Ask Amelia Food Myths Nutrition

Are Superfoods Really That Super?

superfoods diet

Seems like every few weeks, someone is declaring a new “superfood” that you absolutely MUST eat in order to lose weight, avoid cancer, or live to age 100.  Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

Here’s the truth: there is no such thing as a superfood.

The term is used to catch peoples’ attention and boost sales of products or publications, but it’s not a word with proven scientific meaning.

Why?  Because no single food – or pill for that matter – is super enough to cure your lifestyle-related health problems.  What will promote good long-term health is a diet that includes a wide variety of nutritious, whole, unprocessed foods – whether they’ve been labeled as “super” or not.

But don’t put down that broccoli, sweet potato, or blueberry just yet.  Because in reality, most of us need to eat more of the boldly colored vegetables and fruits that often appear on lists of superfoods.  We just need to remember that it’s the variety that makes a diet super, and that food preparation techniques, portion sizes, and our activity level also count for a lot.

“Superfoods” That Really Are Super:

  • Vegetables and Fruits.  You just can’t go wrong with these.  Eat a wide variety.
  • Whole grains.  Real, intact whole grains, that is.  Try venturing outside of wheat, rice, and oats.
  • Legumes.  Beans and lentils are super nutritious, especially when you eat them in place of meat.
  • Plain yogurt or kefir.  The live active cultures in fermented foods are good for your gut.
  • Fatty fish.  Two servings of salmon or other fatty fish per week is a good goal.
  • Nuts and seeds.  Make sure to watch the portion size with these, since they’re high in calories and fat.

Be Wary of “Superfoods” that…

  • Give you an excuse to eat junk food.  (Downing a chocolate bar because of the “antioxidants” = not super).
  • Claim to cure a disease or condition.
  • Claim that a particular brand is better than another.
  • Come in a bottle or package – e.g. juices, supplements, fortified snacks or bars, etc.
  • Cost a lot.  You don’t need anything fancy or expensive to have a healthy diet.

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  • Teri Roughen
    June 6, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Okay. Okay. I’ll stop eating fruit filled pastries thinking it’s my dietary serving of fruit. Fatty fish? I never eat that. I should start huh?

  • Amelia
    June 9, 2012 at 10:30 am

    I think the best fatty fish is salmon! Not as bizarre as it sounds, right?

  • Richard
    June 14, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Another great article. My introduction to Superfoods came about six or seven years ago, when friends told me about Steven Pratt (who had been on Oprah) and his book “Superfoods RX: 14 Foods That Will Change Your Life.” Pratt … who since has expanded his list to about 30 foods … is an eye doctor, and noticed in his practice that patients who ate certain foods had much better eyesight in middle and old-age, than patients who didn’t. Reading his book(s) changed my life, and got me to slowly revamp my whole diet. He doesn’t try to get you to “give things up”, only to “add these new foods” to your diet, but I found in my own life that the more I ate the Superfoods, the less junk I was tempted to eat. I’ve since concluded that a lot of our unhealthy eating is prompted by our not getting the vitamins, minerals, enzymes we need in our regular diet. Anyway, this is my testimonial that Superfoods work. You feel better, weight comes off, and your body works like it should because it’s getting “the fuel” that it was meant to have. And as a final comment, Steven Pratt has often said that “If you could only add three Superfoods to your diet, they should be salmon, spinach, and blueberries” because of the nutritional-punch these foods contain. In his books, Pratt provides alternatives to his suggested Superfoods. So if you don’t like salmon, eat a can of sardines from time to time. If you don’t like blueberries, eat some purple grapes. If you don’t like tomatoes, eat some watermelon. You can often get the same basic nutrients from a family of different foods. Again, your article was terrific!

  • Amelia
    June 15, 2012 at 9:07 am

    Thanks for your thoughts, Richard – I haven’t read that book and love hearing about what the author recommends!

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