What is so super about superfoods? That is a trick question. Technically nothing. Any food can be called a superfood because it is not a legal or medical term. So far the only foods making it onto superfoods lists are fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes. Those are great foods for you! So eat superfoods, but don’t limit yourself to the ones on any “25 Top Superfoods” list.
Speaking of those superfoods list, they can be a little bit misleading. Here are five things to keep in mind when you read about superfoods.
1. Superfoods is a marketing term.
Super is a word with a very positive connotation. Super means better than average and who doesn’t like that? Looking at a banana and thinking “Wow, this is a superfood” is much more exciting than “Oh look, it is a fruit I should eat because it has potassium”.
I am all for making whole foods interesting to people. But realize the superfood term is a mind trick. Eating acai berries every day will not guarantee your health. Eating right helps, but there are a lot of other factors.
Why is it important to know that superfood is a marketing term? Because the purpose of marketing is to move people to action. The action could be to buy and/or consume food labeled “super”. So what are “they” selling? When I first heard the term superfoods it was limited to promoting exotic fruits. These fruits were incredibly expensive in grocery stores but people bought them because the superfruit marketing campaign sucessfully promoted them as extraordinary. If I wrote this article back when superfoods was a new term, I’d be saying you don’t have to spend a fortune to be healthy.
Now superfoods is not an exclusive group. Bloggers write about superfoods, and they get paid when people visit their site, click on an ad in the blog, etc. So my advice is that as you read ask yourself who is benetifiting. An article that lists something new or unique will be more popular which could generate more money for the author. Does that mean the article is right?
2. There is no official superfood list.
Anyone can say something is a superfood. Right now people have only been applying it to whole foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains) but that could change.
I enjoy looking up superfoods because I always learn about a new food. There are a lot of things out there for us to eat! But I don’t take to heart the food comparisons. While some foods are more nutrient dense (have more vitamins and minerals for the amount of calories) any food listed as a superfood is healthy. Balance is the key. A variety of whole foods will provide the nutrients our bodies need.
3. Scientific words are used to impress, not inform.
My biggest pet peeve about superfood articles is if they dumb down the scientific concepts of why a food is beneficial then throw in obscure scientific words to be novel. For example, I read that spinach is good for your eyesight because it contains lutein and zeaxanthin. Lutein? Zeaxanthin? I had to look those words up. Both of them are precursors to vitamin A. When you eat spinach, your body converts lutein and zeaxanthin into vitamin A. Why not just say spinach is great because it has vitamin A? I assume it is because vitamin A is old news, it isn’t exciting. The writer was looking for a way to make spinach sound super.
4. An antioxidant is…
A lot of foods make it onto the superfoods lists because they have antioxidants. Antioxidant is a popular buzz word, claimed to help decrease aging, get rid of toxins in your body, etc. But what is an antioxidant and how does it work?
According to Krause’s Food and Nutrition Therapy textbook, an antioxidant is “a substance that can inhibit reactions of free radicals.” There is no good way to explain that definition without going into a lot of chemistry so here is my incredibly generalized explanation. Free radicals can cause problems in your body over time as they build up. Antioxidants stop the free radicals from causing problems. Hence, antioxidants are good for you.
A lesser known fact is that our bodies are equipt to handle free radicals. Plus, several vitamins and minerals are antioxidants. If you are eating nutrient dense foods in general, your antioxidant needs are probably being met.
5. A balanced diet is more important the the number of superfoods consumed.
Your body needs water, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals to survive and thrive. As long as you are getting the right amount of nutrients it doesn’t matter what food you get those nutrients from. Superfoods are good for you, but many other foods can be a part of a healthy diet.
Those are the five things I keep in mind when I read about superfoods. What are your thoughts on superfoods?