What are superfoods?
Usage of the word 'superfood' has increased dramatically over the past few years, but there is no standard scientific definition of the term. Some people use the word to designate foods that are good for your health, while others take a more restrictive approach. As a result, there is still some confusion about what superfoods are exactly. So what makes superfoods super? Is there a specific list of superfoods? Are there any guidelines for consuming them? Generally speaking, a superfood is food with considerable health benefits. These foods are rich in a range of different nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins and phytonutrients which help prevent and fight disease. Simply put, they have benefits which exceed those of other foods. Depending on the food, they can have a range of positive effects on your body, including preventing different types of cancer, lowering cholesterol and fighting heart disease. Also, a diet rich in superfoods is believed to help keep your weight within a healthy range. What are some of the most popular superfoods? Some of the most well-known superfoods are berries, broccoli, salmon, and kale. These foods tend to be widely accessible and can easily be incorporated into some meals. Blueberries, for instance, are known for their high concentration of antioxidants which have an immense benefit on brain health and fighting free radicals. Broccoli and kale, on the other hand, are rich in phytonutrients, which are believed to trigger the production of cancer-fighting substances. Salmon has omega-3 fatty acids that have an overall positive effect on reducing inflammation throughout the body and reducing cholesterol levels. There are also a bunch of lesser-known superfoods such as mangosteens -- fruits native to Southeast Asia containing beneficial compounds called xanthones -- or acai berries and goji berries which contain some powerful antioxidants. Overall, however, there isn't a finite list of superfoods. While some consider eggs and tomatoes part of the list, others would argue that the health benefits of these foods cannot compare with the potential benefits of avocados or bok choy. Additionally, the added nutrients that make superfoods exceptionally healthy tend to differ, making it impossible to pinpoint which compounds and properties are responsible for making certain products 'superfoods' and others not. So what puts the super in superfood? The history behind the superfood concept suggests that it has evolved out of a media-fuelled public obsession with health and healthy eating, rather than substantial scientific research.
Over time, however, there has been a spike in scientific attention towards superfoods, although blogs and online news sources were writing about them long before any research was conducted. And even now that some scientific data exists, there are some problems with the superfood concept from a scientific perspective. To begin with, there is no evidence that consuming a particular food can 'cancel out' disease and expel damaging particles from our bodies. Although a nutritious diet is an essential part of a person's overall health and well-being, it's not the only aspect that counts. Exercise, limiting your alcohol intake, refraining from smoking and getting a good night's sleep are just as important for preventing disease and maintaining your overall health. Also, the evidence about antioxidants -- one of the major nutrients which superfoods contain -- is still inconclusive. Recent scientific research about the effect of antioxidants on free radicals shows that scientists are unable to find a correlation between preventing cell damage by consuming antioxidant-rich foods. Finally, promoting increased consumption of superfoods does not take into account the importance of a balanced diet. In other words, eating kale every day is not going to make you healthy if you are not meeting your fruit or protein intake. Not to mention that eating superfoods does not justify an increased intake of junk and sugar-rich foods. So what's the verdict? While the idea of a 'miracle food' that leads to a long and healthy life might be a myth, it doesn't necessarily imply that the products we call 'superfoods' are not in themselves beneficial for our overall health. Generally speaking, focusing on our nutrition is important, but only insofar as we are doing so to ensure we are consuming a complete, balanced diet. Finally, we should always stay aware of other aspects of our lifestyles which contribute to our health and well-being and make sure that we are getting enough exercise and kicking out those bad, unhealthy habits.