Diet

Are superfoods really worth the hype (and money)?

From quinoa to goji berries, find out if these trendy foods are really any better for you than the old pantry staples.

Blueberries and dried goji berries

When it comes to the health benefits, blueberries (left) are just as powerful as the trendier goji berries (right). (Photo by Getty Images)

I don’t buy expensive shoes or clothes and I rarely travel, which means my greatest expense and luxury is groceries. This is because more than shop and travel, I like to eat and try new recipes. I look at the produce aisle the way some women look at a J.Crew catalogue — greedily.

Given my grocery store addiction, it’s not surprising that I’m the occasional (and repeated) sucker for a flashy food trend — a habit that keeps my food bill on the high side.

I’ve POM-juiced and coconut-watered myself in the hopes of achieving a state of antioxidant- and electrolyte-induced nutritional nirvana. I’ve forced down tub after tub of probiotic-laden yogurts — the ones with all that added sugar that make the once-boring dairy product taste something in the realm of soft ice cream — believing that I was greasing my digestive tract for optimal functioning.

But are much-hyped fruits, beverages and superfood-inspired food products worth the cost? Is there any significant or measurable benefit to choosing goji berries over strawberries (which are already pricey thanks to rising food costs)?

Not really. Or at the very least they’re not as necessary as the marketing would have we consumers believe.

Good news, though, there are cheaper ways to derive the health benefits that these trendy foods purport to offer — just eat a healthy balanced diet! Or that’s the conclusion I took away from an article on the topic in the June issue of Mother Jones.

Writer Tom Philpott argues that, sure, items like goji berries and acai berries are rich in compounds that may protect us from heart disease and cancer. Quinoa, another trendy grain, is also a great source of protein for those on a vegetarian diet, he says.

But here’s the big surprise: none of the trendier food products are dramatically better for you than the standard fruits, legumes and grains you find at your local grocery store.

Philpott points out that blueberries, for example, are equally rich in antioxidants and that there’s a more substantial scientific record to back those claims up.

Lowly pantry staple rice and beans, he says, offer a more complete serving of protein than quinoa.

The lesson for a repeat grocery store offender like me: marketing hype skews the main message that may benefit consumers most. A diet that consists of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein is the best consumer choice you can make. The knowledge may not slash my food bill in half, but there is some comfort in knowing it’s for the greater good. The same can’t be said for an expensive pair of shoes, right?

What item do you have a hard time resisting at the grocery store? Tell us in the comment section below.