Superfoods, friend or foe?

 Flipping through a  few popular magazines at Barnes and Nobles this weekend I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at articles promoting ‘best foods for flat abs,’ ‘the five foods you must be eating,’ and on and on.

Oh please. As a dietitian and a realist, articles like this and such focus on “Superfoods” make me crazy! No wonder I see so many clients with disordered eating patterns and confusion on what ‘healthy’ actually means; depending on the new trend of the month they’re either in or out with the latest antioxidant-rich product.

Superfoods, a food manufactures dream, are such items like gogi berries, pomegranates, and  acai berries, promoted to superhero status and thought to have extraordinary health powers. I’m not dismissing the idea that some foods are healthier than others, of course that’s true. I’m dismissing the idea that eating one fruit over another is going to provide much said benefit.

Love pomegranates? Great, enjoy them in season along with a variety of other fruits like kiwis, strawberries, apples, oranges, and on. Hate kale? Why choke it down when there are plenty of other nutritious green foods like broccoli and spinach to enjoy. I see plenty of people in my office who are so focused on eating these touted super foods that they lose sight of the benefit of eating a well-rounded diet full of variety.

The perfect example of this concept is ‘Blue Zones’, places in the world where people commonly live past 100, mostly due to having healthier lifestyles than other areas. While each place had minor differences, similar dietary patterns kept emerging: high consumption of plant foods such as vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains as well as fish and poultry and decreased consumption of red and processed meat, refined grains, and sweets. This shows that dietary patterns, not individualized foods, are more beneficial.

Why all the fuss? For one, superfoods are typically more expensive than regular produce and harder to find. The nutrition industry should focus on promoting healthier eating for everyone not idolizing certain foods that you can only get at your local health food store or Whole Foods. I believe that this superfood mentality sets people up for failure when they start eating healthy. How many times have you heard that a banana is bad for you? I admit, I live in a different world where nutrition and food is a huge daily focus but I get these kind of statements all the time.  I’ve had kids tell me they would rather have baked chips over a banana because bananas were too high in “bad carbs.”

I’m sure you can guess my response…

My main point is that when we look at places where people live long, healthy lives it is NOT because of one or two foods. It’s a lifestyle! Daily exercise and focusing on eating foods from foods groups like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans/legumes are key.

What do you think about the ‘Superfood’ idea?

  • Bruce

    I agree with your point of view. Profit motivated (not health motivated) marketing. Fueled by consumers looking for that missing ingredient to ADD to their diet that is going to save their health. When it’s really about what to SUBTRACT from their diet (animal products, excessive fat and excessive protein) that will save their health.

  • DK

    Thanks for your comment Bruce! I completely agree and that was my whole point of this article. I think it’s very easy to be overwhelmed by the food industry but if you focus on whole, mostly plant based food then nutrition becomes much simpler.