Superfood or Superfooled? What You Need To Know About Superfood

When you see or hear the term “superfood”, your mind is immediately flooded with images of vegetable greens, exotic fruits and grains, and nutritional values that are claimed to be “x times more than…” in comparison to another poor fruit or vegetable. It turns out that superfoods aren’t really super.

The Origin of the Word

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, superfood was a term first used in the year 1915. There is not one credible source as to the origin of the term. Some claim that the term was used to promote a muffin that was being promoted in a Canadian newspaper in 1949. The term was used to summarize the supposed health benefits of a muffin.

During World War I, the term was also used to promote the massive imports of bananas by multinational company United Fruit Company, which is known today as Chiquita Brands International. It would be interesting to know more about how bananas got involved with a country’s political affairs but let’s look first at how the term came to be.

During UFC’s campaign on popularizing bananas to drive sales, doctors started publishing medical journals on how bananas helped cure a variety of diseases. The synergistic effect of bananas overtaking the economy and reputable claims by health professionals cemented the term superfood in people’s minds.

Are Superfoods really Super?

Recent studies have been made to make comparative analyses between the purported nutritional value of superfoods and common dietary food items. The first superfoods to be marketed under the term were chia seeds, wheat grass, mangosteen and acai berries weren’t backed by research.

The use of the term superfood was mostly an attempt to market exotic foods people had no idea of. Combining people’s unfamiliarity with the “impressive” nutritional values these foods have been known to possess boosted its placement on the market. In 2005, a company making fruit juice that included mangosteen as its ingredients boosted its sales from $40 million to $200 million in just three years.

Here’s a list of the top ten superfoods (based on popularity)

  • Berries
  • Avocados
  • Wheatgrass
  • Mangosteen
  • Fish
  • Liver
  • Greens
  • Nuts
  • Olive Oil
  • Yoghurt

Are Superfoods Better?

While there are some superfoods that are better because of the presence of healthy components not found in their counterparts, most of them are just regular food. A good example of a superfood is olive oil.

Olive oil and vegetable oil both have unsaturated fatty acids. Olive oil is slightly better than vegetable oil because of the higher amounts of monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fat simply means it’s liquid at room temperature and has benefits for the cardiovascular system.

Polyunsaturated fats found in vegetable oil, when put side-by-side with olive oil, is reported to be even better than monounsaturated fats. This is where the term superfood loses its super. Olive oil is supposed to be healthier but it turns out that each food is its own kind.

Speaking of fats, let’s check dark chocolate. This may not be on the list earlier but superfood advertisers list dark chocolate as a superfood. Dark chocolate has flavanols which help relax blood vessels and improve blood flow. 

No one will tell you about how dark chocolate also has a moderate amount of saturated fats, which can be bad in excessive quantities. Think carefully about how much dark chocolate you’re eating just because it was called a superfood.

Another example and one that was promoted by the government is blueberries. The reason why “antioxidants” and “blueberries” are terms almost always used side-by-side is because of the USDA. Scientists at the National Institute of Aging, together with USDA, made a rubric that assesses whether a food has antioxidants or not. 

Long story short, the USDA posted information on their website of foods that are high in antioxidants despite not knowing what antioxidants really do. Some time later, they had to pull out the information from the website. Berries are rich in antioxidants but the role of antioxidants in the body has not been studied thoroughly.  

Most nutritionists and food scientists disagree with the use of the superfood term. They say that superfoods do not have any nutritional value that is significantly better than regular food. Dietitians say that what’s more important is the right combination of foods.

Should I Stop Buying Superfoods?

The answer to this question is a matter of preference. Although, we would say that if you bought these superfoods, we’d like to remind you that this is a billion dollar industry. The prices for superfood are higher than they should be. But this doesn’t mean you should avoid them. For all intents and purposes, superfood are healthier options than most kinds of food.

So next time you go shopping at Walmart and decide to buy expensive superfood, you may want to have your eyes checked (and of course we recommend getting one every year). Superfoods are just regular food, but healthy still.

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