Superfoods have been a bit of a hot topic in the world of healthy eating for the last half decade or so. The phrase sprung into the mainstream media following the rise of the Açaí bowl on Instagram, which is a very thick, smoothie like dessert made from the Açaí berry and typically topped with an array of fruits, nuts and granolas, as well as other so called superfoods, which was famed for its aesthetically pleasing quality on the Instagram grid.
But what actually is a superfood other than something that can look super pretty on Instagram?
What is a Superfood?
A superfood is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a food that is rich in compounds (such as antioxidants, fibre or fatty acids) considered beneficial to a person’s health”.
However, Dr Mike Roussel, co-founder of Neuro Coffee, says a typical superfoods main claim to fame is its incredible concentration of antioxidants. This is the case for the aforementioned Açaí berry, which is part of the blueberry family and naturally much higher than the humble blueberry in antioxidants.
Antioxidants are natural molecules that occur in certain foods, they have been linked to aiding with the following health problems: heart disease, cancer, arthritis, stroke, respiratory diseases, and immune deficiency.
However, despite the claims and research into superfoods, there is no scientific definition of a superfood, other than to say it is a food that offers high level of desirable nutrients.
But if there’s no actual scientific definition how did the term come around?
One word: marketing.
A marketing ploy?
The term ‘superfood’ first appeared in the early twentieth century as a strategy to market bananas. Yes bananas, bet you weren’t expecting to see bananas in an article about superfoods, they’re hardly the first fruit that comes to mind when someone asks you to list superfoods.
But The United Fruit Company used the term to promote the practicality of bananas as a daily source of cheap, easily digestible nutrition. This was largely due to the banana skin being a natural protector “against bacteria, mould and other agencies of decomposition” according to Samuel C Prescott’s article in the 1918 volume of The Scientific Monthly.
So for over one hundred years the term ‘superfood’ has become synonymous with health benefits, and the world of social media has only fed into this in recent years.
What has social media got to do with this?
Thanks to the rise of the health-conscious Instagram influencer new ‘superfoods’ are being shoved down the publics throats every day. From someone sharing a picture of their açaí bowl, to someone else recommending chia seeds as a smoothie topping or their new favourite Maca powder, we can now see superfoods everywhere, making them more accessible than ever before. And like any product, if you see someone you aspire to with something, you’re going to want it.
Furthermore, as the line between real and fake news becomes blurred, it has become easier for less scientific nutritional information to be spread on social media. If there’s no major media outlets covering something whats to say if its real or fake?
Does that mean everything about superfoods is fake?
In short, no.
There is plenty of evidence now that actually supports the positive impact that certain superfoods are claimed to have.
For example, Wolfe’s 2015 research suggests that “Goji berries are a source of complete protein, they contain polysaccharides which stimulate the immunological system, betaine which cleanses the liver, sesquiterpenes which counter the ageing process, antioxidants, other twenty trace minerals and many others”.
While these benefits are undeniably incredible, you are also able to make these up through food variety in your diet. For example, tofu can also be used as a complete source of plant protein and is also much higher in protein. And much more affordable. One hundred grams of Goji berries can set you back as much as £5.89, whereas 225 grams of tofu is only £2.50, depending on the brand.
But why are superfoods so expensive?
According to Lyuda Bouzinova, co-founder of Mission Lean, ACE-certified personal trainer, and fitness nutrition specialist, who spoke to Elite Daily, it’s all about where the foods are coming from. “Superfoods may seem more exotic, come from faraway places, and have ancient histories”.
Basically, because these foods are grown all around the world, and they are popular in places they aren’t grown it makes them exponentially more expensive for the locals who grow them, thus making them pricier to buy in their non-native countries.
So if they aren’t expensive because of their health benefits should I just get the cheaper, powdered versions?
While the powdered versions of superfoods do have benefits, particularly spirulina and maca, as they don’t typically come as solids, other superfood powders, such as blueberry or açaí do not carry the same health benefits as eating the actual produce. This is typically due to the process in which the powders are made. If you’re considering getting a superfood powder, it may be better to skip it completely.
Should I be including Superfoods in my diet?
In short, yes.
Superfoods do have nutritional benefits, and if they are something that is accessible to you, why not? They can be a really good way to make sure you are including essential vitamins and nutrients into your diet, particularly if you follow a plant-based diet as many superfoods are plant-based and carry the same nutrients and vitamins as animal products.
However, if they aren’t something that is accessible to you, don’t stress it. Have your blueberries instead of açaí, swap those goji berries to tofu and ensure you eat a healthy and balanced diet and you will be perfectly fine and healthy.
So, are superfoods really that super?
Yes some of them have amazing qualities, but really they aren’t super enough to beat a healthy balanced diet.
If you eat your fruits and veggies you certainly do not need to be paying an excessive amount of money for superfoods, no matter what health conscious Instagram influencers will tell you.