It’s a word we’ve all heard before. The media loves to go on about them, as do your local personal trainers, fitness gurus, and armchair dieticians. They’re superfoods, and they have captured the attention of the health-conscious the world over.
But wait, what are superfoods? Superfoods are foods that boast unique health benefits due to their exceptionally dense nutrient profile. However, responsible consumers should know that “superfood” is, at its core, a marketing buzzword. And it is often abused by the media and advertisers to sell products with trumped up claims that are not backed by evidence.
Amid all the excitement about the latest wonder-food, it is important to be critical. There is nothing more important than your health, so when making dietary choices accurate information is paramount. Therefore, alleged superfoods need to be scrutinized with an attentive eye.
So how can you see through the hype, and sort out the phonies and the frauds? Luckily for you, we have looked at the evidence, read the studies, and found out for ourselves exactly what sets authentic superfoods apart from the rest. Read on to find out more about which superfoods are truly super and which are not.
Superfoods or Superfrauds?
There are many imposters on store shelves masquerading as superfoods. Even then, many legitimately healthy foods with proven benefits still suffer from advertisers prone to making spurious claims. To name a few of the top culprits, here’s a short list of some of the most bogus products often marketed as superfoods.
Apparently, even water can be a superfood. Or at least that’s what proponents of alkaline water believe. Alkaline water is advertised as “enhanced water” that has been treated to reduce its acidity. While this is touted as being capable of balancing your body’s pH level, your body already does this naturally.
With this being the case, there are no demonstrable health benefits to alkaline water. Therefore, alkaline water is all gimmick, and certainly no superfood.
While green superfood is usually the real deal, blue-green algae surely is not. This microscopic plant grows in bogs and backwater ponds around the world and has been touted by some as having several therapeutic properties. These include unsubstantiated claims regarding its ability to promote weight loss, prevent cancer, and reduce inflammation.
However, a critical report by Stephen Barrett, M.D., found that blue-green algae products contain no readily available nutrients at all. In fact, they may even contain harmful toxins known as microcystins.
This popular legume has found popularity among plant-based eaters as a high-protein alternative to meat. While high in protein, soy is far from a real superfood. As it turns out, traditional soy foods offer very little aside from their protein content.
Recently, soy has garnered controversy as it is now known to contain estrogen-like compounds called isoflavones. These nasty little byproducts have been linked to the spread of breast cancer, as well as the disruption of thyroid function and various medicinal drugs.
The 13 Proven Superfoods
With the frauds behind us, it’s now time for the fun part: the ultimate, bonafide superfood list. Each of our list’s items have been shown by science to contain demonstrable health benefits. So refer to this guide to find new nutrient-dense foods to incorporate in your regular diet, or find out which foods you might benefit from buying more of.
The nutritional powers of the kiwi might be New Zealand’s best kept secret. These furry little guys are chock full of vitamins C, K, E, as well as folate and potassium. They also contain lots of antioxidants and dietary fiber. Plus, you can eat the whole thing—even the seeds and skin.
You’ve heard it before: the darker the berry, the sweeter the juice. But it’s also true that the darker the berry, the healthier the fruit. These little guys punch way above their weight class, since they contain a natural compound called anthocyanin. While giving them their dark color, anthocyanin also has been linked to improvements in heart health, blood pressure, diabetes management, and bone strength.
If it’s good enough for Popeye the Sailor, it’s good enough for us. And not for no reason—spinach is a neutral-tasting plant that is loaded with hard-to-get vitamins K, soluble fiber, and vitamin C. While boasting many of the same benefits as other leafy greens, spinach is uniquely affordable and subtle-tasting so it can be added to many dishes.
Believe it or not, your ordinary lettuce is a superfood. Unlike other lettuces, romaine is loaded with folate, potassium, fiber, beta carotene and lutein. In fact, romaine is over ten times more dense than regular old iceberg lettuce. So next time you dish up a garden salad, be sure to use romaine as your base.
Sumac is the best spice you`ve probably never heard of. This bright red powder has an incredible antioxidant profile which has been shown to help manage glucose levels in diabetics, as well as prevent the onset of heart disease. It is tart and fruity to the taste, but it pairs well with most roasted vegetables.
It turns out, chocolate can actually be good for you. Well, at least the base. Given its remarkable antioxidant value, it has been linked to minimize tissue inflammation, protect nerves from injury, and improve mood and cognitive function. So next time you reach for a treat at the checkout aisle, consider opting for a dark chocolate bar with a high concentration of natural cocoa.
Indian gooseberries, otherwise known as “amla”, have loads of unique superfood qualities. For centuries, they have been used as a traditional medicine in India. Today, their benefits have been verified by studies as having a long list of medicinal properties, such as anti-cancer effects. It is being researched as a potential therapeutic drugs in humans.
You might as well throw out your multivitamin, because pecans are the superfood that covers all your bases. Pecans are a tasty, satiating snack but they also double as anti-inflammatories, blood pressure and metabolism regulators, skin rejuvenators, and they even assist in the prevention of stroke.
As all seasoned chefs know well, turmeric is the yellow spice commonly found in curry. Native to India, this spice contains curcumin which is a powerful natural anti-inflammatory. Curcumin has been linked to the prevention of heart disease, metabolic damage, and various neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
This one’s a personal favorite of ours. Lentils are a kind of dried bean that provide fast-absorbing protein that is complete with a wide range of amino acids. This makes them the perfect choice for plant-based dieters who want to hit a high protein quota.
They are also loaded with fiber, provide over half the daily recommendation of 5 other essential nutrients, and are dirt cheap to boot.
The perfect blend of delicious, succulent, and nutritious. All the makings of true superfoods.
Wild salmon are great for getting loads of high-quality protein and DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are essential for proper cognitive function and overall health, and the human body cannot produce them naturally. This means foods like salmon are a must in every diet. Just be sure to choose wild Pacific salmon, as they are usually not factory farmed and thus are exposed to fewer harmful contaminants during gestation.
The smell of garlic can be a tad overpowering. But hold your nose, because a daily dose of garlic in your smoothie or pasta dish can benefit your health in several important ways. In fact, a breakthrough 2014 study found that garlic is potentially useful in the treatment of disease. This is because garlic has known anti-tumor and anti-microbial properties, and they also fight high blood sugar.
Last on the list are almonds, the tree nut with a near-untouchable nutritional profile. Just one small handful packs 6 grams of protein, 14 grams of healthy monounsaturated fats, 3.5 grams of dietary fiber and about a quarter of your daily intake of manganese and magnesium. Not to mention, they’re a delicious crunchy snack. Especially when doused with sea salt.
Whole Foods vs. Powders
In recent years, a whole foods craze has taken over, with the so-called Paleolithic diet leading the charge. “Going Paleo” has become a fad whereby dieters restrict their eating choices to only those foods that were available to prehistoric human beings. However, there’s no shame in trying it, as the diet has gained traction due to the many success stories from its adherents.
As you might imagine, superfood powder has a bad rep with those dieters who swear by taking only whole foods. However, their reputation is unfounded. Popular superfood powders are still loaded with all the same nutritional content as regular whole foods, except they usually come at a marked-up price. But in this case, you get what you pay for, as they make for convenient nutritional insurance when you’re super pressed for time.