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with that. I myself am an entrepreneur. But if you think it makes the blogs free of judgement and independent, you’re at fault. Just to make sure: this blog is free, does not contain any advertisements and I have not been nor ever will be paid for an article her on F4l. Despite my scientific background I prefer to remain the little boy telling the emperor he’s running around naked. “The more I know, the more I realize there’s much more I don’t know”, is one of my recent and still valid quotes.
Back to superfoods. Plugging Niger seed is just a pretty business case. Nobody in my team will declare in an earnest tone to start consuming this ‘superfood’. I don’t feel like wasting more words on this. What I believe to be healthy food can be found on this blog, and more consumption of superfoods to the detriment of the consumption of bread, coke or chips can only be recommended.
But what are these superfoods? You could say they are products with a high concentration of bioactive components and minerals per 100kcal of energy. I deliberately use “per unit of energy”, nog “per mass unit”. Vegetables for instance contain a lot of water, but the dry substance that is still in there often is very healthy. A dried prune on the other hand is also a sugar bomb because all the water is evaporated, therefor it’s not wise to eat too many dried prunes. In short, “health per kcal” is a much better standard. In America the CDC (comparable to the Dutch RIVM) recently published a scientific article trying to define what they call Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables (PFV). I like this approach. A PFV must score over 10 points to earn a place on the list. See their top 50 list below.
I think I’m able to predict the next discussion: “nutrients thinking is imprudent, it is about the matrix, and food is more than thinking substances”. Yes, that’s right. Our body is a complex adaptive system (CAS). Many inputs, many reactions and complexities. We are on the brink of better understanding the epigenetics (how our environment influences gen-expression). Food patters and lifestyle go hand in hand and sometimes you just draw the short stick with a bad gene package. The long-standing advice of professor Tiny van Boekel still holds for superfoods and PFV: “There are no healthy or unhealthy food products, but there are healthy or unhealthy food patterns.” My generic advice remains: the #softpaleo food pattern, eat abundant colors. In addition to that: “Nothing wrong with PFV or other superfoods as component of a healthy food pattern.”