Walking down nearly any aisle of a grocery store, you will find products that contain superfoods or tout claims such as they ‘support immune function’. In this blog, we’ll dive into definitions, what makes a food super, examples of superfoods, and some superfood recipes.
what is a superfood?
By definition, a superfood is a “nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being”. This term was coined to describe nutrient-dense foods, but is most often used as a marketing tactic. Unlike health claims, there are no specific legal requirements to define a food as a superfood and they are unregulated. Some additional terms that are helpful to understand:
- Functional food: Foods that have a positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition. This definition is similarly vague. Since nutrient rich foods will generally have positive effects beyond basic nutrition, many foods can be considered both a functional food and superfood, such as berries.
- Nutrient density: A food that has a high ratio of nutrients (vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, fiber, probiotics, phytochemicals, etc.) to calories.
- Phytochemicals: Chemical compounds that naturally occur in plant foods and act as antioxidants when consumed in the diet. Antioxidants prevent and reduce damage caused by oxidation which may then lower risk for certain diseases.
What makes a food super?
Many products that contain superfoods will also tout claims such as ‘mood lifter’ or ‘immunity and cognitive support’. Unfortunately, if a claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is. While there are definitely nutritional benefits to including these foods in the diet, no one food will cause you to magically lose weight or cure an ailment.
When looking for nutrient-dense foods, some things to look for include:
- Healthy fats
The list of foods that fit this definition is a long one. While a top 10 list of superfoods sounds appealing, it would be missing the nuance that comes with consuming a balanced diet. It is more important to focus on a variety of nutrient-dense foods from all food groups to ensure your body gets all of the nutrition it needs.
what about products with superfoods in them?
Things get a little trickier when it comes to processed products that are not single whole foods such as nutrition bars, creamers, beverages, and powders. For these products, it’s best to look at the nutrition facts panel and ingredient list. Look for items lower in sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars. See our superfoods collection for some good examples of superfood products that are still healthy options. This collection is mostly whole foods, but also includes superfood products that meet our Dietitians Choice criteria.
Unfortunately, some products with superfoods in them also contain high amounts of sodium, saturated fat, added sugars, or artificial sweeteners. For products like powders, juices and creamers, it’s typically best to go with the whole food version of the superfood.
the bottom line
Balance is key. The wider the variety of foods that you include in your diet, the more variety of nutrition you will be consuming. Focus on consuming a rainbow of produce (fresh, frozen, and canned), lean protein, and whole grains. If you have additional questions, feel free to reach out to our dietitian team at firstname.lastname@example.org.