What on earth is a super food?

I was in class the other day and we had to role play a focus group about super foods. And for at least a good 5 minutes, myself and my fellow students tried to define what a “super food” even was. It’s not something that is part of our textbooks or curriculum because it is NOT a technical term, it’s a term that has soared to popularity in the past couple of decades. But we seemed to be able to rattle off a number of things that we have been told are super foods: green tea, berries, avocados, chia seeds, flax seeds, acai, goji berries… it’s a pretty long list of food items that have been given a “super status”.

Red dried goji berries
Image: My Menu NTK

What on earth is a super food?

Here’s what I think are the characteristics of something getting the label of a “super food”

  • HYPE! Super foods is a term used by the media and especially social media to get people on board to buying a product for some particular claimed property
  • Usually, they’re exotic to Western society (case and point: maca powder has been used by South Americans for thousands of years, but it’s relatively “new” to Westerners)
  • High in antioxidants and/or anti-cancer properties seem to be a common claim amongst the super foods (which can be found in a number of other “not super” foods which don’t cost you an arm and a leg)
  • Often associated with claims to “lose weight” or some other desirable health benefit (usually unsubstantiated)
  • In general, they promise some kind of quick fix or dramatic health benefit

I would highly doubt there are many health professionals who would be out there recommending maca powder to help you with low energy. These products are often ridiculously expensive, or their popularity drives up their prices and many people don’t know how to even use something like chia seeds.

The marketing is pretty clever though because they mix in the term “super food” into foods that as nutritionists and dietitians would recommend as part of a healthy diet including nuts, low-fat yoghurt, salmon, avocado and beans. However, these don’t seem to make it to the forefront of the media’s headlines too often.  Eating ONE single food isn’t going to save you from cancer, make you lose weight or some other miraculous benefit.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has become the latest member of this super food trend, touted for its cosmetic benefits for hair and skin due to its fat profile. However, coconut oil is just that – an oil -made of 100% fat including a whole lot of saturated fat. And for many years, you will have heard doctors and health professionals stating  that diets high in saturated fat pose a significant risk to our heart health, and increasing the risk of cardiovascular “events” (heart attacks, arrhythmias, other stuff you would rather avoid).

Interesting fact: coconut is not even included as a fruit in many papers because of its unusually high-fat content compared to other fruits.

Image: Huffington Post

So do I bother eating them or not?

So, essentially super foods are really just a buzz word for the media to get you to buy something you probably don’t need for some benefit it probably hasn’t been proven. Do your research (and not using Dr Google), see what SCIENCE has to say about the food first before forking out $10 for a packet of dry shrivelled up berries that taste *questionable*, I’m looking at you goji berries.




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