Download the FREE SBS Radio App for a better listening experience
You may have heard of superfoods like kale or turmeric lattes that are meant to boost your health. Nutritionists suggest that when it comes to healthy ageing we need to have a balanced diet. So, does eating superfoods keep us more active than other foods?
Professor Linda Tapsell is an expert in nutrition and dietetics from the School of Medicine at Wollongong University. She doesn’t mind the idea of superfoods since it encourages people to move away from less healthier junk foods.
“Superfoods is a term that has evolved to try and draw attention to foods that has a very good nutritional quality, so it’s a bit more of a marketing word than a word we would use in nutrition so to speak. Nevertheless, we’re talking about foods that have really got lots of components within them that could be helpful for healthy ageing. But I would not suggest that you would be able to do anything like jump off tall buildings as a super human by eating them but you would certainly be healthier by consuming them.”
Professor Tapsell doesn’t go for particular superfoods when doing her own shopping. She does however see a holistic diet as being a healthier option than your quick fix of supplements and vitamins.
“The thing about ageing is you don’t get away with as much as you did when you were younger so you can’t cut corners and so you do really need these foods that are packed with nutrients particularly fruits and vegetables and whole grains because some of the systems that rely on what those food have had to deliver are beginning to slow down so you need to make sure you resource them well with these foods that are packed with nutrients that are going to support that.”
Margaret Sim doesn’t see herself as much of a cook, even though she’s raised a family and now has become a grandmother herself. She says superfoods are not her thing, often due to their hefty price tags.
“Superfood…I don’t know. Those young people eat quinoa and you know cous cous that sort of thing but I don’t eat those I eat rice you know… Asians. Too expensive and then I don’t really go into those type of food my daughter does but not me cos I am probably older generation prefer food from the ground you know veges and stuff like that.”
Professor Tapsell says she tends to enjoy fresh foods that are in season and wholesome without extensive storage times.
“I’ve certainly been enjoying the berries this summer. There’s been a wonderful array and availability of berries that are reasonably priced this summer. We always have nuts available to snack on or to throw in salads. I'm going to green grocer to get my fresh fruits and veges so that fruit bowl is always full. In terms of cereals, it’s either oats or whole grain breakfast cereals yoghurt’s always in the fridge.”
Sydney based dietician Anika Rouf doesn’t buy into the label of “superfoods” as a dietician herself.
She sees “superfoods” more as a marketing label which the European Union has strict guidelines on, which are not as clearly defined in Australia.
“So when someone claims something as superfoods, it’s just a marketing term and it’s usually something exotic-sounding, something pricey or something that has an ancient like quinoa something that was used a long time ago by a previous population.”
She also sees healthy ageing as being more about consuming a balanced diet from the five food groups.
“These are just fruits and vegetables, legumes grain-based foods, nuts, lean meat, fish reduce that dairy so it’s better to focus on these food groups rather than focus on these food groups rather than focusing on so-called ‘superfoods’ to boost our health.”
Rouf explains the sorts of food you should be focusing on rather than particular so-called “superfoods”.
“So one would be legumes because they are a great source of fibre. They’ve got lots of antioxidants to protect against disease they can protect against cholesterol, heart disease and the other good thing about legumes is that you can get canned options which are really great for people who are not able to cook as much.”
And with your green leafy vegetables, kales aren’t necessarily the only go-to plant-based food packed with benefits.
“So green veges maybe like broccoli unless you are a big fan of superfoods like kales. Some simple veges like broccoli or spinach - they are just as healthy but kale is marketed as a superfood so it’s usually a bit expensive so with broccoli, you can get like frozen it’s a convenient option you can even get broccoli frozen or you could even go with fresh and they are great because they’ve got your vitamins mineral fibre and it’s also low in energy.”
Aside from your dark green leafy vegetables, Professor Tapsell also recommends tomatoes as part of the recommended plant-based food option for those aged 50 plus.
“Those kinds of vegetables deliver important components that help with antioxidant activity and a lot of the break down that happens with ageing particularly in relation to eye sight appears to be associated with oxidative stress so the foods that deliver compounds that help to combat that are particularly important.”
Speaking of proteins that we are all familiar with, Anika Rouf recommends the simple option of eggs.
"So eggs - they are always handy because they are easy to cook they are a great source of protein packed with lots of vitamins and minerals and they’ve got omega three fatty acids which will help with your healthy skin healthy nails and hair."
Not everyone eats meat but when it comes to longevity, a 2013 Harvard study found that eating fish with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids can prolong one’s life span by preventing deaths related to heart disease.
“Definitely fish is very important for people who are aged over 50 because fish has lots of great benefits but now the advice we tell people is that if you are obviously vegetarians we don’t expect people to switch and have fish. But if fish is something that you do enjoy and you do eat fish then definitely encouraging more of that. Especially the oily ones so having that at least twice a week so the oily fishes would be your mackerels, your salmons, sardines, those ones.”
But most importantly, it’s about getting the basics right in terms of drinking lots of water and keeping hydrated during the hotter days.