The word superfood has somewhat lost its shine thanks to being thrown about so much over the past decade or more. It’s easy to feel cynical about each new ‘it’ ingredient, because no one food can cure us of all ills and the prevailing wisdom never changes – the best diet is a varied and balanced one. But the fact is, not all foods are created equal. Just as we can choose to avoid foods we know aren’t going to do us any good, we can also choose to opt for ones that we know are going to do us good. And increasingly, we can make those positive choices not just on a hunch – or because mum always told us broccoli was good for us – but based on what science tells us. Science is now commonly being called upon to prove there are some foods that stand out in the crowd.
The ‘new’ superfoods
There are certain natural ingredients that have comparatively high levels of nutrients – such as purple-coloured vegetables rich in antioxidant anthocyanins. There are differences in breed/ variety and provenance that can lead to higher nutrition – such as New Zealand wagyu beef that is 100% grass-fed, which has been shown to boast more omega-3s. And, increasingly, there are foods that are specifically formulated to deliver nutrition above the essentials – ‘functional foods’ as they're known. They could contain powerful combinations of nutrient-rich ingredients, or may feature beneficial additions like probiotics, or bioactives like antioxidant phenols.
High-Value Nutrition (HVN) is one of New Zealand’s 11 National Science Challenges (funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) to address important scientific issues in our communities. The 10-year programme looks at both natural and formulated foods, and as its director Joanne Todd explains, it’s “designed to create new scientific methods and knowledge of how to prove the health benefits of high-value foods.” Proving a food is high-value in a nutritional sense can see it become high-value in an economic sense, too – HVN looks at how scientifically validated health claims can lead to economic benefit, being used to market New Zealand foods at a premium price, notably in Asia, where, explains Joanne, consumers “are seeking foods that are safe as well as good for health.”
Food as medicine
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