Superfoods – Where It All Began

The term superfood, usually seen on food packaging or restaurant menus, tends to give us the illusion that these are special foods with superpowers to make you healthier. But this may not be the case. So I asked the question – what exactly is a superfood? and is there any scientific evidence to prove that they are more “super” than other foods?   

A basic definition of a superfood is; a food that offers a high level of nutrients and has been associated with preventive health benefits. But there is in fact no real concrete criteria for determining what a superfood actually is.

Have you seen the term superfood before? If so, have you bought into the idea? Many of us believe that what we read on the packaging at the grocery store is honest and factual. But is it true that superfoods in fact provide better health benefits?

As a registered dietician from Langone Medical Center says “Superfood is more of a marketing term for edible ingredients with health benefits.” The reason they are chosen as superfoods is because of their connection to preventing cancers, heart, liver, and digestive issues. For example, blueberries are considered a superfood because they are high in antioxidants which are thought to ward off cancer.  

Below is a good example of how food companies use the term superfood to market their healthy products. As a consumer, we automatically believe that we are purchasing something far healthier than what would be contained in a regular smoothie.

Smoothie package featuring Superfoods.

This trend seemed to get a lot of publicity in the last 7 years but this marketing idea came from the early 20th century just after World War I. Harvard website featured an article that touched on the trend explaining its origins and wrote…

“The United Fruit Company initiated an enthusiastic advertising campaign to promote its major import of bananas. It published informational pamphlets including Points About Bananas and the Food Value of the Banana. Initially, the company had advertised the practicality of bananas in a daily diet, being cheap, nutritious, easily digested, available everywhere, good when cooked and not cooked, and sealed by nature in a germ-proof package. To get people to eat more, they suggested adding bananas in cereal for breakfast, in salads for lunch, and fried with meat for dinner.”

Bottom Line

As we can already guess superfoods often translate into super sales that creating a billion-dollar industry. According to a Nielson survey, consumers are willing to pay much more for foods perceived as healthy. It is the packaging with health claims on labels that seem to help most. Interestingly, foods already perceived as healthy that also carry a health claim have the greatest sales. 

Harvard medical reports on a study done by Mintel research. They explain “According to Mintel research, in 2015 there was a 36% increase globally in the number of foods and beverages launched that was labeled as a “superfood,” “superfruit,” or “super grain,” with the United States leading those product launches.” 

As a consumer, we may feel marketing companies are duping us, but believe it or not, there are actually some benefits from this kind of marketing. We become aware of foods that are truly better for us. With constant superfood marketing, we actually remember those foods better. As much as we may not want to admit it, it does, in fact, make an impact on how we shop at the grocery store.

Below is a list of twelve most famous superfoods and the benefits they could have on our overall health.

  1. Dark leafy greens – These are packed with good minerals and are high in fiber. Associated with lowered blood pressure, reduced risk of heart disease, and mental health issues.
  2. Berries – contain antioxidants and phytoflavinoids. They lower the risk of heart disease and cancer.
  3. Eggs – include high-quality proteins and good fats. Associated with improved cholesterol and healthy weight loss.
  4. Nuts – Good sources of fat and fiber. Reduces the risk of heart disease and lowers cholesterol levels.
  5. Olive oil – It is a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid, making up 73% of the total oil content. Studies suggest that oleic acid reduces inflammation and may even have beneficial effects on genes linked to cancer.
  6. Ginger – Has anti-inflammatory properties. Associated with reducing nausea and muscle inflammation making it a great herbal remedy for arthritis pain.
  7. Turmeric – antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Believed to be a natural defense against cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
  8. Greek Yogurt – chock-full of protein and probiotics. It fills the belly, improves digestion, and bolsters the immune system.
  9. Quinoa – One of the only grains that provide all nine essential amino acids our bodies can’t produce themselves. And it’s filled with protein.
  10. Green Tea – This tea houses loads of antioxidants. These antioxidants have what is called Epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, a phytochemical that slows irregular cell growth, which could prevent the growth of some cancers.
  11. Broccoli – It contains exceptionally high levels of vitamin C and folate which may of heart disease, certain cancers, and stroke.
  12. Salmon – This heart-healthy fish is packed with protein and a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids, which could, in fact, help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
What are Superfoods?

So is there scientific research that proves these so-called superfoods are any more super than regular foods? No, scientific research only tells us that some of these foods contain higher levels of nutrients than others. But that doesn’t mean non-superfoods are any less nutritious. You should always opt for foods that have healthy fats and are packed with nutrients as many of the superfoods listed above have.

Remember that no single superfood can offer all the nutrition, health benefits, and energy we need in order to nourish ourselves. The 2015–2020 US Dietary Guidelines recommend healthy eating patterns which are “combining healthy choices from across all food groups — while paying attention to calorie limits.” Share this post with friends and family and get the conversation about healthy eating started.

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