The popular media would have us believe that there is such a thing as superfoods: certain foods that possess some quality that outshines all other foods.
It’s an alluring idea that leads to contradictory messages in the media. One news item announces that coffee is good for cognitive function and dementia prevention, and then we’re told it’s bad for our heart. That square of chocolate contains antioxidants to protect our heart, and yet at the same time, the saturated fat clogs our arteries. It is confusing enough with everyday foods, without adding to the nutritional equation whether we should eat goji berries or not, take shots of wheatgrass, or switch rice with quinoa.
Simple answer: nutrition or, more specifically, providing your body with the nourishment it needs to function isn’t all that complicated. It doesn’t require overpriced superfoods or supplements to cure all that ails you.
The thing is, the term superfood has no legitimacy in science.
Superfoods: overpriced nutrients
Google it, and you’ll see superfoods defined as nutrient-rich foods considered to be especially beneficial for our health.
Undeniably nutrition-rich food is good for our health. However, once we’ve met our body’s requirements, upping our nutrient intake doesn’t help us much, and at worst, can be detrimental to our health. It is true you can have too much of a good thing!
| There is no need to go over the top in your nutrient consumption.
Just two potatoes provide most of your daily Vitamin C requirement. So, if you eat two potatoes and a piece of fruit, you’ve well and truly exceeded your daily Vitamin C intake. But no one is touting potatoes as a superfood. Mainly because it’s not exotic or expensive, and many popular diets have demonised the humble potato for its carbohydrate content (which is crucial for our brain and body’s function).
Superfoods: marketing, not nutrients
Superfoods is purely a marketing term, confirmed by trusty Wikipedia. There you have it; superfoods is a marketing gimmick, not a nutritional or scientific term.
| … superfoods is a marketing gimmick, not a nutritional or scientific term.
‘Super’ functional foods
In nutritional science, the closest we come to a superfood is functional foods, which are foods that have health benefits beyond the nutrient value of that food. So, that means foods that offer something other than our vitamin and mineral requirements.
Functional foods are not berries that contain off the chart Vitamin C content that your body will eliminate. No, functional foods are foods such as oats that contain LDL(bad cholesterol)-reducing β-Glucan, isoflavone hormone-balancing soybeans, gut health-promoting probiotics in yogurt, and resistant starches in green banana, cold rice and cold potato (see, potatoes are a ‘super’ food!).
Eating a ‘super’ diet
A health-promoting diet isn’t about one ‘super’ food. It is about our overall intake.
One individual food has a negligible bearing over otherwise healthy or unhealthy eating. Any superfood isn’t going to compensate for a diet that is deficient in essential vitamins and minerals. Nor is eating a junk food meal going to undo regular nutritious eating.
Quite simply, there is no quick fix or magic bullet that will undo our sinful eating or cure everything that ails us. Our health is dependent on our day-to-day lifestyle choices. It isn’t as alluring as a newly discovered miracle superfood touted by the media. But what is ‘super’ is that to eat a balanced health-promoting diet doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive.
Tansy Boggon is the author of the soon-to-be-released illustrated children’s book, The Superheroes on Your Plate. The book helps little ones learn that all wholefoods are ‘super’ foods. Tansy wrote the book to be a fun and entertaining story for kids and to remind parents that no food is better than another.
Want to read further on the topic of ‘superfoods’?
My former university lecturer, Tim Crowe, has debunked some foods that are considered superfoods in the article, Superfoods: more like a supermyth. He then lists some foods that should really be considered ‘super’ foods in the article, From superfoods to super diets – Top 10 foods for a healthy diet.