We all know the importance of healthy eating, and we all know the dangers that come with a bad diet and an unhealthy lifestyle, but it can certainly get confusing with all that conflicting information out there. The concept of ‘superfoods’ is no different. The term has been subject to both praise and condemnation since it became popularized in the 1990 book Superfood by Michael Van Straten and Barbara Griggs, although it still remains quite firmly in the lexicon of many health-food advocates. In fact, between 2011 and 2015, the number of food or drink products containing the word ‘superfood’, ‘superfruit’, or ‘supergrain’ has doubled, and they claim to be stuffed full of nutrients and antioxidants that will not only make you look and feel better, but will ultimately help you to live longer. That’s quite an appealing consequence, but are superfoods really as super as they claim to be?
Alison Rumsey at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in New York City explains that superfoods are those foods which have a high content of vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants, and they are important, she claims, because “a lot of things can cause inflammation in our bodies, and cells get oxidized, which can cause many different disease states. Antioxidants help to get rid of these free radicals that happen when you have oxidation”. Superfoods can lower your risk of chronic disease, improve the ageing process, improve depression, increase intelligence, and improve physical ability, according to advocates.
Although, as the American Heart Association point out, there is no set criteria for determining what exactly is and is not a superfood, there are certainly some foods that fit the description of being especially nutritious and as a result, seem to uphold the idea that superfood advocates seek to promote. Take almonds as an example. There is solid, scientific evidence to show that almonds are one of the richest sources of vitamin E, and research demonstrates that they can help control cholesterol and blood sugar whilst reducing inflammation. Avocados, similarly, are fantastically rich in nutrients, providing around 40% daily recommended intake of fiber for a woman, 25% vitamin C, 16% vitamin E, 39% vitamin K, and 30% folic acid – all of which makes avocados great for cholesterol control, for diabetes, and even to act as a natural sunscreen. Kale is another oft-stated superfood that has the research to back it up. At only 33 calories for 100g, kale has 200% of your daily vitamin A intake, 134% vitamin C, and a massive 700% vitamin K, making it great for bone health and to help prevent blood clotting. With evidence like that, it’s hard not to take superfood claims at face value.