When I hear the word superfoods, I can’t help but think of superheroes. The term implies that these foods have nutrients beyond those found in more ordinary foods. But there’s no category for superfoods. It’s simply a word that’s used to tout the health-promoting properties of foods that are nutrient-packed.*
For the most part, some of most nutrient-dense foods you can eat are plant-based foods. These offer up an abundance of vitamins, minerals and fibre as well as phytonutrients—many of which act such as olive oil polyphenols which contribute to the protection of blood lipids from oxidative stress. If you eat a plant-rich diet, you’re probably already eating plenty of foods that could be considered superfoods—even if they’re not as exotic as mangosteen fruit or cacao nibs.
Most lists of the top superfoods look very similar. Plant foods in the form of berries, leafy greens and nuts top nearly every list. Fatty fish is often included, too. It’s just that the attention on a particular superfood appears to change from year to year. Collard greens are reportedly the new kale, and may be next year’s quinoa.
Food trends are no different than any other trend. We seem to be always on the lookout for something new and unusual. And perhaps in the case of superfoods, for a food that might even be more ‘super’ than the one before it.
All Healthy Foods Are Superfoods
I believe that you should not become focused on one particular superfood or its health benefits, it is important to pay attention to all different types of superfood which have equally good benefits.. Most plant foods are super in their own right: they’re incredibly complex with unique blends of vitamins, minerals and, yes, phytonutrients.
With a substantial number of potentially beneficial compounds in plant foods, we may never know how each and every one might promote health.
So, when a food has been subject to clinical research and shown to have potential health, it might be dubbed a superfood. That’s often at the exclusion of other fruits that may be equally good for us. In other words, if we favour specific foods because they’re “super,” we might be ignoring other foods that are equally “super”—just in a different way.
I had a client many years ago who ate like this. He embraced every new superfood trend. He made sure that his diet included each and every one every day, in the precise amounts that were reported in the research to give the most benefit.
At that time, oatmeal, blueberries, spinach and almonds were some of the popular super foods at that point of time. He believed so strongly in the power of these foods that he wouldn’t make any substitutions. But the truth is he could have substituted other whole grains, fruits, leafy greens and nuts and had an equally “super” diet.
Plenty of Plant Foods, Plenty of Superfoods
There’s no question that kale is nutrient-packed, but so are turnip greens, mustard greens, Swiss chard and plain spinach. Sweet potatoes are great. But other orange veggies like carrots, pumpkin or winter squash have their own virtues, too.
One thing that food trends can do is to introduce you to new foods you might not have tried before. So, if you do get caught up in the latest superfood trend, add it to the foods you’re already eating, rather than excluding all others.
*Vitamins and minerals like Copper, Manganese, Riboflavin, Selenium, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Zinc contribute to the protection of cells from oxidative stress.
Susan Bowerman is Senior Director of Nutrition Training at Herbalife. Susan is a Registered Dietitian and a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics