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Surprising Science

Why Superfoods May Not Be All That Super

UK researchers want to see if polyphenols, the compounds that allegedly give foods such as broccoli and blueberries body-healing properties, actually make it past the gut lining.

Article written by guest writer Kecia Lynn

What’s the Latest Development?

If you’ve been eating lots of so-called “superfoods” lately, you might want to check out research being done at Kingston University (UK) that will eventually seek to determine whether the very compounds that make broccoli, blueberries and similar foods “super” — polyphenols, which have antioxidant and other beneficial properties — are even making it out of the gut. The researchers are using a model known as the Caco-2, which mimics the behavior of the small intestine’s inner layer, to see what types of compounds permeate the layer and which don’t. Currently they are using herbs as the test foods.

What’s the Big Idea?

The Caco-2 model, originally developed in the 1980s for cancer research, may be useful for validating and invalidating all kinds of food claims and benefits. When it comes to superfoods, simply put, “If [the polyphenols] don’t actually get through the gut membrane and into the rest of the body, then they’re not a super food…[They] may have a local effect in the gut itself, [but] in terms of the rest of the body the impact could be negligible.

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