If you talk to most dietitians or nutritionists, virtually all of them will agree on one thing: there is no such thing as a “superfood.”
I know, I know. I can almost hear the collective gasp of self-prescribed health-nuts as they cling to their bag of kale chips made with virgin organic coconut oil and seasoned with Himalayan pink salt.
I swear I have some good news near the end of this article, so just hang in there and try to hear me out. Or – more pointedly – try to hear out the experts.
Calling some vegetable or root a “superfood” is the equivalent of calling a human being a “super human.” That’s just not the way it works – on a scientific level, on a rational level, or on an emotional level. If a food were a superfood, it would be fair to surmise that you could subsist off that thing and that thing alone because, well, it’s SUPER! But nobody in their right mind would drink matcha green tea all day and think they’ve somehow created a portal into a world of disease-free superpowers… would they?
Google “superfoods” and you’ll find thousands upon thousands of articles on the topic. You know what else you’ll find? Phrases like “trendy” “designer” “the latest” and (my personal favorite) “superfoods that will blow last year’s superfoods out of the limelight.”
Are we still talking about foods or did we somehow transition to clothing?
Nope. We’re still talking about actual food. Nutritionist, Rosemary Stanton, recently reported during a summit regarding the future of health that: “The superfoods fad is yet another sign of the never-ending search for a magic bullet to solve problems…Such thinking, which ignores the multi-factorial nature of diet-related health problems, is probably the greatest myth [of our time].”
But we buy into it because the idea of one food solving ALL of our problems is incredibly seductive.
Remember when pomegranate juice was THE THING to drink? Where did it go? It just faded into the oblivion where uncool food like broccoli just kind of hangs out? Then it was Kombucha, then avocado, then beats, then doing shots of cider vinegar. Or remember that one year they tried to convince us that Greek yogurt had healing powers even though it tasted like foot fungus?
Where did all THOSE superfoods go? Why aren’t they on every menu at every restaurant and lining the top shelves of designer stores?
It’s not because they suddenly just lost all their superpowers. It’s not because pomegranates magically lost all their nutrients one day. It’s because big food companies needed to keep their clientele interested in the “newest” superfood, so they kept finding new stuff to peddle to their audience (stuff, by the way, that has been around for centuries and has no more superpowers than that banana at your local gas station.)
According to research reported by Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD), there has been a 202% increase in the number of new food and beverage products recently launched containing components termed “superfruit”, “supergrain” or “superfood” between 2011 and 2015. (Holy hell that’s a lot of “super.”)
The same report also showed a 70% increase in the number of food and drink products containing super seeds (like chia) between 2014 and 2015. Furthermore, global markets reported that “functional food” (whatever the hell that means) is projected to exceed 304.5 billion by 2020 in the U.S. alone.
The same article goes on to explain that there has been a lot of excitement around turmeric.
Mintel GNPD reported a 359% increase in launches of hot beverages containing turmeric in Europe between 2013 and 2017. To be fair, the demand for turmeric spice wasn’t unfounded – plenty of research has supported medicinal claims about the power of said root.
Specifically, curcumin a compound found in turmeric, has been studied for its anti-inflammatory properties and treatment of related diseases such as fibromyalgia and a possible connection to curing cancer. The Mintel GNPD continues to shed light on the health benefits of turmeric, explaining that, as the scientific community continues to understand the molecular components of curcumin in relation to the human body “we can only expect the demand for products containing turmeric to increase.”
The report goes on to highlight the one-two punch that superplant, Moringa, also provides, as well as the chia seed.
According to the Mordor Intelligence the global chia seed market is projected to reach 2 billion USD in sales by 2022.
Chia, a native of Central America, has been described by many as the go-to food for appetite and weight control – as well as blood sugar management in type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, Chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and contain high linoleic and alpha-linolenic fatty acids.
And again, these findings aren’t inaccurate. All three of the superfoods mentioned above have great, healthy properties. Otherwise, they wouldn’t still be around, centuries later.
But before you go filling up your basket with pounds of this stuff, consider a few things:
1. If these nutrients have been around for centuries, why are they suddenly so over-priced and difficult to get unless you go to a trendy store?
2. The Mintel GNPD might seem like a cool, non-profit organization looking out for the interest and health of society until you do your research and find that they are a private organization that is paid by large food conglomerates to track spending and behavioral trends of shoppers across the globe.
3. Even if every claim made is totally true, you won’t hear about it five years from now. Why? Because it won’t be profitable. These companies rely on your excitement and willingness to spend extravagant amounts of money in hopes of reaching the holy grail of health and youth… and guess what? It simply doesn’t exist.
Here’s the rainbow of light in this rather dreary storm of pessimism (See? I told you to hang in there).
Eating healthy IS a good thing. Paying attention to what you put in your body is unarguably the right thing to do. You’re human – you want what’s best for you and your family and there is NOTHING wrong with that. And, when all is said and done, all these trendy superfoods that taste like trash ARE probably quite good for you – at least to some extent.
Just don’t blindly believe that one food group is the end-all-be-all. If a certain spice or plant claims to cure cancer, improve mood, help with sleep, clear your skin, and have every nutrient you could ever want or need, it’s most DEFINITELY not all those things. I get it – you want the quick fix. I do, too. I wanna chug some green super smoothie so I can lose weight and not feel guilty about my two glasses of wine at dinner.
But that’s just not how that works, and the reason these fad diets are so popular and profitable is that they anticipate that this is JUST what you are looking for.
So go ahead! Try that new cleanse, eat that ancient seed, and choke down those newly-formulated probiotics. They certainly won’t HURT you. Just know there is no such thing as a “cure all” which means there is CERTAINLY no such thing as a “superfood.”