Kale, berries, cacao, eggs, sweet potatoes, greek yogurt and more are among the dozens of foods that are labeled "superfoods." This new group of products is advertised as being nutritionally dense — or containing high amounts of vitamins/minerals per calorie — ways to improve your diet and prevent disease simply by consuming them.
As one may expect, these claims are made in order to sell more products, and some stretch the truth a bit. While so-called superfoods will not instantly improve your health, they can be abnormally high in nutrients that may be hard to get from other sources, which render them a beneficial part of a diet — that is, if you are able to afford them.
Superfoods contain specific nutrients in very high quantities or have particularly rare components. Many of them, for example, have lots of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, which are properties common in fruits, vegetables and some grains. Because of this, it seems that the birth of superfoods, contrary to the effects of many other health fads, is generally more beneficial on one’s health.
Unfortunately, some consumers may see superfoods as a cure-all method of treating or preventing disease, while maintaining an otherwise poor diet. It should be noted that superfoods are not sufficient to make up for other lifestyle factors that lead to poor health, such as lack of sleep or a sedentary lifestyle. Research from the Food and Nutrition Journal links studies showing that superfoods are most effective when consumed with a balanced diet. While these nutrient rich foods are undoubtedly healthy, their disease preventing or curing claims are somewhat misleading.
The benefits of superfoods come primarily from their rich nutrient content per calorie. This feature is the primary reason these foods are labeled “super.” The lack of legal regulation of the term also helps, with reports suggesting that about three-quarters of people are using foods to treat or prevent a condition of theirs, often in the form of superfoods.
Because of the lack of regulation around the term “superfood” and the need for an otherwise healthy diet to reap the benefits of superfoods, some experts have voiced opposition to superfood labels, saying instead to eat a “super diet,” which focuses on regular intake of healthy foods as opposed to periodically eating very nutrient dense foods.
One reason that could explain why superfoods have made such an impact on people’s health is that they are often fruits or vegetables, which many Americans do not get enough of. This may explain why people report feeling better after consuming them. Nonetheless, all nutrients are available in a variety of foods, and can be obtained in more affordable ways than through superfoods. Thus, while nutritionally rich foods are supportive of good health, they are not necessary.
Superfoods are one of few health trends that may be promoting sustainable health. The requirement for a superfood is not legally defined, but generally means the product contains a large amount of nutrients that improve one’s physical health. The lack of regulation, however, means that the term carries less meaning than some may believe. While superfoods can certainly be a way to consume much needed nutrients in few calories, they are not an antidote for a poor diet and other unhealthy lifestyle choices.