Updated: Mar 21, 2020
A few days ago, my supervisor asked me to write about superfoods and I felt a little stuck. It’s been a long time since I had an appointment with Dr. Google looking up nutrition trends. So yes, I sat down at my computer, pulled up google, and typed “superfood.” I have to say, what I did find was quite interesting….
Most of the articles were actually debunking the idea of superfoods! Seriously, I did not expect that. Most of the articles started by saying something such as…
Superfoods are foods that are nutritionally-dense and good for your health.
Nutritionally speaking, there is no such thing as a superfood.
No single food – not even a superfood –can offer all the health benefits we need.
Honestly, I thought the first article I clicked on was going to be promising me that these foods had superpower abilities like promoting weight loss or a life free of disease. Of course, if I kept looking, I sure I could have found something like that. But I was genuinely impressed.
For those of us looking to improve our health, the changing your diet, especially by just adding in few foods, probably sounds like the right thing to do. I used to think the same thing.
Superfoods can be defined as..
“a nutrient-rich food considered to be beneficial for health and well-being.” (1) “may have unusually high contents of antioxidants, vitamins, and other nutrients.” (2)
This is where I think it gets confusing to people. If I would have read that second definition anywhere else, I would have just thought it was talking about fruits and vegetables.
So, I looked up a list of superfoods and I found dark leafy greens, berries, sweet potatoes, beans, fish, nuts, olive oil, whole grains, yogurt, legumes, tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables. But then another list said fermented foods, avocados, seeds, ancient grains, acai, blueberries (specifically), beets, nuts, coconut. Another list had some similar but 5 different “superfoods. Every single list I found didn’t seem to agree.
Why? Because the term “superfoods” isn’t a regulated term. Also, if you look at this list, I feel like it could be quite confusing.
People may ask:
“Do we only eat these foods and exclude all others?” “What happens if I don’t eat these foods?”
Superfoods are marketed as miracle foods that can apparently make you live longer, and cure and prevent all kinds of diseases. But the science doesn't really support the hype. I'm not saying that there's no scientific research into the foods claimed as superfoods, but we definitely don't need to call them super.
No single food, not even so called “superfood” can offer all the nutrition and health benefits we need.
Let’s use Kale as an example. We know that fruits and vegetables have concentrated amounts of vitamins and minerals. But is kale significantly better than the rest of them? No, it isn’t. Somebody might point about that kale has high amount of iron, vitamins, fiber... but that doesn’t mean you get superpowers if you eat more than you need, especially if you’re already getting enough from other sources.
Also, if you ate strictly from this list you’d be missing out on protein, dairy, and starches. Which have benefits for the body too.
Also, this list often further adds to the “good” vs “bad” food mindset, which has many people thinking that you can only eat “good” foods for good health and if you eat “bad” foods, it will lead to bad health, which is not true.
A healthy diet is one that is balanced and incorporates a wide variety of food from all food groups.
Yes, some foods have more vitamins and minerals than others (fruits and vegetables). I’m not disagreeing with that. But just because a food does not have as much, or any, vitamins and minerals does that make it bad?
No. Why not?
I want to quote my favorite book to answer this question (3)
“An important nutrition principle is that an adequate diet can be achieved through an extremely varied array of foods.
As long as, on average, a diet meets nutritional requirements, it does not need to exclude all but “healthy” foods to be health- promoting.
This can be explained thusly,
“To be perfectly healthy, you do not have to eat perfectly.”
Since people have energy needs that are beyond the calories needed to meet nutrient needs, each person has the option of providing for his or her caloric needs through consumption of only the very healthiest foods or, after satisfying nutrient needs, one may fulfill additional caloric requirements through foods chosen on the basis of taste alone. These additional caloric needs can be met through choosing additional nutrient-rich foods or by adding fun foods.
For instance, after eating a well-chosen meal that takes care of nutrient needs, one could choose to eat more dinner, three apples, or a bowl of ice cream to meet caloric needs. You have carbohydrates, fat, and energy needs (calories), beyond vitamin and mineral needs. So, eat the ice cream!
Also, why does exercise and nutrition always need to be the only two things people think they need to change to be healthy?
Health is so much more than what you eat or what you drink or how much you exercise.
3. Nutrition Counseling in the Treatment of ED