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Super foods or super fattening?

by on 2015/10/09

We frequently see reports in the news about super-foods. We also, perhaps just as regularly, see articles that question the merits of particular superfoods in relation to fat content.  In the news this week, it was the turn of avocados to be questioned as to their superfood status. Why have the media questioned the value of these foods?

The avocado story

An article about avocados was published in the Daily Mail with the headline ‘Are avocados a superfood… or just superfattening?’ One of our ‘top tips‘ we regularly write about is ‘Don’t stop at the headline’. Indeed, in this case if we trawl through the story underneath the headline, the only research evidence referred to in the article is highly positive about the health benefits of eating avocados. The author refers to a study carried out in the U.S. and published in the journal Diabetes Care. They explain that the study reported that a diet which regularly included avocados had a positive effect on keeping blood sugar levels stable.

Why then did the article question the humble avocado’s superfood status? To do this, they refer to the high fat content of avocados. But as they go on to point out, the fats in avocados are what are considered ‘good fats’. Also known as monostaturated fats, they have been shown to reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood and as a result reduce the chance of developing heart disease and strokes. The headline therefore could be considered misleading, or certainly very selective, as the actual article goes on to report on how the fats in avocados are ‘good fats’.

It is really good to see the reporter draws on opinions of relevant experts. The article quotes Chloe Miles of the British Dietetic Association. She is quoted as saying ‘in terms of heart-health, the avocado is great. It is certainly better on your toast or in a salad than cheese. But it is high in fat and calories, so anyone on a diet should be wary.’ This emphasises the role of avocados and similar foods for heart health while stressing caution about eating too many in relation to weight gain.

Other superfoods labelled as fattening in the news

The Research the Headlines team are currently travelling across Scotland delivering workshops in schools which focus on teaching children the ‘top tip‘ of ‘Don’t stop at the headline’. The first example we talk about in these workshops, which form part of our Rewrite the Headlines competition, concerns a headline that suggested that ‘salmon could be worse for you than a margharita pizza because of high fat content‘. In the workshop, we discuss with the children how the headline is being overly selective because it does not mention that the high fat content in salmon involves ‘good fats’. As the children have found out though, rewriting the headlines to be more accurate can be tricky. For a start it usually leads to a much longer headline which could often not be accommodated in a news article, particularly in print media where space is a top concern. Rewriting the headline can also lead to it being less catchy. Our competition closes at the end of November with the winner announced in January. We will report back at that stage to let you know how Scottish primary school children have tried to overcome these difficulties in order to rewrite the headlines more accurately.

Evert, A. B. et al. (2014). Nutrition Therapy Recommendations for the Management of Adults With Diabetes. Diabetes Care. DOI: 10.2337/dc14-S120

From → Health, News Stories

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