Let’s start with some clarifications – there’s no such thing as a super food! There are, however, many foods with terrific nutritional profiles: rich in valuable nutrients, free from nutritional liabilities, and either low in calories or notably satiating and with special qualities.
Before we get further into this notion, be aware that a new term is going to become more mainstream to reflect these special qualities ‘hyper foods’ and naturally all such adjectives requires a process of amplification to attract people’s attention.
It caught ours, all the more so because it emerged from one of the UK’s most eminent science oriented universities; Imperial College, and made a headline in one of the worlds most sober of science journals Nature.
Why is nomenclature important? Well the term superfood implies an isolated food that carries with it the capability of generating significant and beneficial change to human health such as beans and lentils; broccoli and most brassicas; chard, kale, and most dark greens; most berries, not just blueberries; almonds, walnuts, and most nuts; oranges, cherries, arugula, cabbage, and so on.
In effect, if your dietary pattern, overall, is poor, then no single food, or a few in combination, will exonerate it or immunise you. The effects of diet on health are, overwhelmingly, just that: the effects of diet on health. The most robust dietary measure of total chronic disease risk is the quality of your overall dietary pattern, not a couple of individual foods consumed periodically driven by guilt or lack of access to alternative options!
An optimal dietary pattern — and to be clear that’s not one, prescriptive diet, but rather any reasonable variant on the theme of wholesome, whole, minimally processed foods, mostly plants, in sensible, balanced, and often time-honoured combinations will nurture you, and defend your health more effectively than any single food can.
Dietary patterns cultivate variations in the metabolic controls from epigenetics to the microbiome. Isolated exposures can matter (especially to radiation, or to arsenic, or medications, but not really to a slice of toast or a berry), but the whole pattern of consumption is far more influential than the sum of widely dispersed parts.
Yet…… Imperial seek to recover the context and by utilising sophisticated analytical comparators set out to see what substance there was in the assumption that drugs/food molecules acting on common protein networks (responsible for a variety of metabolic and signalling processes) which should therefore exert similar downstream disease modifying effects.
Hmm.., that sounds a lot like the view that food molecules can exert material effects for risk and protection; the food is medicine story re-shaped and the ‘super’ food nomenclature re-framed to use a yet to be exhausted adjective – ‘hyper’. Early days yet, but it will create change because as the authors state: Food represents the single biggest modifiable aspect of an individual’s health and the machine learning strategy described here is a first step in realising the potential role for “smart” nutritional programmes in the prevention and treatment of cancer.
The outlined methodology is not restricted to cancer and will be applicable to other health conditions. Moreover, it will pave the way of the future of hyperfoods and gastronomic medicine, encouraging the introduction of personalised “food passports” to provide nutritious, tailored and therapeutically functional foods for every individual in order to benefit the wider population. It sounds like there is a mission growing to add value to our already well established clinical practice.