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Category: Health and Wellness

Ask the Expert: What's So Super About Superfoods?

Do you know what a “superfood” is? The term "superfood" has become a buzzword that dominates grocery store shelves and health-conscious conversations. Often hailed as nutritional powerhouses that can supposedly cure ailments, boost energy levels, and even extend our lifespans, the science behind these claims is a bit more complicated. Sequoia Ridley, Wellness Dietitian with CaroMont Health’s Employer Services division weighs in on whether or not superfoods are truly super, or just another marketing gimmick.

Defining Superfoods 

Superfoods are typically foods that are nutrient-dense and packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other beneficial compounds. They are believed to offer exceptional health benefits beyond basic nutrition. Some commonly touted superfoods include blueberries, kale, quinoa, chia seeds and salmon. 

Ridley explains: “The foods mentioned above certainly offer a variety of nutritional benefits, but I do think that the idea of a ‘superfood’ elevates only specific foods and places some limitations on the diet. Blueberries, for example, are full of fiber and high in antioxidants, but so are blackberries, strawberries, goji berries, cranberries, and cherries. So, the emphasis should be on increasing berry consumption, rather than just looking at blueberries.” 

The Science Behind the Hype 

While superfoods do contain higher amounts of certain nutrients, it's crucial to remember that a balanced diet is the key to overall health. Eating a variety of foods that provide a range of nutrients is far more beneficial than focusing solely on a handful of superfoods. Additionally, the actual impact of these nutrients on our health might be less dramatic than the marketing suggests. 

“Studies have shown that a person’s overall dietary pattern has more impact than supplements and consumption of certain food groups,” Ridley states. “I always encourage my clients to focus on eating lots of different types of food and to eat the rainbow. It sounds cliché but it’s so important for our health. “ 

Dispelling the Myths 

  • A Balanced Diet is Irrelevant: No single food can provide all the nutrients our bodies need. Relying solely on superfoods neglects the importance of a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. 
  • Miraculous Health Claims: While superfoods do contain antioxidants and other beneficial compounds, they can't cure serious illnesses on their own. Any claim that a specific superfood can prevent or cure diseases should be met with skepticism. 
  • Weight Loss Magic: Superfoods are not magic bullets for weight loss. Sustainable weight management comes from a combination of a healthy diet, regular exercise, and lifestyle choices. 

Superfoods vs. Local Nutrient-Rich Foods 

Many communities have traditional foods that are equally nutrient-rich, if not more so, than popular superfoods. For instance, acai berries might be marketed as a superfood, but local berries could provide similar benefits. 

Ridley recommends a varied approach: “Eat lots of different colored produce, as well as different types of whole grains and lean protein, such as nuts, seeds, beans, and eggs. Eggs, although not advertised as a superfood, are high in both choline, a vitamin that supports memory function, and certain antioxidants that support eye health.” 

Incorporating Superfoods Wisely 

While superfoods should not be seen as a cure-all, they can certainly be part of a health-conscious diet. Here's how to incorporate them wisely: 

  • Variety is Key: Instead of obsessing over a few superfoods, aim for a diverse range of nutrient-rich foods. 
  • Moderation: Even superfoods can be consumed excessively. Portion control is essential. “Moderation is key when it comes to having balance in your dietary pattern. It is OK to indulge occasionally, but about 80-85% of the time, you want your meals and snacks to be nutritious”, says Ridley.  
  • Realistic Expectations: Don't expect instant miracles from consuming superfoods. Long-term health requires consistent, healthy habits. 

The term "superfood" might be catchy, but it's important to approach it with a critical eye. While these foods can certainly offer nutritional benefits, they are not magical solutions to health woes. Instead of focusing on a handful of hyped-up superfoods, we should aim for a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-rich foods. True health comes from overall dietary patterns, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle – not from any single food item. So, while there's value in enjoying that kale salad or tossing some chia seeds into your smoothie, remember that the real magic lies in the big picture of a well-rounded, healthy life. 

The CaroMont Health Employer Services Team provides wellness support to employees of organizations around our region. For more health and wellness content, follow CaroMont Health on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.