05 Sep Dawn of The Superfoods: What You Need to Know
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…superfood! In recent years superfoods, a label for foods packed with nutrients that supposedly ward-off disease and combat aging, have become a household name on par with Superman. But are the health claims attached to superfoods true, or a fiction on par with our favorite hero in blue?
First and foremost, superfoods are a marketing term rather than a medical term used to refer to a wide-range of foods. A Google search for the term produces nearly 10 million different results. The Oxford English Dictionary defines superfoods as “a nutrient- rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being”, whereas the Merriam-Webster dictionary makes no reference to health, defining superfoods as “a super nutrient-dense food, loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and/or phytonutrients.” Of course, superfood enthusiasts would connect the two definitions and argue superfoods are healthy because they are loaded with vitamins. Generally speaking, however, superfoods are food, usually fruits and vegetables that are considered to be more healthy and nutritious than other foods.
Many foods meet this criterion, from green tea on one end to salmon on the other end. Given the many different shades of superfoods, any Decalogue that claims to list “the top-ten superfoods” is based upon subjectivity and personal preference. Nevertheless, among all the superfoods promulgated on the web – trumping apples and acing avocados – blueberries are the royal flush. Packed with antioxidants, photochemicals and soluble fiber, the blueberry is the poster-child for trend. In addition, blueberries tend to be more palatable than its cranberry and raspberry brothers and sisters. In terms of the health benefits of blueberries, research suggests blueberries can help lower blood pressure, cholesterol and even improve memory, making blueberries and excellent health boost for both body and mind.
We all know that green food is healthy food, and have been reminded since childhood to eat our broccoli. Amongst all the green veggies in the land of superfoods, kale surpasses both broccoli and brussels sprouts in terms of blandness and nutrients, and follows close behind the trails of the indominus blueberry. Kale is upheld as the golden calf of superfoods for its nutrients rather than its taste with high amounts of vitamin A, C & K. Eating kale also helps maintain healthy skin, hair and bones, as well as lowers the risk for heart disease.
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Extending fruits and vegetables, salmon also takes the superfood spotlight. It’s an excellent source of protein, lowers the risk of heart disease and is an excellent source of Omega-3 fats. For those cautious of salmon because of trace amounts of mercury, any fish that falls lower in the food chain generally qualifies as a superfood, including oysters and shrimp.
It is important to look at the scientific evidence for superfoods in order to cut through the mainstream hype. At first glance, the scientific evidence would seem to be in favor, given the vast amounts of nutrients attached to superfoods. On the other hand, the scientific evidence for any superfood is remarkably thin; not because they are unhealthy but because superfoods are difficult to study in the lab. The conditions under which food is studied in the lab tends to be different than the conditions under which people normally consume food. For example, cocoa found in chocolate is believed to have a variety of health benefits, but doctors don’t recommend consuming large amounts of chocolate on a regular basis. This being the case, the health claims surrounding superfoods tend to be exaggerated.
In conclusion, the human body was designed to intake a variety of nutrients, not just a narrow list of foods that fall under a specific category. Although superfoods certainly have health benefits, they are one ingredient among many that make-up a healthy, well-rounded diet.
This article was originally published in the 2015 Late Summer Issue of VETTA Magazine.