In the growing trend of healthy eating, the new buzzword for Chinese consumers is “superfood.” The term covers a multitude of foods that are promoted as extremely beneficial to the body. They include avocados, blueberries, linseed, chia seeds, quinoa, cacao powder and nutritional yeast.
Superfoods are especially popular among young people and fitness enthusiasts, who are willing to splash out for “powerhouse” items that mostly come to the Chinese market as imported goods and often are costly. The question arises: are these foods scientifically beneficial or are they just gimmicks to take advantage of the healthy eating trend? “These products are mostly plant products with specific nutritional values,” said Sun Jianqin, professor and director of the Clinical Nutrition Center at Fudan University Huadong Hospital.
“They come at a time when some people are wary about animal products and are pursuing diets that reflect eco, low carbon and vegan lifestyles.” Sun told Shanghai Daily that consumers need to understand what superfoods are and what benefits they might bring. Start with blueberries, which can now be found readily in supermarkets and fruit shops. The berries contain anthocyanins, which are antioxidants, anti-aging and good for the heart and blood vessels. Blueberries also are packed with vitamins, potassium, iron and magnesium.
“Blueberries are also beneficial to eye health because of their level of carotenoids,” Sun said. “They are good for people who use their eyes a lot.” She went on to discuss linseed, the small, hard-shelled nuts from the flax plant. They are similar to sesame seeds in high content of dietary fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. Linseeds can be eaten in different ways. Ground up, they can be easily added to milk or baked in bread and muffins. “Flax seeds have high amount of omega-3 fatty acid, which helps protect the heart and blood vessels as well as regulating blood lipids,” Sun explained. Sun said she her research shows that fatty acids like omega-3 can enhance the sensibility of insulin and help prevent or control diabetes. Linseeds also contain lignans that can help lower blood sugar levels, and they contain dietary fiber. There are different species of linseed. Canada is the No. 1 producer of golden flax seeds. In China, a different variety is grown in the northwest of the country. In Shanghai, linseeds can be purchased in supermarkets -- usually in the grains aisle -- and online. Ole’ sells packaged flax seeds at 23 yuan (US$xxx) per 250 grams, while online grocery Kate & Kimi sells the same amount for 35 yuan. Avocado as a superfood needs no more introduction. The fruits are now available in supermarkets, fruit shops and juice places. There are even restaurants dedicated to avocado dishes. Avocados are high in unsaturated fat and low in sugar. They contain vitamins, carotenoids and dietary minerals. Compared with blueberries, flax seeds and avocado, chia seeds are less known to the Chinese public. They are native to Latin America. “They have has similar benefits to flax seeds,” Sun said. “Chia is often added to drinks and has a unique, crunchy texture. The seeds contain high levels of omega-3.” Chia seeds can be used in smoothies and cereals. They are often recommended for people wanting to lose weight because they expand in liquid and make the body feel less hunger.
Australia is a major grower of chia seeds, and private real estate developer Shanghai Zhongfu Group is an investor in a big cultivation project that includes chia in Australia’s Ord River region. Quinoa is an ancient grain that mainly grows in the Andes. It is currently the only known gluten-free cereal. For people allergic to gluten, it’s an ideal substitute. “Even though quinoa is a staple food, its protein content is almost double that of wheat and rice, and it has excellent essential amino acids,” said Sun. The protein and fat content in quinoa rivals that of beef. Quinoa is also rich in lysine, an essential amino acid that is used in the biosynthesis of protein.
Some restaurants in Shanghai add quinoa to salads billed as healthier side dishes. Raw quinoa can be found in highend supermarkets and online. Kate & Kimi sells quinoa grown in China at 65 yuan per 500 grams, and tricolor organic quinoa from Bolivia at 69 yuan per 300 grams. Fields sells regular quinoa from China at 75 yuan per 500 grams and Tianlay red quinoa from China at 88 yuan per 300 grams. It’s easy when reading about superfoods to think they are must dietary items. But consumers must weigh the cost and remember that most of these foods aren’t listed among daily recommendations in Western dietary guidelines.
“They are more of a dietary supplement, and it’s not necessary to focus on these foods or consume them every day,” Sun said. It’s appropriate to add these superfoods to the diet, but the effects shouldn’t be exaggerated, she added. Many of their benefits are available in cheaper, more common nuts. Those who do want to purchase superfoods should also be aware of food safety issues. The seeds can go moldy if they are improperly handled or not stored in the right environment. “Transportation and storage are very important,” Sun said. “Be sure to check on the origins of superfoods and keep an eye on their shelf life.”