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Tonight: The Food We Eat - Superfoods: Fact or Fiction?

A long list of exotic and expensive foods are credited with improving health, boosting memory and combating life threatening diseases. But do so-called superfoods live up to the hype?

ITV’s Tonight Programme decided to put one of the best known to the test. Blueberries are often referred to as the grandad of the superfood trend. The British public splashes out £200m a year on them.

We enlist Newcastle University to test five ordinary women who agreed to eat two bowls of Canadian wild blueberries every day for 8 weeks – and the good news is that they can work.

The Tonight programme - on ITV at 7.30pm - tests the science behind 'superfoods' Credit: ITV / Tonight

Professor Mark Birch-Machin explains the two tests being done for the programme.

“The first is really trying to find out how much antioxidant protection you’ve got. The second test is really all about the protection of the DNA inside the batteries of our cells.”

– Professor Mark Birch-Machin

In our short test, all five women benefited.

Goji berries - often sold as a health product Credit: ITV / Tonight

Brits certainly seem to be embracing superfoods. According to figures from market researchers Kantar Worldpanel:

  • We’re buying three times more quinoa – that exotic grain from Bolivia – than we did five years ago.
  • Spending on Kale has doubled in the last five years.
  • And we eat three times more almonds that we ate in 2009.
Is coconut oil beneficial to your health? Credit: ITV / Tonight

The programme looks at coconut oil which is fast taking on superfood status among its advocates. UK spending on coconut oil has nearly tripled in two years.

It’s claimed that sticking coconut oil in your diet can help combat dementia, obesity and diabetes. Elite athletes are also using it and Sale Sharks Rugby Club has been incorporated into the players’ meals for the last two years.

Sale player Ross Harrison tells the programme how important it is to eat correctly and that he believes coconut oil has a positive effect.

But the benefits of coconut oil are currently unproven as the science has not yet been done.

And there are some critics of coconut oil.

“The bottom-line is coconut oil is very, very high in saturated fat. We know for sure that a diet high in saturated fat will raise blood cholesterol that increases your risk of heart disease.”

– Nigel Denby, dietitian

Oncologist Prof Robert Thomas of Bedford Hospital has been at the forefront of developing a superfood pill to fight prostate cancer.

The pill called Pomi-T contains pomegranate, green tea, broccoli and turmeric and was subjected to a 6 month scientific test which showed in 63% of patients, it slowed the progress of the disease.

Pomi-T Credit: ITV / Tonight

Paul Ruddick was part of the study and is still taking the pill, which is officially described as a food supplement. He fears he would have required life changing medical intervention but for it.

The charity Prostate Cancer UK stresses that food supplements should not be substituted for conventional treatments.

The UK superfoods market is now worth hundreds of millions of pounds a year and the programme looks at what goes into the launch of a new health product onto the British market. Manufacturers of “Betavivo” are due to start a multi-million pound campaign next month.

Dietitian Nigel Denby tells reporter Jonny Maitland you don’t need to go any further than your kitchen cupboard to find ‘real’ superfood.

“What about things like a simple an egg loaded with iron, packed with essential amino acids? What about a cup of builder’s tea?”

– Nigel Denby

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