Superfood Definition: Is It Just A Marketing Scam?


What is a superfood, anyway? According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of a superfood is “a food that is rich in compounds considered beneficial to a person’s health”. How wonderfully vague.

By that definition, pretty much any plant food could be considered a superfood. Pretty much all plant-based foods contain compounds that are innately good for us. Antioxidants, fiber, nutrients—we thrive off of plant-based diets. Each fruit, vegetable, grain, and legume has its own uniquely healthful properties. Blueberries are rich in anthocyanins. Brown rice contains essential minerals. Lentils are dense in protein. And beets are loaded with iron and nitric oxide.

To deem any one of these foods more super than the others is not only incorrect, it’s also extremely misleading.

The Roots of Our Superfood Obsession

That’s why superfood is a scientifically meaningless term. There is no true hierarchy of natural foods, with superfoods valued as the royalty. In fact, the term was invented in order to promote the health benefits of fresh produce and sell more natural foods. It’s designed for marketing, advertising, and serious money-making.

On the one hand, that’s a good thing. Getting people to eat more pomegranates than potato chips is a win. But it does cause some confusion.

Moving Beyond the Old Superfood Definition

The whole issue with the vague definition of superfood is that it comes with a lot of subconscious baggage. People who knowingly consume superfoods are more likely to be more lenient with the rest of their diets. Some research has shown that superfoods actually encourage more unhealthy eating, since the eater feels like the superfood they ate earlier will balance out the scales.

But it doesn’t work like that—superfoods aren’t a panacea. We should stop treating them like one.

Even more importantly, prioritizing superfoods over other non-supers is not healthy. We cannot live exclusively off of any one food—if we could, it would indeed be pretty super. But we can’t, so even if you’re eating lots of a particular superfood, you still might suffer an unhealthy or deficient diet. In that way, focusing exclusively on superfoods could theoretically make your diet less healthy.

Super foods in spoons and bowls

Take it from renowned nutrition expert Marion Nestle, “No one food makes a diet healthful. The healthiest diets include a wide variety of foods in each of the recommended categories in amounts that balance calories.”

No one food is definitively healthier than any other, not even superfoods. No one food alone can work miracles. Eat a diverse diet, and stop giving so much clout to so-called superfoods.

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