Are superfoods really great

The hype about superfoods : Really great? Or just a profitable business?

Acai, Goji or Chia. Ever heard These are superfoods that are considered real nutrient bombs. They either slow down the aging process, work against diseases, make us look fit and vital - or everything together.

Superfoods are little or no processed foods such as fruits, vegetables, but also nuts and grains. Most of the time it is exotic species that have to be transported far. The acai berry grows exclusively in Brazil. Because you can't sail the sensitive berries across the ocean without them rotting on the way, there is mainly acai powder in this country, for which the berries are first freeze-dried and then ground. Sometimes you can also find chilled fruit purees.

Nutrient-rich, health-promoting foods

It is not at all properly defined what a superfood actually is and what it must be able to do in order to be allowed to be called that. "They are nutrient-rich foods that are considered beneficial for health and well-being," says Antje Gahl, nutritionist from the German Nutrition Society (DGE). “Often a special nutrient is contained in a special amount.” In acai berries, for example, this is the so-called anthocyanin, a plant pigment that gives them their dark color and which is supposed to make you slim and work against cancer. It's also found in red cabbage, currants, and red grapes.

But many local foods have also been ennobled as superfoods: blueberries, kale, sauerkraut from the cooling shelf that is consumed uncooked, or omnipresent foods such as almonds and avocados are said to have various positive effects. In general, there are domestic alternatives to many exotic species. The olive, for example, has a similar amount of vitamins and minerals as the acai and also a similar fat composition. Only the anthocyanins are missing.

The very first superfood in Germany was probably the cranberry, but it has not yet been called that. At the beginning of the 2000s it was said that regular consumption strengthens the bladder and helps against cystitis. Suddenly there was cranberry juice and nutritional supplements with cranberry extract everywhere. Women afflicted with cystitis hoped for it. Ultimately, however, this positive effect could not be proven.

According to studies, cranberries do not support bladder function

Since the EU issued its Health Claims Regulation a few years ago, it has been regulated that only health claims that have been proven by reliable studies may be placed on the packaging. In the case of the cranberry, this was obviously not the case - if a cranberry pack still says something about support for bladder function, then this promise relates to another ingredient that was added. The fact that cranberries are good for the bladder has long since established itself in the minds of consumers: Cranberry products are still being bought.

There is no uniform marketing strategy for superfoods. It's not a big corporation or agency that is behind the hype. Rather, the area is very confusing. The discussion takes place mainly on the Internet, food bloggers like to write about it. If you search for books about superfoods on Amazon, you will get over 400 hits. However, every author recommends different superfoods. It often remains unclear what criteria he used to put the food together.

The industry usually jumps up later and then adds one or the other superfood to its conventional product - like wheat bread from the baker that suddenly contains chia flour. The beverage industry in particular is always on the lookout for new superfoods: Because consumers quickly get tired of the flavors of lemonades, for example, beverage manufacturers in particular have to constantly invent new flavors in quick succession - the more exotic, the better.

Because the field is so confusing, there are no numbers on superfoods. No one can say how many superfoods Germans buy and consume because they simply don't know how to collect it. There are only numbers available for individual superfoods. Chia, for example, are small black seeds that form a gelatinous mass when they come into contact with liquid. In 2014, chia products worth 4.5 million euros were bought in organic specialist shops in Germany - an increase of 500 percent compared to 2013.

After the hype comes the discounter

Superfoods come and go in cycles. "You need three to four years to become known," observed Angela Clausen, nutrition expert at the North Rhine-Westphalia consumer center. This is also the period when they are most expensive. Then they reach their peak - the time when everyone knows them and they are bought a lot. Because many providers are flocking to the market, they will then be cheaper again. “After that, they achieve their discounter status,” says Clausen. Consumption is falling drastically, but mostly not to zero - even superfoods that are already out of fashion usually remain in the assortments of the shops.

We are currently seeing the rise of a new superfood: the Brazilian maqui berry. It looks something like the acai berry. There are already a number of German-language websites on the Internet that advertise the effectiveness of the purple berry. It is said to ensure great skin and full hair, accelerate weight loss, slow aging and even help you quit smoking. And of course it should also taste good.

Some of these websites do not even have an imprint - so it is completely unclear who is behind it. One of the German-language pages, which lacks any reference to the operator, is registered to a woman in Sao Paulo, the stored e-mail address belongs to a blank page and does not reveal anything else.

Extracts can cause allergies

For nutrition expert Clausen, this is not surprising. “They just look to see what traditional goods are available in their own country that fit the world market,” she says. "Here in Europe we have money - and we buy what promises to reduce weight, improve performance or improve health." That is why behind the MaquiBerry website there could be a very small company trying to import a trend into Europe. You can also buy the berries directly on the website: A glass bottle with capsules containing the berry extract costs just under 20 euros - currently the price has been reduced from almost 30 euros.

Such extracts, especially from abroad, can be problematic and cause allergies. In contrast, nutrition expert Clausen does not find fresh food a problem at all, no matter how exotic it may be. In general, she recommends always using local products first. But if you want to eat exotic superfoods, they won't hurt you. On the contrary, Clausen is happy about the trend towards healthy eating: "If it leads people to rediscover fruit and vegetables - why not?"

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