I am constantly seeing references to superfoods nowadays. What the heck is a superfood, and what makes it so super? I bet you can guess what’s about to happen here. I’ll give you a few seconds to ponder this while you look at this pretty graphic I found…
Yep you’re right, a little research!
Here are some definitions, explanations, and claims I found for superfoods:
1) “Superfoods are a special category of foods found in nature.” Nice, that means they are likely natural, real foods.
2) “Superfoods are calorie sparse and nutrient dense.” Great, so low-calorie and jam-packed with nutrients. Those can be good things.
3) “Superfoods are superior sources of antioxidants and essential nutrients that our bodies need, but can’t manufacture on their own.” Ok, they are a good source of things needed by our bodies, and yes they would be a natural source, which is better than taking supplements.
So far this is positive. Superfoods definitely have some selling points. Here is some additional information.
4) “The term superfood has no set scientific meaning, and any list of the top superfoods is purely subjective. Superfoods are healthful for the most part, aside from possible contamination, added sugars, or over-consumption of them.” Ah ha, so there is no scientific basis for calling something a superfood. And based on the processing of them, they just might not be so super.
5) “Many superfoods remain under scientific study and have not been proven to have the health benefits claimed.” Another rebuttal with a ‘lack of scientific evidence’ bend.
6) “Since the term superfood is not scientific, labeling something a superfood can falsely encourage folks to eat some foods instead of others.” And depending what those foods are, this may not be a good thing. Soy of course pops into my mind. More on that in a bit so stay tuned.
7) “Superfood is a marketing term used to describe foods with supposed health benefits. The term is not in common use by dietitians and nutrition scientists, many of whom dispute that particular foodstuffs have the health benefits often claimed by advocates of particular superfoods.” Ok, this so far is my favorite statement because it makes me realize I’m not the only one questioning the superfood hype. Whew, thought I might be alone in my skepticism.
As I read on, I also found that marketing foods as superfoods is prohibited in the European Union and has been since 2007, unless it’s accompanied by a specific medical claim supported by scientific evidence. In general, the possible health benefits and effects of so-called superfoods have been disputed or unsupported by scientific studies. The term superfood is misused frequently as well. There are drawbacks to many of these supposed superfoods. For example, some seaweeds have been marketed as superfoods, however they contain natural toxins which are thought to increase cancer and liver damage risks. Green tea has been studied for decades for its potential health benefits such as weight loss, but evidence to support this claim is limited.
Soy is by far my favorite superfood to pick on. Sorry soy, I can’t help it. Oh the benefits of soy are fantastic we’ve been told! Soy is SUPERDUPER SUPERFOOD! We now know more about soy. These points have been shown by independent research. NOT research conducted by companies that produce and/or manufacture soy (surprise surprise).
1) “Soy is higher in phytoestrogens than just about any other food source. These plant-based estrogens mimic estrogen in our bodies. Consuming phytoestrogens can be dangerous for the human body and has been shown to be a leading cause of breast cancer, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, infertility, and low libido is unopposed estrogen, or estrogen dominance.”
2) “Soy can destroy your thyroid because it’s very high in goitrogens which are thyroid suppressing. Goitrogens can prevent your thyroid from getting necessary amounts of iodine.”
3) “Soy contains phytates which are enzyme-inhibitors that block mineral absorption in the human digestive tract. They are naturally present in all grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes.”
4) “Soy contains trypsin inhibitors. Trypsin is a digestive enzyme needed to properly digest protein. Without enough trypsin, you might experience many digestive problems including stomach cramps, diarrhea, and bleeding. Pancreatic problems can result as well.”
Here are some other currently popular superfoods: blueberries, kiwifruit, beans, nuts and seeds, kale and other dark leafy greens, salmon, sardines and mackerel, chia seeds, and whatever the ‘fruit of the year’ is, for example dragon fruit, pomegranate and acai berry. While all of these foods for all intents and purposes are healthful (I don’t agree with beans since they are legumes and I’m paleo, but that’s a whole other topic), they aren’t necessarily more healthful than other fruits and vegetables, or other sources of omega 3s.
Superfoods may be superphony. While many of the foods labeled as superfoods are themselves healthful, the way they are processed may not be. Also, as we know, human nature and the marketing ‘geniuses’ behind the industrialized food industry have us believing that if something is healthy, we should eat a TON of it. And eating anything in excess can have detrimental health effects.
This topic reminds me of paleo inspired treats. Some people think because they are natural, they can create a lifestyle and diet around paleo treats. Sure they are natural, BUT they are treats. They should be viewed just as any other cookie, cake or indulgence. So with superfoods, some folks seem to think they can eat nothing but kale, berries, chia seeds and nuts. I dated someone for a short time that ate nothing but these things (I’m not exaggerating) because he thought this was healthy. These do not a well-balanced diet make. I tried to explain that to him, it didn’t work. Needless to say we dated for a VERY SHORT period of time. I’m not totally the food police. I’m just a little food police-y. But only when someone needs to be policed. Like this guy. And actually that’s not the reason I stopped dating him (even though it really bugged me and could have been reason enough). There were MANY other reasons (again, this is a whole other topic). Ok I’m really digressing here…
My rule of thumb is to be skeptical and question any claim or label. If there is a claim or label on a foodstuff, that is an immediate red flag to me that someone is trying to sell me something. And that means the end goal is for that someone to make money. It’s certainly not about improving my health and wellbeing. We can’t forget about the non-fat, low-fat, no/low cholesterol labeling days. Removing fat from foods and adding sugar in its place. My favorite was the no cholesterol labels on foods that were in no way animal products. Cholesterol only exists in animal products and animal byproducts. And how about no or low sugar labels? Instead of natural sugars, substituting artificial sweeteners in their place. We all know now how devastating the no and low-fat and sugar crazes have been from a health and public health perspective, and how lucrative they were for the industrialized food industry and marketing agencies.
I’m concluding that all REAL FOOD is SUPERFOOD. I don’t need a marketing company to tell me that blueberries are good for me. Of course they are, they are a natural and nutritious food. So is kale. So are foods rich in omega 3s such as fish like salmon. You know what else are superfoods? Eggs, beef, poultry, FAT! I haven’t seen these pop up on superfood lists… yet.
What should we be eating? That’s easy. Eat a VARIETY of real food, every day. That’s the best way to ensure your diet and lifestyle are SUPER! No labels or claims are needed to justify that!