Everyone loves a 'superfood' - an edible, usually Instagramable piece of animal, mineral or vegetable that we pop into our mouth and hey presto, magic super healthy things happen to our body in just one bite! But are these wizard-like foods actually good for us or is it all smoke and mirrors? And to be honest, if kale turns out to be nothing more than a watery leaf with zero nutritional benefits we'd all be secretly relieved.

To get the honest truth behind the superfood fad we asked one of Down Under's leading nutrition experts Dr Libby Weaver (PhD), all-round health guru and best-selling author of The Energy Guide, Women's Wellness Wisdom, and new book What Am I Supposed to Eat?, which is out at the end of the month - for some straight talk on whether superfoods really are nutritious or just a trend.

Which foods are classed as superfoods? 
There is no definition for what constitutes a 'superfood'. To me, all whole and real foods are super! When people talk about 'superfoods', they tend to be referring to plant-based foods that are rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals (beneficial plant chemicals) or certain nutrients - things like turmeric, matcha, kale, and certain types of berries, to name a few. But all whole, real foods are superstars.

'Superfood' matcha tea

What are the perceived benefits of superfoods? 
Superfoods are purported to be extra nutritious. When a food is marketed as a 'superfood', it's usually because it contains certain nutrients or substances that are associated with health benefits. However, in some cases the health benefits can be overstated, or you might need to eat a huge amount for it to have a significant effect. In other cases, while a 'superfood' might be very nutritious, there may be other locally produced foods that are more affordable and just as nutritious, but not as trendy (or Instagram worthy!). 

Is there evidence to support the health claims around superfoods?  
There is good evidence that turmeric has potent anti-inflammatory properties, so this is one 'superfood' that can actually live up to its claims, although a larger dose than is typically consumed in a meal is required for clinically significant therapeutic benefits. Acai berries are rich in antioxidants, but so are blueberries and other colourful fruits and vegetables, and it's essential to get a variety of different antioxidants rather than focusing on one type from one particular food.

The raw truth about ‘superfoods’

All whole, real plant foods are nutritious and beneficial for health, including the ones that are considered 'superfoods', but if there are claims that one particular food will completely transform your health or is a magical cure, this is a red flag. A 'superfood' won't undo or counteract an otherwise poor quality way of eating.

Should we be adding them to our diet? And in what quantities? 
If you enjoy them, sure, but you don't have to eat the latest 'superfoods' to be healthy. The superfoods we must do our best to eat are our minimum of five serves of vegetables per day. One serve is about a fist size of cooked vegetables, and it's important to have a variety of colours.

Image: @lauraponts

What's an ideal day on a plate to cover all nutritional bases? 
I think it's incredibly important to remember that, while there are some core nutrition fundamentals that benefit most people, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to how we nourish our bodies. An ideal day on a plate would include a wide variety of whole and real foods, but what this specifically looked like would depend on the nutritional requirements of the individual and what best nourishes them.

Any additional advice? 
It is what we do every day that impacts on our health, not what we do sometimes. Similarly, it is our overall eating pattern or our 'way of eating' that impacts our health, not a single food. The best way to ensure you're getting a good spread of nutrients from your food is to focus on eating a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods.

Dr Libby Weaver's book What Am I Supposed to Eat? will be available from August 30 and she will be touring from September 4. 
Dates and details: drlibby.com/event/food-frustrations/ 
Instagram: @drlibby

The raw truth about ‘superfoods’