Welcome to the brave new world where even foods have their own version of the Marvel universe. Yes, you read that correctly: Foods can be super, too. Well… sort of, but we’ll get to that later.
Superfoods — the aptly named category of foods that’s supposed to do the body all sorts of good — has for the past several years convinced yoga instructors, athletes and anyone else who treats their body like a temple that, if you want to shit right and wipe clean, you can’t eat that normie food. Instead, you’ve gotta get yourself the superfood.
Yes, the name is silly, but then so is putting butter in your coffee, and people with extra time, money and a tendency to get excited by Instagram trends can’t help but to give it the old college try.
Dude, I get it. They’re super. But, like, why?
According to Live Science, superfoods are mostly plant-based, but also include some fish and dairy that are thought to be nutritionally dense. In other words, what ties these foods together is that they pack a nutritional punch. “Superfoods do more than just help you meet your vitamin and mineral needs or aid in shedding a few extra pounds when it comes time for swimsuit season,” reports Dr. Axe, a certified doctor of natural medicine and clinical nutritionist. “In fact, these foods can help you achieve better health, prevent chronic disease, and improve the way you feel day in and day out — and they’re some of the top anti-aging foods around.”
I still don’t get what the difference is between superfoods and, y’know, healthy stuff like fruits and veggies?
Well, that’s because no one really has any set criteria for what makes a food “super.” In fact, even the American Heart Association admits that so-called “superfoods” alone won’t make you healthier — it’s adding them to a balanced diet that can bring health benefits.
To that end, Despina Hyde, a registered dietician with the weight-management program at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, told Live Science that superfoods don’t have their own food group. “As a dietician, I think ‘superfood’ is more of a marketing term for foods that have health benefits,” she said. Still, she admits that they do in fact have a lot of vitamins and minerals. “Superfoods have extra-large doses of vitamins and minerals that can help us ward off diseases and live a longer, healthier life,” Hyde told Live Science.
So we’re basically just talking about healthy foods with an even healthier marketing push. Where did this dubious term come from?
Great question! According to Dr. Marion Nestle’s book Unsavory Truth, it was a marketing concept that was developed by — surprise! — the food industry. As per Insider, “‘One of the things I noticed was that there were [studies on] all these foods that are demonstrably healthy. Why would you need to do research to prove that blueberries or raspberries or pomegranates or grapes are healthy?’ Nestle said. ‘Of course they’re healthy. So they only reason they were doing it is because they’re trying to increase market share.’”
Nestle takes it one step further, noting that some industry-funded nutrition studies are designed to make foods look beneficial. “For instance, a study might examine one food’s effects but neglect to compare it to a placebo, a different food or nothing at all,” reports Insider. “If that food isn’t tested against something, it’s impossible to put any uncovered ‘benefits’ in a larger context.”
What are some examples of these super-only-in-name foods?
Harvard Health reports that the “superfoods” that offer some very important nutrients include: Berries, which are high in fiber; fish, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids (which helps prevent heart disease); leafy greens, which offer phytochemicals and fiber; nuts; yogurt; and cruciferous vegetables, which may help against some types of cancer.
According to Live Science, Kiwifruit is also considered a superfood. “A very small study published in 2011 in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested that consumption of kiwifruit (which also contains serotonin, a hormone that helps induce and maintain sleep) might promote a better night’s rest in people with sleep disorders,” they report.
In other words, superfoods may even help you get some super-sleep! Probably super-not, though.