Are “superfruits” a scam? A potato might do the same job at a tenth the price…

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Pomegranate – lots of fibre, if you can eat all those seeds.

30 December 2013: fruit sold on health promises, my story published in the UK’s Daily Mail.

Believe the hype and they’ll solve all your health issues.  They are the natural solution for everything from cancer, heart disease and dementia through to ageing skin, poor eyesight and interrupted sleep. No wonder “superfruits” now pop up everywhere: in cereal, desserts, snack bars, breakfast juice, desserts, face cream – even designer gin.

But though goji berries, acai juice, pomegranates and cranberries often claim their healing properties are rooted in ancient medicine, the explosion in their use is a very modern phenomenon.

Marketing gurus in the United States invented the word less than a decade ago, to profit from the boom in so-called “functional foods” – the industry’s term for staples – like yoghourt or snack bars –  that can be sold at a premium by pushing health benefits.

The labelling tactic worked. Superfruit products worth hundreds of millions of pounds are now sold in Britain every year. The global market in superfruit juices alone will be worth over £6bn by 2017, according to food market analysts Euromonitor .

As you’d expect, the fruit and health foods industries have gone bananas (rich in potassium and fibre, these might be a superfruit if they weren’t so old-fashioned). Since there’s no regulation or even definition of the term, anything you like can be a superfruit – and millions can be made if you get the marketing right.

In Britain, two out of three new juice products launched last year claimed to contain superfruit, and new ones are being announced every week. A big launch in 2011 was Cherrygood, a fruit juice made in part from an imported American cherry supposedly very high in antioxidants. One glass will give “the equivalent health benefits of around 20 portions of fruit and vegetables”. Though the company offers no proof of that extraordinary boast, Cherrygood has been a hit, according to the food analyst agencies, and by 2013 all the supermarkets and health stores were stocking it.

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Is “health bread” a scam?

Bakery firms are making big promises: touting premium loaves to help with everything from dieting and flatulence to memory loss and the symptoms of menopause. I enlisted some experts and we took apart 12 supermarket loaves to ask: are health breads a big gluten-loaded con?

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(Extended version of an investigation for the Daily Mail, published 21 Feb 2013)

Once there was white bread, which was nicer, and there was brown bread, which was better for you.

Now most supermarkets stock 40 or more different breads. They’re far more than the building blocks of a sandwich: some “health breads” claim to make you fitter, slimmer, to improve your memory or even to stop you eating so much bread.

Some of the designer health breads cost five or six times what a normal loaf does. They are imported from France, Italy and Germany. Yet many of the products have little or no health value at all – and the claims may be in contravention of labeling law.

Many of these breads also taste horrible. But people don’t buy them first for flavour.

One of the brands, Burgen,  calls itself “bread shaped health food”. One of the loaves is flavoured with linseed and soya and claims to help with symptoms of the menopause through adding natural hormones to the diet.

But medical professionals told us that was “extremely unlikely”.

Burgen, which is owned by Britain’s biggest bakery company, ABF, claims a whole range of medical benefits for its loaves, but our experts poured cold water on most of the promises. We requested scientific evidence from Burgen, but it didn’t provide any.

Burgen breads cost £1.40 each in supermarkets, more than twice as much as basic bread.

There are breads that promise healthier bones and better brain function and memory, and of course, relief for a range of allergies to gluten, wheat or excess yeast. But many of the claims are misleading or unproven.

Our survey found that expensive slimmers’ bread from WeightWatchers and Nimble is almost identical to and just as fattening as budget white bread at less than a third the price.

Some of these breads address problems – like healthy bones – that hardly exist among the sort of people able to pay for designer loaves.

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