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Science takes a powder on superfoods label

Scientists aren't sold on the so-called benefits of superfoods, Marketplace reports. CBC

Scientists aren't sold on the so-called benefits of superfoods, Marketplace reports. CBC

"Energy booster ... sleep aid ... controls blood sugar ... reduces the risk of Alzheimer's ... prevents cancer."

These were all claims found on the package of Nature's Mix superfood granola with quinoa. The product was one of about 100 Marketplace purchased and reviewed.

Many of them used the word "super" in its name, like Super Oats, Superflakes, super grains, Super Fruit Freezies and superfood chips.

There were many more that emphasized protein, Omega-3s, antioxidants and nutritional claims now commonly associated with health benefits.

There are literally hundreds of products called superfoods available in Canadian grocery stores, often costing more than other similar foods. Marketplace decided to dig deeper to see if the perceived health benefits of the superfood trend deliver.

One aspect became clear quickly - Health Canada's website distinctly states food companies can't make unfounded claims that their products can prevent serious diseases.

Yet Marketplace's investigation found a gap in the government's regulations of food labels, particularly when it comes to products that claim to be superfoods.

Other countries have stricter rules that help manage public perception about what foods are healthy.

The Japanese government's food labelling system lists more than 1,000 foods that have been proven to contribute to well-being and are labelled as such. The European Union has banned the word "superfood" altogether.

When Marketplace contacted both Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which share responsibility to make sure food labels are accurate, both confirmed the term "superfood" is unregulated.

They see the term as a passing trend so there's no reason to change regulations to limit its use.

Love quinoa, chia seeds and coconut water? Marketplace puts those products to the test against cheaper Canadian alternatives. Watch the full investigation tonight at 8 p.m. on CBC.