Superfoods are the food industry’s superheroes: they’re touted as “powerful,” having “superpowers” and being “extra-nutritious.” I mean, who wouldn’t want a superhero in their life? I personally would love some Black Panther-esque energy and food in my kitchen! However, I’m a realist, so what exactly constitutes a superfood, who creates that definition, and are they really worth all of the hype?
Definition of a Superfood
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a superfood is “a food (such as salmon, broccoli or blueberries) that is rich in compounds (such as antioxidants, fiber, or fatty acids) considered beneficial to a person’s health.” In essence, a food that is highly nutritious. However, there’s no official, scientifically-based definition. It’s not even regulated or given out by dietitians, food scientists, or medical professionals, the people who study food and nutrition. So, how did this all start?
The Journey of Superfoods and Where we are Now
The origin of the superfood actually has little to do with any formal nutritional or scientific study (and unfortunately, superheroes as well). The first recorded use of the term appears to be in the early 1900’s around World War I as part of an advertising campaign by the United Fruit Company to promote their banana imports. While medical professionals later began to promote bananas due to this marketing (sometimes even falsely attributing bananas as a cure for diseases such as celiac disease), it was, and still is, product and food companies that drive the superfood trend.
According to a 2016 Mintel study, between 2011-2015, there was a 202% increase in the number of new food and drink products that contained the labels “superfood,” “supergrain,” or “superfruit.” The superfood industry was also recently valued at USD $137 billion in 2018 by a 2019 market analysis from Grand View Research. It seems like each new season, month, year, there’s another new superfood list saturating social media and websites. This industry isn’t going away anytime soon, so how do we navigate it?
If the focus is on foods that are nutritionally-packed and beneficial for your health, then almost all fruits, veggies, and whole grains are already “superfoods.” From blueberries to bell peppers to the humble apple, most fruits and veggies are low calorie, but contain dozens of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fibers that do incredible things for your body and are shown to help reduce your risk of developing diseases such as diabetes, cancer, etc. To make it simple: a “superfood” is a marketing term and we should just eat more fruits and vegetables (and whole grains) and a variety of them.
The kryptonite, (yes, I said it), of honing in on the “superfood” aspect is that people will eat only that one food and a lot of it, which can lead to a sort of overdosing on one food in addition to missing out on other nutrients provided by other foods. Northwestern Medicine Dietitian Sarah Buytendorp says, “No single food can offer every single nutritional component or health benefit we need,” so focusing on a healthy eating pattern and combining foods is the way to go. Having multiple superpowers is going to be better than just the one power of superstrength even if you have uber superstrength. Plus, it’s so much more fun to combine different fruits and veggies!
The bottom line: there’s a reason there are multiple superheroes with different superpowers just as there’s multiple nutritious foods with different properties, and they don’t need the marketing label of “superfood” to make an impact.
Take Some Action
If you feel a little lost with how to add more fruits and vegetables in a delicious way to your eating pattern, don’t worry, Myplate is a great template to base your meals around, while allowing you the room to still choose the foods you like (and therefore, will actually eat more consistently).
If you want a more direct or hands-on resource, The Chopping Block is also here for you! Almost all of our menus include fantastic vegetable or fruit dishes alongside proteins, and we can take you on a deep dive into different flavors as well. Check out our class calendar or take a look below for some upcoming classes:
- Virtual Sunday Dinner on the Grill: Grilled Pork Tenderloin with a grilled vegetable couscous salad Sunday, May 16 4pm CST
- Virtual Interactive Demo: Flavor Dynamics Sunday, May 16 11am CST
- Virtual Date Night: Chicken Parmesan with a warm orzo salad with sautéed asparagus, artichoke, and lemon Saturday, May 22 6:30pm CST