In a world where dietary trends come and go, one term has remained a constant buzzword in the realm of nutrition – superfoods. These foods have been claimed for their reputation of extraordinary nutritional profiles, packed with essential nutrients that offer a wealth of health benefits when integrated into our daily diets. But what really are superfoods? Are they just the buzzword that gets thrown around the marketing sphere to grab media attention? Or there is a magic bullet for healthy nutrition.
Superfood or Supersales?
You know what I am talking about, from Quinoa to Acai berries, social media trends fueled by big corporations have been responsible for the fad. But what is reality? Did you know that the first use of the term dates to around First World War times when Bananas were called as superfood? The American Medical Association even announced that bananas in a child’s diet would provide relief for celiac disease or cure it (gluten had not yet been discovered as the true culprit). To me, if it’s heavily promoted, it’s a clear sign that the claims presented are inflated.
Well, I looked into some of these “super” foods and explored benefits vs claims.
First and foremost, it’s essential to clarify that superfoods might be just a term for a selection of foods known for their exceptional nutritional content. But the true magic of superfoods should lie in their ability to improve health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases by making some of nature’s “medicinal” properties bio-available. For example, how do these rank up?
- Turmeric – The active compound, curcumin, is known in Ayurveda to have anti-inflammatory properties. It was used as an antiseptic preparation for wounds and scars. A number of research studies have proven this age-old knowledge is true. So, the golden latte at Starbucks is not just a fad.
- Spinach and Kale: Nutrition superstar. Both leafy greens are packed with vitamins A, C, and K, along with calcium, potassium, and various antioxidants. A series of research on these greens has established and re-established the claims.
- Blueberries – Blueberries carry antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins, which may help protect your cells from oxidative damage. They are also known for their potential to improve cognitive function and support heart health. USDA once heavily promoted the berry as a disease fighter even if the science was weak, from cancer to brain health to heart disease. 20 years later they retracted the information but those two decades were enough to exponentially grow blueberry production. Now we know that there are so many other fruits that have similar properties
- Quinoa – Technically a seed, native to the Andean region, this grain replacement came into fashion a few years ago. Obviously, if you are replacing wheat or rice with this grain, there are a lot of benefits including all nine essential amino acids. But, to count this as a superfood is definitely a stretch
- Chia Seeds – Admittedly, these seeds are among the highest sources of omega-3 fatty acids and have all 9 essential amino acids. But the component that is most interesting is the ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which has lots of potential for heart health but the research is not conclusive yet.
- Açai – This berry was promoted as the weight loss wonder fruit, but science hasn’t found a single substance that makes you quickly lose weight. Acai does have antioxidants-a substance our bodies need-but no more than cranberries or cherries, and less than blueberries, pomegranate, and grapes.
Focus on the superplate
Incorporating any of these superfoods isn’t a bad idea however it’s important to remember that any one of these by themselves, does not have any potential to reverse a chronic ailment, or even prevent one. I, just look at them as healthy replacements, opportunities to diversify my palate, and experiment with exciting flavors and textures. However, I have easily switched to baking bread with millet flour and chia seeds, using Ragi (red millet) flour and honey for cakes, Quinoa for Biryanis, and Olive oil instead of Canola oil for general-purpose cooking.
The classic, traditional, and for some, boring advice still makes the most sense to adopt in your lifestyle. Instead of focusing on a handful of possible superfoods, eat the “rainbow” from mostly plant sources. Eating a colorful variety of foods probably is the best “superfood” you’re going to get.