Blueberries. Kale. Chia. Quinoa. Salmon. Almonds. These foods have all increased in popularity within the past few years because they’ve been dubbed “superfoods” by some doctor or Instagram fitness model or nutritionist to the stars. But are superfoods really that super?
The definition of a superfood is:
A food that is nutritionally dense, and therefore, good for one’s health.
This definition is really vague. Doctors, as well as the American Hearth Association, say that there isn’t any set criteria for deciding what counts as a superfood and what doesn’t, but most of the time, the superfood will have desirable nutrients, prevent disease, or offer other health benefits. Most proclaimed superfoods offer large amounts of vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, and healthy fats.
According to this Harvard article, the word “superfood” originated from a marketing campaign for bananas during World War I. The United Fruit Company wanted to promote how cheap, easy, nutritious, and versatile bananas were, so they published pamphlets called Points About Bananas and Food Value of Banana. But it was after medical journals began using the term superfood to describe the banana’s healing qualities that the popularity of the word took off.
We’ve come a long way since bananas. There are new superfoods emerging every month or so thanks to the speed of the internet. Mostly plant based superfoods (blueberries, whole grains, squash, nuts, pomegranate) have taken over, but there are some fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel) and dairy based (Greek yogurt) ones as well.
It’s no surprise that superfoods drive huge amounts of revenue. In the above Harvard article, it also said that according to a Nielson survey, consumers are willing to pay more for foods perceived as healthy, and health claims on labels seem to help. Consumers also see healthy foods as medicine, decreasing the likelihood of diabetes, obesity, and other diseases. “Superfood” is not a word used by scientists, just marketing gurus, which is why sales skyrocket for a newly proclaimed superfood.
Labeling a food as a superfood creates the idea that they can be eaten in unlimited quantities. But instead of eating just superfoods, consumers have to focus on creating a well rounded diet by eating a variety of grains, fruits, veggies, and proteins. If you only eat superfoods, your diet is going to get really boring really quickly, not to mention that you might actually consume too much or too little of a certain nutrient.
The word itself, superfood, is appealing. It gets people excited to eat a nutritious food that promotes weight loss or inhibits disease. But really, superfoods are just a marketing tactic, and you shouldn’t fall for it. The ideal diet is largely plant based and includes a wide variety of foods. Just because it isn’t labeled “super” doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good for you food! Brussels sprouts and chicken can be just as nutritious and healthy as kale and salmon.
Also published on Medium.