Superfoods: Are They Really Super?
Acai berries, flax seeds, olive oil, pomegranates, etc.: All reported to be superfoods with the potential to prevent disease and maintain health. Sounds great! But are these foods really superfoods? Will they really enhance your health? The term superfoods was first used in the US around 1998 in reference to certain foods containing an above average level of nutrients. Here in the States, it's generally used as a marketing term to promote the consumption of certain foods to enhance health, decrease potential disease or in some other manner alter your current or future health status.
You may have heard snippets from reports about the latest and greatest superfood but might not actually know what a superfood is, how it affects your health and whether you should to commit to purchasing them. Well, as an "almost dietitian," I'm here to help. I want you to have the most accurate and up-to-date information on all the newest health and nutrition news and be able to make educated decisions regarding your health. So to start, I've complied a list of the 10 most commonly listed "superfoods" and their claimed health benefits. Then I'll give you my final judgement on whether or not these foods really are that super.
Image: Pomegranate via Shutterstock
- Pomegranates - rich in polyphenols (organic compound found in plants) called punicalagin and anthocyanins helping to prevent the hardening of arteries, asthma attacks, cancer, reverse anemia, anti-aging effects, immune boosting effects and more.
- Chia Seeds - a vital nourishment rich in omega-3's, "rare" antioxidants and fiber! Lowers your risk for heart disease, stroke and cancer. (Right off the GNC website)
- Acai Berries - a berry from the Amazon palm tree - high in antioxidants that improve digestion, cleanses and detoxes the body, boosts immunity, improves cardiovascular health, enhances vision and increases mental clarity. Got this right off the Acai Berry Diet site.
- Green Tea - high in antioxidants (Epigallocatechin gallate) and minerals that positively affect different systems in the body and prohibiting the progression of many diseases. It also acts as a metabolic stimulant aiding in weight loss, fights cancerous cells and aids in decreasing cholesterol.
- Bee Pollen - the food of a "young bee" and its composed of about 40% protein. A supposed complete nourishing food. Rich in protein, free amino acids, vitamin B complex, and folic acid bee pollen may help normalize cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood, increase red and white blood cell production, and stimulates ovarian production - to name a few things.
- Goji Berries - a complete protein and strength building food. Supports a healthy life by protecting the liver, aiding in eyesight, increases metabolic function, boosts immune function and circulation and promotes longevity.
- Cinnamon - helps prevent or manage diabetes, lowers cholesterol, decreases cancer cell division rate, has anti-fungal properties and relieves arthritis pain.
- Dark Chocolate (Cacao) - filled with antioxidants, cacao is almost a "natural multi-vitamin." Helps detoxify the body, enhance mood, increased blood circulation, and reduce cholesterol.
- Blueberries - this tiny little fruit is filled with antioxidants and vitamins that may help to reduce belly fat, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.
- Red Wine - high in a compound called reservatrol - found in the skins of grapes. This superfood isn't much different from the rest - may help prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease, increase longevity and brain health.
The list goes on to include foods such as salmon, walnuts, oats, cantaloupe, avocado, spinach, oranges, broccoli, etc. Don't get me wrong - all the above listed foods are great foods that are healthy and nutritious (though the bee pollen is a little funky). And you should eat them! But focusing on drinking green tea, pomegranate juice, or swallowing a cinnamon supplement everyday for the rest of your life really won't make that much of a difference in your overall health. Plus it's expensive and quality, scientific evidence supporting these health promoting effects of "superfoods" is generally lacking. Especially in the case of cinnamon.
Now take a moment and think about this...besides the obvious junk food, there aren't too many items that haven't made it onto someone's superfood list, right? And that makes a good and somewhat obvious point . Every fruit, vegetable, whole grain, natural low-fat dairy products, legumes, nuts and seeds are all great foods. And they have pretty stellar nutrition stats...making them all super foods!
Moral of the story? There are no special "superfoods." Yes that's right - there are none. Try consuming all types of foods and getting a variety of fruits, veggies and whole grains every day. That will most definitely have a positive effect on your health. And unlike these superfoods, studies have shown that an entire diet of plant-based foods and lean protein does have health promoting effects. This comes from the combination of multiple foods consumed on a regular basis. So go on and fill your plate with bright colors of all types of fruits and vegetables, high fiber whole grains, lean protein and some low-fat dairy. You'll have super foods on your plate every night!
Have more questions? A great resource I frequently use is the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (http://nccam.nih.gov). You can search for any herb, supplement, "superfood" or other alternative medicine and it will provide you with a full-page of in-depth information and any scientific evidence on that subject. Check it out!
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Maria E Tadic is the author of: Blog: http://beanafoodie.com