Superfood, between myth and reality


The rush to purchase health-beneficial foods confirms the focus on eating well. On what basis?

The hunt for superfoods, the health-beneficial foods, knows no respite. The GS1Italy-Nielsen’s Immagino Observatory, an ever-present spotlight on Italians’ food buying habits and ‘fashions,’ has been dedicated to monitoring its trends. Such as precisely that of superfoods.

But what qualifies a food as a


? The scientific basis, which is solid on the dried fruit, as on other foods, come less on others. Like brown sugar, to cite one example. This is followed by a brief analysis of foods categorized by the Observatory as beneficial in the eyes of the public, and as such best sold.

Almonds in first place

The ranking-ordered by sales value-opens with almond. Among the various types of dried fruits, the undisputed queen is reported in 1.3 percent of the 54,300 products monitored by the Immagino Observatory. With an increase in sales of 14.6 percent.

As early as the early 1990s

the scientific literature has repeatedly demonstrated the benefits related to the consumption of nuts.

A 2016 study

He even defined its useful contribution. Just 20 grams per day of dried fruit to prevent cardiovascular diseases, cancer, mortality from all causes and particularly as a result of respiratory diseases, diabetes, and infections.

In 2017, sales of dried fruits increased by 10 percent

and continue to grow, thanks in part to

to the virtuous initiatives of the Italian supply chain. This is the case with the creation of consortia for the protection of Italian products,

pressured by foreign competition

, such as the Sicilian

Avola almond

. Or the responsible policies of distributors,

Coop Italy after Unes Supermarkets


Italy’s first large-scale retail store sign decided to place dried fruit snacks near the checkouts, instead of the traditional ‘impulse foods’. Chips and sweets, often

junk food

, are thus relegated to vending machines,

less generous in providing information to the consumer


Plant a seed in the diet

The blueberry is second in the GS1-Italy rankings. Reported in 0.9 percent of products, and the protagonist of a 6 percent acceleration in sales, this small berry had also been nominated for a claim healthy, however, rejected by Efsa. It is indeed associated with antioxidant effect on cells and fighting urinary infections, as shown by a

research published in Cochrane


Seeds are in turn increasingly appreciated. For the garnishing of the‘salad, and everywhere else. Value sales of products with flaxseeds jumped 51.5 percent (21 million euros total volume), those embellished with pumpkin seeds 28.4 percent. Off the charts, but necessarily worth mentioning are the

hemp seeds, superfood

To be placed in the shopping cart.

Wanted cereals

Oats, first used only to feed animals. from breeding, is now highly sought after in the organic version, promoted to superfood cereal, as it is rich in protein (12.6-14.9 percent) and of essential fatty acids, such as linoleic acid. Boasted in 0.5 percent of products, it drives sales by 4.8 percent.

More appreciated turns out to be spelt. An age-old crop supplanted by wheat, this cereal is now making a comeback with small, almost only organic crops. Highlighted in the 1% of products (often quite expensive), it animates sales with +16.1%.

Boom exotics

Among the foods unrelated to the Mediterranean diet are some that are highly sought after because they are believed to be beneficial to health. Not always with good reason.


is the surge in sales – by 91.6 percent, for a total of 36 million euros – for products containing ginger (0.1 percent of the sample), an imported root related to various

health benefits, but not without contraindications


Quinoa, a typical food from the Andean belt of South America, is also good. Highlighted in 0.5 percent of the products monitored by Imagine, it pushes up their sales by 43.1 percent to 50 million.

Really incomprehensible is instead the attraction of Italian consumers to products such as coconut (sales +5 percent) or brown sugar. The latter, when refined, is nothing more than sucrose obtained from cane instead of beet. One sugar

perfectly superimposable on common white sugar

, but mentioned as an ingredient (with suggestion of quality advantage) in 0.4 percent of products promotes a +10 percent sales boost.

Different case is the success of stevia, reported in 0.2 percent of products, for which it determines +19.2 percent of sales. Acaloric and indicated as useful against obesity and other diseases, this plant-based sweetener is highly sought after by the food industry, so much so that it has become subject of frenzied research in the biotech field. At the same time, it is also the focus of a cultivation project in Sicily,

we have reported on


Marta Strinati

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Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".