Are “Superfoods” Really Super?

If you want to get your daily does of unscientific diversity of opinion (and who doesn’t crave that on a regular basis?), type into a search engine the phrase “top ten superfoods.” And for real kicks, do the search in the engine’s images side of things. You will quickly get a visual of the ever-expanding list of foods that are supposed to provide exceptional nutritional value or magically cure some ailment. And you will also quickly see that no two lists are the same. So what about these claims? Are they scientific or just hype from marketing pros?

Several authoritative organizations have weighed in on this question. The American Heart Association gives a thumbs up to certain foods that have been making a lot of the “Top Ten Superfoods” lists. But they are quick to point out that none of these foods by themselves are panaceas nor are they sufficient on their own to provide all the nutrients, dietary needs or prevention that a well-balanced and diverse diet does. In an article on the AMA site titled, “What’s So Super About Superfoods,” they spoke to Dr. Penny Kris-Etherton, a registered dietitian and professor at Penn State University who says that” most myths about super foods are perpetuated by marketing efforts…which is why most nutrition experts prefer not to use the term.”

Kris-Etherton went on to tell the AMA that, “A lot of people have unrealistic expectations about these foods, thinking they’ll be protected from chronic diseases and health problems. They may eat one or two of these nutrient-dense foods on top of a poor diet. Eating too much of one type of food may prevent you from getting the nutrients you need.”

The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) cautions on their Website that, “The term ‘superfood’ has become a popular buzzword in the language of food and health. However, there is no technical definition of the word and the scientific evidence for the health effects of these foods — while often positive — does not necessarily apply to real diets.” The article concludes that a diet based on a variety of nutritious foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, remains the best way to ensure a balanced nutrient intake for optimal health.

The EUFIC seems to have found the original use of the word “superfood” in a Jamaican publication from 1915. But an article on credits the author of an early 1990’s cookbook as the first to popularize the term. They point out that this author Michael Van Straten is now dismayed at how the term has been over applied in our current day. Van Straten advocated in very general terms that a diet rich in ruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts “supply the vital bricks that build your body’s resistance to stress, disease, and infection.” also notes that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has of yet, not attempted to regulate the term superfood.

Many other reasonable voices in the media, nutritional and health sciences have spoken out cautioning against identifying certain foods as superfoods. In most every instance they advise a wide range of fruits and vegetables, nuts and whole grains along with healthy proteins as the best way to ensure your diet is “super.”




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