Sorry, But Eating A Few Superfoods Won't Fix An Otherwise Unhealthy Diet
Foods with super powers — sounds intriguing, right?
This is essentially what the term “superfood” implies. We know that some foods are healthy, and others less healthy, but superfoods suggest that there are foods that are extra healthy.
But does this idea have any truth to it or is it just another nutrition trend?
Superfoods are praised for their health-promoting benefits, but there is no accepted medical or nutritional definition for them.
A superfood is loosely defined as “a food that is rich in compounds considered beneficial to a person's health.” Superfoods are revered for their health-promoting properties, such as reducing one’s risk of diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
Superfoods generally have an exceptionally high content of antioxidants, vitamins, phytonutrients, and other nutrients. They contain hard-to-pronounce nutrients like anthocyanins, quercetin, and lycopene, all of which research has proven to have amazing benefits. The thing is, there is no accepted medical, or even nutritional, definition of a superfood, nor any real criteria to meet to be classified as one.
Eating the occasional superfood won’t fix an otherwise unhealthy diet.
Common superfoods we hear about include goji berries, kale, chia seeds, seaweed, acai, and green tea. Superfood powders are also popular. Many companies have taken advantage of this trend, offering microgreens and berry powders to boost your smoothies and shakes.
The biggest potential problem with the idea of superfoods is the “magic pill” concept — a suggestion that it doesn’t matter what else you eat, or the lifestyle choices you make, as long as you eat enough superfoods. Why change your habits if you can just add some chia seeds to your breakfast or down some microgreens powder with your cheeseburger and fries?
Meals that contain superfoods can also contain other not-so-healthy ingredients.
Superfoods are also making their way into less-than-healthy foods. Take acai bowls for example. There are few ingredients in an acai bowl that would be classified as “unhealthy.” But it’s also important to know that the presence of nutrient-rich acai doesn’t make a bowl of pureed, frozen fruits topped with more fruit and some coconut butter and nut butter a balanced meal. Depending on size and variation, acai bowls can have more sugar than a bowl of ice cream — upwards of 50g in most, but some can actually have close to 70g or more.
Whole, nutrient-dense foods that have been in our diets for thousands of years are ideal superfoods.
In my opinion, the truest superfoods are specific groups of whole foods that provide plenty of nutrients and boast other health-promoting properties. Most of these are traditional foods that have been included in our diets for hundreds of years.
Bone broth: Make this on your own with high quality marrow-rich and/or joint-rich bones, or purchase from a reputable source
Sea vegetables (kombu, wakame, and kelp): Use in your cooking, or try a seasoning blend
Organ meats (liver, kidney, and heart): Prioritize high-quality, grass-fed, and wild animals. You can also take these via supplement form to reap the benefits
Deeply colored berries (blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, acai — preferably not in the form of fruit smoothie bowls): Prioritize organic
Dark leafy greens (kale, collard greens, spinach, broccoli rabe): Prioritize organic
Mushrooms (especially shiitake and maitake)
Grass-fed ghee (clarified butter)
Dark chocolate (especially raw cacao): Prioritize 80% or above with quality ingredients
Foods that include soy, whole grains, and beans aren’t nutrient-dense and therefore shouldn’t be considered superfoods.
Some superfoods that may not be so super include soy, whole grains, and beans. Soy is the most genetically modified crop in the world, and it can impact our hormones negatively. Many people have a tough time digesting whole grains, especially those that contain gluten (wheat, barley, and rye). The same goes for beans — they tend to stress our guts.
Of course, experiment and find what works for you, but when compared to other foods, these simply don’t stack up when it comes to nutrient density.
As with many other nutrition claims, think twice the next time you see a food labeled as a superfood. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking that eating one superfood is going to keep you healthy and ward off disease or other nutrition woes.