Turn Setbacks into Setups
Super Foods: There’s Nothing Special
May 17, 2019
Nutrition’s Fads in the Nutrition Data
It seems almost every month bloggers, magazines, and media publications will introduce or showcase a new superfood. Think back to all the new “it” foods…some of which you may have tried. Flax seeds, green tea, bone broth, açaí berries, hey at one point even cocoa was the hot new miracle food. And seemingly every year there’s a new buzzword in the nutrition industry…antioxidants one year, polyphenols another, and so on. Nearly all of these products have been around forever–I mean, nobody invented chia seeds–but only now are they in the limelight. Are they really that great, or is this just media hype?
The business side of things
These magic foods target two main groups: the health-conscious, and those who are looking to lose weight. There’s always been a big market for these two consumer groups, so it’s no surprise companies look to cash in. Companies will often put these superfoods into super-concentrated pill or capsule form and market them as miracle weight loss supplements. In fact, the term “superfood” itself is actually a marketing term. You won’t find it in a scientific publication or coming out of the mouth of a nutritionist, for example. So that brings us to our next question.
What is a superfood?
A quick google search for “superfoods” turns up results like “Best superfoods of 2019” and “10 superfoods you need in your kitchen now”. These click-bait titles draw the health- and weight-conscious in, promising quick miracles. But these foods have often been around for millennia. We’re just now “discovering” them thanks in part to a more global society (so an ancient grain grown in, say, Central America can now be eaten by those in the U.S.) and thanks to social media and popular media, which allow something as simple as a particular type of food to explode in popularity due to hype.
There’s Nothing SpecialWhen you look at the vast majority of “superfoods” and vitamin supplements, you’ll see one trend: they are not processed or junk food, they’re natural, single-ingredient foods, in their basic form. Trust us, no one’s declaring pizza the next weight loss miracle supplement anytime soon.
Do they really work?
We can’t make a blanket statement on all superfoods being good or bad, but the truth is, when you look at the nutrition data, the vast majority of foods declared superfoods have true benefits. Chia seeds, for example, are an excellent source of vitamins such as magnesium, iron, and calcium. Quinoa is a complete protein source, something usually only found in meat (making it ideal for vegetarians and vegans). But so do carrots have a wealth of vitamins and minerals and fiber and other health benefits. And oatmeal. And bananas, salmon, almonds, cauliflower, etc.
And where it can become problematic is when people assume that they can eat the standard American diet and then throw in a glass of kefir or a maca powder supplement and they’ll be fit in no time. These foods have been so overhyped to the point where sometimes their health benefits are exaggerated. And no one food is going to make you lose weight or become measurably healthier by itself.
The point is, if you’re looking to lose weight or become healthier, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and other whole foods . Follow the basics: eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Eat balanced meals with lean protein. Be sure to get some fiber. And so on. Knowing what nutrients are in a food (you can find nutrition data calculators easily online) is also important to ensure you get a good mix in.
Is the superfood trend pointless? No. It helps bring truly healthy foods into the public consciousness. If it inspires a few people to eat better, we think that can only be a positive thing. But articles, blogs, TV shows, and the like have to be more clear that these are not cure-alls and are not substitutes for a healthy life, just additions to one.
Check out our health assessment tool to see where you stand.