When celebrity chef Nigella Lawson announced that pandan might be the next matcha, the western side of the world leaped onto that statement, and even went as far as to declare it as one of the new superfoods. In the Southeast Asian region, from nasi lemak to soft chiffon cakes, there’s nothing that the well-loved aromatic can’t improve. But does pandan have what it takes to be the official superfood of 2018?
YEAR OF THE PANDAN
A simple Google search will result in an exhaustive list of purported health benefits linked to pandan, also known as screw pine. Some include lowering high blood pressure, eliminating dandruff, and even treating impotence, which do sound too good to be true for an unassuming plant. According to the president of Malaysian Dieticians’ Association, Prof. Dr. Winnie Chee, none of these claims are actually backed by scientific evidence, and “would be difficult to justify as there are no robust, credible human studies to prove it”. Alas, it seems that the pandan is just another humble garden plant that happens to bring an extra flair to rice dishes and desserts.
THE NOT SO SUPER
It is 2018, and superfoods should extend beyond goji berries, avocado, and chia seeds. And if pandan is out of the picture, what’s next? Recently, roasted watermelon seeds, maqui berries, and chaga mushrooms have been touted as the next superfoods. A one-cup serving of watermelon seeds is said to contain 31 grams of protein and is highly advisable to sprinkle over your breakfast bowl; maqui berries have dethroned goji berries as the new source of antioxidants; whereas chaga mushrooms are high in fibre and can soothe inflammation in the bowels.
As great as these claims may sound, Prof. Dr. Chee advises consumers to put on their discerning caps, as there just isn’t a magic bullet or a miraculous food that will cure all ailments. In fact, the term “superfood” does not have convincing research data to back it up, and the EU has also banned the usage of the term on any of product packaging.
Despite the lack of research and consumers being charged at a premium, this pseudoscience remains popular. “[The reason why] superfoods are loved is because it makes food hip and not boring. Eating a well-balanced and varied diet is unappealing to the public,” explains Prof. Dr. Chee. It all boils down to our love for novelty. That isn’t to say superfoods are bad, as Despina Hyde, a New York-based dietician, states, “Superfoods have large doses of vitamins and minerals that can help us ward off diseases and live a longer, healthier life.”
Still wondering what to stock your shelves with next? Scientists suggest adding fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and soft cheeses to your diet. Studies have found that a healthy gut flora may influence our athleticism, immune function, inflammation, allergies, metabolism, and appetite, and a varied diet rich in vegetables and fermented foods will help the gut microbiome thrive, while keeping obesity at bay.
Superfood or not, it is essential to pair a nutrient-dense diet with an adequate amount of exercise. A repetitive advice, no doubt, but when health is in the equation, there are no shortcuts, only discipline and determination.