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The rise of the superfood

Keira 01 February 2017, 4:07PM
The rise of the superfoodCommodore Pharmacy and Health store owners Lew and Sharron Johnson have been selling superfoods since before “superfoods” became a buzz word

Superfoods - Some people think of them as mostly plant-based fodder, foraged in the wild or grown in the back garden, others can only envisage them in powdered form, added to a smoothie. 

Basically, they can be described as a nutrient-dense food, high in vitamins, minerals and balanced amino acids, which are considered particularly good for health and wellbeing - think, beetroot, greens, blueberries, pea-protein.  

Although processed forms of various superfoods have been around for a long time - spirulina for example, which Lifestream started selling in the 1990s - superfood sales are now starting to take off in pharmacies. 

Commodore Pharmacy and natural health shop co-director Sharron Johnson says in the pharmacy context superfoods are: "processed, concentrated fruit and vegetables, which are tested for the claims made on the packet."

Mrs Johnson and her pharmacist husband Lew (pictured below)have been running Commodore Pharmacy and natural health shop in Auckland's Browns Bay since 1989 and now run a successful online store as well.  

They have watched health product trends come and go, and have seen ones that have stood the test of time. Mrs Johnson says the superfood market has expanded from Lifestream being basically the only provider, along with Vitafit, to encompassing about 10 brands. 

In the past three or four years, she has seen the superfood line branch out as more companies start creating their own products. So, while sales are up, there is a lot of experimenting going on to see what products sell well. Lifestream is still ahead in sales and Nuzest and Vital Greens sell well on the internet too, she says. 

Powdered coconut water hasn't taken off, and Mrs Johnson suspects cricket flour, which has just come onto the market, will be a hard sell - despite being an ideal food in terms of protein and nutrients versus carbon footprint. 

One of the major drivers of the superfood craze is peoples' lifestyles, which now often involve going to the gym, and skipping breakfast - making superfood smoothies ideal. 

They are definitely more popular with the younger generation, but Mrs Johnson would like to see older people taking them too. 

"Elderly people will take products like Ensure and Fortasip, but that's like your meat, and you should be taking superfoods, to get your greens and fruit in there too." 

"If Ensure is your meat, superfood is your greens." 

Part of the problem is that GPs aren't encouraging them. 

"It's about educating mainstream medicine that there's a place for all of these superfoods, vitamins, supplements," she says.

They are also good for children who won't eat their greens and vegans and vegetarians too. "There's always coleslaw, but if you don't like cabbage, well, that ship has sailed." 

"Superfoods will ensure you get what you need on a daily basis." 

Why take them?  

When someone comes into the pharmacy asking about superfoods or supplements, the first thing Mrs Johnson asks about is lifestyle, if they are under stress, eating on the run, having too many takeaway and processed foods…The next question is, do you take any ­supplements already and what do you hope to get from superfoods? 

However, she believes most people could benefit from superfoods even if they eat healthily. 

Most people try to eat a healthy diet, but the way fruit and vegetables are stored and transported and grown for appearance and shelf life, rather than nutrition, means they are often not left to develop and ripen slowly and naturally to ensure maximum uptake of vitamins and minerals, she says.  

"A balanced diet of the correct food doesn't always mean a ­balanced diet of vitamins and ­minerals." 

Then when you take in consideration stress and lifestyle effects, many people require more vitamins and minerals to counteract these effects. 

"It doesn't matter how you sugar coat it, we actually have an unbalanced diet. I'm not saying superfoods are going to cure everything, but they will certainly enhance wellbeing and lifestyle." 

Superfoods also have the advantage of having had the number and levels of vitamins and minerals verified, so you know exactly what you're getting and can make sure you're not overdosing on certain nutrients - for example, too much kale can affect the thyroid. 

Mrs Johnson says the nicest way to take superfood powder is to add it to almond milk "for that nutty taste". 

She recommends blending them in a smoothie, but you can also just use a shaker, with a ball in it. 

Cooking with them, adding to baking or sprinkling on cereal works too. 

Commodore Pharmacy's young pharmacist Mina Geris is a great advert for the products his pharmacy sells. Mr Geris works at the pharmacy and has a Nuzest protein shake after he goes to the gym as well as for breakfast sometimes. 

"Protein is a great substitute when you get sugar and salt cravings and you feel just as full, but it's better for you," he says. 

Angela Haldane

Naturopath Angela Haldane goes by the name of Natural Ange

What the naturopath says 

Former registered nurse, turned naturopath and medical herbalist, Angela Haldane, says as a starting point for health, she will always go back to the Mediterranean diet.  

"Evidence-based medicine shows the Mediterranean food pyramid and vegetarian diet promotes longevity," Ms Haldane, also known as Natural Ange, says. 

The Mediterranean diet is basically 80% vegetables and a palm-sized piece of protein with some wholegrains and a couple of pieces of fruit.  

However, in her 20 years of naturopathy, Ms Haldane has discovered Mediterranean isn't the norm for most people. She says they aren't getting enough vegetables due to being busy and not liking the effort and leftover scraps of preparing them.  

"People tend to be very carb oriented these days, with a lot of sugar." 

Rather than powdered superfoods, she would prefer people to eat per the Mediterranean diet. Eating whole food suits the digestive system as chewing turns on the amylase in saliva which is the first step in digestion and in turn switches on all the rest.  

Ms Haldane pushes leafy green salads and slaws, which not only contain lots of nutrients but are economical and locally grown. 

However, she concedes if someone is time-poor, then smoothies are great because you can pack them with superfoods such as blueberries, spirulina, goji, maca powder. 

They are also great for people who need energy before the gym. 

But Ms Haldane points out that people can end up paying a lot for exotic products with superfoods, when beetroot and dark leafy greens from your own garden are equally as good. 

"As a herbalist, there's something special about live plant and the vital essence of a leaf picked in your garden versus something that's been processed in a factory." 

While you've got your vitamins and minerals in powdered foods, some of the vitality of the live plant might be lost in the processing. 

"Marketing companies bamboozle people into buying fad products which can be an unnecessary expense when you can get just as good stuff locally," she says. 

Superfood smoothies can be a good way to sneak vegetables into children's diets who won't eat their greens. However, feeding them steamed broccoli trees with balsamic and olive oil as pre-dinner finger food also works remarkably well, Ms Haldane says. 

Mums who come to her are often surprised that their kids start eating them with no complaints, she says. 

In the same way, superfood smoothies are good for convalescents, but soups work too. 

If she had to recommend one superfood product it would be ­spirulina. 

"It's seaweed-based and really good for vegans and vegetarians as it contains protein, is rich in gamma-linolenic acid and is generally a broad spectrum."   

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