Back in the old days, we would group our grocery list items as healthy or unhealthy. Today we have something people like to call super healthy. The very adjective suggests that a single vegetable is capable of healing everything and making you feel as if you are Clark Kent, just leaving the phone booth in a cape to save the world. But how super are superfoods exactly?
They are surrounded by a bunch of myths, but surely there is some truth to them. In this article, we’ll try to discover what are the great things about superfoods and what are the ones exaggerated by the media, celebrities, nutritionists, and even whole industries racing their way to find the next big thing to include in their products.
The problem with grouping the foods
It seems like every time you google “superfoods” you get a different result. The problem is that there is no single universally applied definition of superfoods, so we’re not exactly sure what the criteria are. This makes the very term misused to the point where even some unhealthy foods filled with sugar are marked as superfoods just because they contain some of the useful nutrients.
Should you focus on specific food groups?
One of the main problems with people getting all hyped up about superfoods is that they decide to focus on a few specific foods, thus ignoring other foods that could be equally nutritious. Variety in the diet is essential for maintaining your weight and optimal health.
Besides, eating too much or too little of one nutrient can never be good for you, even when that nutrient is considered to be healthy. That’s pretty much why fad elimination diets, like the “cabbage soup diet,” completely miss the mark. On the other hand, you have another type of diet, like Paleo, which eliminates only specific ingredients that can be harmful to your health and including various superfoods like coconut oil and salmon. A basic meal plan for eating Paleo will give you some hints if you don’t want to do further research.
Catchy headlines and super sales
Let’s face it: this is a billion-dollar industry we’re talking about. And consumers are willing to pay more when they hear about a new magical food packed with nutrients that can make their life better.
Take chia seeds, for example. Their estimated value was $66.5 million in 2018, and it is expected to grow steadily to $88.1 million by 2024. It’s not that this super ingredient doesn’t have the nutritional value to back up its popularity, but it’s clear that being lauded as a “miracle food” titles by the media definitely helped the growth.
What does the science say?
Not everything about superfoods is a scam. In fact, much of it is true, and there are many claims backed by science. All the attempts to define superfoods come down to one characteristic, and that is them being “nutrient-dense”. Here are some nutrients often found in superfoods, along with their superpowers:
- Antioxidants: These molecules protect the cells from destructive free radicals, which come from sources such as alcohol and cigarette smoke. Too many of the free radicals may result in oxidative stress and cell damage, which can cause diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
- Nitrate: This super ingredient is found in abundance in beetroot. The body converts it into nitric oxide, which further helps lower the blood pressure and minimize the risk of blood clotting.
- Dietary fiber: Many of the superfoods contain high amounts of dietary fiber, which provides several benefits such as lowered cholesterol levels and appetite control.
- Vitamins: Higher levels of vitamins in superfoods can boost cellular function and improve various health aspects, depending on which vitamin we’re talking about.
- Minerals: Enhanced levels of minerals promote heart function, nervous system health, and muscle contraction.
A list of superfoods worth the hype
Now that we’ve got that clear, let’s go over a few foods labeled “super” that should definitely find a place on your plate.
- Avocado: The millennials’ favorite is inevitable when it comes to superfoods. Avocado is packed with healthy monounsaturated fats, which are essential for absorbing vitamins A, D, E, and K.
- Kale: The fiber-rich vegetable is also full of vitamins A and C. These nutrients can do wonders for your skin and slow down aging.
- Blueberries: One of the first fruits crowned with the superfood title, blueberries are jam-packed with antioxidants and rich with fiber and vitamin C.
- Turmeric: The “superspice” contains curcumin, a compound linked with many health benefits, including osteoarthritis, heart disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s.
- Chia seeds: Did you know that chia seeds are richer in Omega-3 fatty acids than salmon? They’re also an excellent source of protein and fiber.
The buzz around superfoods is here to stay. You can either join the party or watch from a distance. Either way, don’t allow yourself to be fooled by flashy news headlines and sales pitches. Instead, do your research and don’t be too exclusive in your diet.