Superfoods: Hype or Health?
By Amanda Box, N.D.
The word “Superfood” is constantly popping up in the world of health and nutrition. Although the word itself implies health, many companies are using this good-for-you description to hype up their products and increase sales. The truth is not all superfoods are created equal.
It truly boils down to defining what a superfood really is and exposing the exaggerated claims.
Do superfoods exist? Absolutely.
However, my personal definition of superfood may differ from what many are claiming. These days there is such a vast amount of confusing, and at times conflicting, information on superfoods. There’s nothing wrong with many superfoods; what’s wrong is the claim of superpower status. While some superfoods do have some great health benefits, buyers beware – you also get what you pay for. That’s why it’s so important to arm yourself with the facts.
It is my hope that I can clearly communicate to you which superfoods boast an abundance of certain nutrients that are deemed healthy and are worth incorporating into your life and daily diet, and which foods deserve no special consideration which being overpriced or overrated.(2)
What is a Superfood?
There’s no official definition of what makes a superfood. My definition of a superfood is really quite simple.
It is a food in it’s natural state that is very nutritionally dense.
- It is also as free as possible from chemicals like pesticides and herbicides.
- They are typically high in one or more of the following:
- Amino acids
Basically, superfoods fill you up with most of the nutrients and minerals we are all missing from our average American diet, even those of us who are healthy. A superfood can do some wonderful things in the body that typical foods cannot. They may:
- Naturally boost energy
- Slow the aging process
- Strengthen the immune system
- Enhance mental clarity and focus
- Or balance hormones
These characteristics, in my opinion, are what makes a food super, making them an excellent choice for those wishing to pursue a healthier lifestyle. Remember, superfoods are pure, created by the force of nature, without any added enhancements or modifications.
- Manufacturers can make a sugar filled cereal look healthy by putting “Whole Grains” on the label.
- They enhance unhealthy beverages by adding vitamins and minerals to fool you into believing that they are now good for you.
If you aren’t trained to actually look at the ingredients and nutritional information, then it is easy to become prey to purchase junk foods disguised as health foods. Sugar, corn syrups, and other empty-calorie additions often top the ingredient list on candy, fruit snacks, or sugary drinks disguised as superfoods. That, in my view, is superlame.
Companies will put whatever they can on their product to hook you into a purchase. They’ll use colorful designs and pictures that are appealing to the eye to “label me delicious.” Companies have taken note of the new superfood craze and have made no hesitation in adding the word “superfood” to their labels, despite clinical evidence of nutritious content. Marketing products is a multi-billion dollar industry and they are excellent at what they do. Don’t buy into their schemes! After all, does a label make the product?
The first step in identifying whether a food is really healthy is reading the nutritional labels. There is definitely a learning curve to distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy foods. And there is even a greater curve in distinguishing between regular health foods and superfoods! However, with a bit of practice, it will become second nature for you.
Let me give you an idea of how to read between the lines when looking at the labels. Making sense of labels is a 3-step process:
1. Read the ingredients. Any product that has several ingredients followed by a list of vitamins is not a true superfood. Superfoods have naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. In fact, natural foods are unlikely to have any label, at all! Adding synthetic vitamins, which are not easily absorbed by the body, to these foods does not count as available nutrition.
2. Read the nutritional content. After you determine whether or not there are added vitamins or minerals, you need to evaluate the nutritional content per serving. Check for the levels of:
I find that the levels of fat and calories typically aren’t worrisome, as long as they come from pure and natural sources. Amino acids and antioxidants, often naturally high in superfoods, aren’t typically on the nutrition label unless the company felt compelled to put them there. This brings me to step 3.
3. Do your research. If you really want to know if a food is “super” or not, it may take some research on your part. Hop on the internet and begin your research for foods that have natural health-promoting properties such as reducing one’s risk of disease or improving any aspect of physical or emotional health. Stay clear of sites with dizzying array of information, claims and produced products to boost your chance of purchasing. Find as much objective research as possible. Look for what makes that particular food so special. Many times the claims don’t match up with what is really in the food itself. The term superfood is a loose label put on certain foods by all sorts of people.
For those of you with little time to do your own research, fear not! I’m going to expose some of the most popular “not so super” foods on the market that are touted as though they are super.