Are Superfoods Real? What The Science Says
In recent years, there has been an upswing in health trends. More and more people are realizing that the old adage of “you are what you eat” really lands, and that feeding your body wholefoods is the best way to stay healthy and happy. From fads like the cabbage soup diet to dangerous trends like eating nothing but grapefruit for every meal, there has been no shortage of marketing ploys to get people to buy into the concept of diets – and of “superfoods”.
There is a motley crew of different foods that have been hailed as superfoods, but are superfoods real? According to a plethora of peer-reviewed research: no, they are not. The term “superfood” or “miracle food” is actually dangerous to throw around to the masses. The fact of the matter is that there are only two types of foods a person can consume: those that are nutrient-rich and those that constitute empty calories.
What defines a superfood?
In terms of the media, which has pushed the term particularly hard, a superfood is defined as a type of food with astronomical health properties that can cure ailments and prevent the most heinous of diseases. The real definition of a superfood, as found in the Oxford dictionary, tells a different story. It dictates that a superfood is nothing more than a “nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and wellbeing.” This far more accurate definition of the word paints a picture that includes a vast number of foods, not just a select few.
For example: foods such as blueberries, kale, avocado, salmon, and chia seeds all had their moment in the spotlight when it came to the superfoods fad. While all these foods offer health benefits and should be eaten as part of a varied and balanced diet, they are not the be-all-end-all when it comes to nutrition. This means that if you had nothing but salmon for dinner and a kale, avocado, and blueberry smoothie for breakfast, you wouldn’t necessarily be healthy.
Image by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash: Are superfoods a real thing? Kale has been labeled a superfood, but the truth is that it’s just another in a long line of whole, nutritious foods you should be eating.
Are superfoods actually good for you?
The superfoods that people talk about are good for a person nutritionally. Take dark leafy greens for example. People have been hailing these foods as superfoods because of their nutritional content; the time when kale was everywhere you looked may ring a bell. Well, the truth about dark leafy greens is that they are really good for you. They are excellent sources of folate, zinc, calcium, iron, magnesium, and fiber. Consuming them on a regular basis has also been shown to help reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases because of their high nutrient values.
However, leafy greens are not the only thing the diet needs. They have their own set of nutrients, but they don’t contain everything the body needs, and that is why superfoods cannot be relied on to provide a full range of nutrients. If a person is neglecting a balanced diet to ingest nothing but superfoods, they may well be missing out on a lot.
Foods you should be eating
While there is really no concrete list of “superfoods”, there are certain foods you should try to eat often because of their nutritional value. The trick is to incorporate all of the nutrients you need in your diet by eating a wide range of different nutrient-rich foods. You need to get vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, carbohydrates from complex carb sources, protein, and healthy fats in the right amounts.
Foods you can eat to help maintain a balanced diet include:
Some fruits that have been hailed as “superfoods” include berries and avocados, but the truth is that most fruits will provide you with the nutrition you need. The best way to incorporate fruit into your diet is to choose the ones you like and try to be as varied as possible throughout the week. The more wholefoods you eat, the better off you’ll be nutrition-wise.
As mentioned above, dark leafy vegetables are a great addition to the diet, but they’re not the only good choice. Other nutrient-rich vegetables include garlic, ginger, sweet potatoes and other root vegetables, and mushrooms.
Wholegrains provide the body with nutrients such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and B vitamins. They are a much better choice than refined grains such as white bread or white rice because they leave the three parts that make up a grain (bran, germ, and endosperm) intact. Options such as whole oats; whole-wheat bread, pastas, or baked goods; and buckwheat all provide nutrient-rich options for a well-rounded diet.
Legumes are plant-based foods that are loaded with B vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber. They are a great choice for vegetarians or vegans, who lose out on much-needed proteins and nutrients that are found in animal-based foods. Studies have shown that there are many health benefits of eating legumes on a regular basis, and with a wide variety to choose from, there’s nothing stopping you from incorporating them into your diet. Some examples of legumes include beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, and peanuts.
Image by Camila Melim on Unsplash: Mushrooms are packed with nutrients, but they’re not a superfood – because technically speaking, superfoods don’t exist!
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are another great source of vegetarian protein, among other nutrients the body needs such as fiber and heart-healthy fats. The plant compounds in various nuts and seeds have also been shown to help protect the body against oxidative stress. There are many nuts and seed options to choose from, but some of the most common and versatile include almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, pistachios, hemp seeds, and pecans.
Protein is required as part of a balanced diet, but often, protein-rich foods come with a lot of extra fat. That’s where lean proteins come in. Some examples of good lean proteins that could round out a balanced diet include white-fleshed fish, white-meat poultry, lean beef, pork loin, shrimp, eggs, and bison.
So, are superfoods real? Unfortunately not. But that doesn’t mean you can’t utilize the most nutritious foods around to balance your diet and eat for health. Just remember to ignore the latest fad in the superfood arena and simply eat a good mixture of wholefoods instead.
Featured image by Adolfo Félix on Unsplash
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