Superfoods: Fab or Fad?
With so many fad diets, food allergies and gut health issues plaguing our bodies and affecting our well being, it’s no wonder health has become a hot topic. It seems like every week there’s a new diet that will help me lose weight, make me more beautiful, or reduce my stress. In the last several years of nutritional health tips, superfoods have run rampant! But what exactly are superfoods and what makes a superfood so 'super'?
According to the European Food Information Council, “superfoods refer to foods — especially fruits and vegetables — whose nutrient content confers a health benefit above that of other foods.” With a definition so vague, it seems any food with promising nutritional health benefits could boast the coveted superfood label. Are superfoods just another marketing scam or fad diet? I was eager to find out.
The superfood movement
A quick ‘superfoods diet’ google search yields over 157 million results touting meal plans for weight loss, top ten superfood lists, new superfoods and other articles from national media stations to food bloggers. Superfoods may have been outlawed in Europe, but they’re a booming market in the US.
Just seeing the word “superfood” on a grocery store shelf is like pressing the easy button for healthy eating. Superfoods have become a simple way for shoppers to identify nutritional food options in a sea of processed, manufactured and genetically modified ingredients, which is a good thing to consider when the world’s population is suffering from countless health problems.
Superfoods include healthy fats, antioxidants, fiber and minerals that support healthy digestion and help fight off heart disease, cancer and other health risks. Paired with other whole foods, superfoods can help people live longer, healthier lives. (So, no, acai cocktails don’t count!)
The rise of superfoods
Many foods such as broccoli, almonds, blueberries, and quinoa have been around for tens of thousands of years feeding cultures across the globe, but in 2004, marketers decided these nutritious foods, many of them fruit, needed a makeover to increase consumer demand and–voila!– ‘superfoods’ were born.
The first superfoods introduced to the market were relatively rare and obscure fruits packed with antioxidants hailing from China (gogi, seabuckthorn), Africa (baobab), Southeast Asia (mangosteen), South America (açaí), and northern Europe (forest berries) and were sold mostly as juices. The small, exclusive list of exotic fruits and vegetables boasting significant health benefits would be short-lived, however.
Between 2007 and 2008, over 10,000 new superfood products were introduced to the market, catching the attention of the European Union who, in 2007, prohibited the marketing of ‘superfoods’ unless accompanied by a specific authorized health claim supported by credible scientific research. The US market, on the other hand, was only getting started.
To superfood or not to superfood
Superfoods is a marketing term that has led many people to be more conscious about their health, which is great if the term helps just one person choose a quart of blueberries over food designed in a factory. Perhaps after decades of not thinking twice about our processed, manufactured, and genetically-modified food, we needed a way to reinvigorate the fruits and vegetable market. Which is a really good thing.
Some of the most popular superfoods include (but are not limited to):
They are incredibly powerful for the human body because they’re whole, natural and rarely consist of dairy, meat or processed ingredients. As scientists and medical professionals begin to understand how the human body, disease prevention and nutrition intermingle, society is beginning to recognize the importance of eating real food as opposed to synthesized, processed and modified consumables. On the other hand, like any other healthy food lifestyle, you can't just eat one superfood one time and suddenly become as healthy as an ox! In order for superfoods to reach their full potential, one must eat superfoods on a regular basis and mingle them together.