The Murky World of Superfoods | Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior (SNEB)

The Murky World of Superfoods

Posted by: on Monday February 4, 2019

Article originally appears in the February 1, 2019 issue of the SNEB eCommunicator.

Looking for a definition of ‘superfoods’? You’ll find more than one…the definition @ is pretty straightforward – a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being yet @ the definition includes foods that improve emotional health. LiveScience @ describes superfoods as ‘nutritionally dense (high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants/phytochemicals) and good for your health or may prevent disease.’ Yet, there are no specific criteria for superfoods – no science-based or regulatory definitions. Other factors to consider with superfoods: What about high fat, sugar, fat foods make with ‘superfoods’? (I recently saw a chocolate bar with quinoa.) And antioxidants/phytochemicals in superfoods vary in their bioavailability

**Superfoods or super hype? – superfoods drive sales but may cause people to focus on a few foods instead of the overall diet.

**What’s so super about superfoods? – searching this term online yields almost 1,000,000 results! There are other reasons to choose certain foods: nutrient content when compared to calories, fiber, probiotics and others.

**Are superfoods over? – a 1990 cookbook coined the term as did one in 2003. In 2007 the EU (European Union) banned the term on food labels unless a specific claim is provided.

**Super growth for superfoods but is the halo starting to slip? – according to a Mintel analyst, as the grocery shelf gets crowded with ‘superfoods’ new products will need to do more to get consumers’ attention including an interesting ‘backstory’ and good taste.

**Get smart about superfoods (American Heart Association) – superfoods alone won’t make you healthier but adding beans and legumes, berries, dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, oats, pumpkin, salmon, skinless poultry, yogurt to your diet can provide health benefits.

**The truth about superfoods – 4 superfoods – goji berries, acai, wheatgrass, coconut water – their claims and the truth. Superfoods ranked by experts (using 17 nutrients as criteria) are shared. Here is the CDC article it is based on: Defining powerhouse fruits and vegetables: a nutrient density approach @

What do RDs say about superfoods?
Although there are some foods that show up on many experts’ lists of superfoods, there’s still a lot of variability. Note the articles below and the superfood choices cited by some registered dietitians.
**What are superfoods and why you should eat them? – berries, soy, tea, leafy greens, salmon, dark chocolate, wine and grapes

**16 superfoods worthy of the title –  dark leafy greens, berries, green tea, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds, kefir and yogurt, garlic, olive oil, ginger, turmeric, salmon, avocado, sweet potato, mushrooms, seaweed

**Dietitians list top superfoods for 2019 (recent survey of over 1300 dietitians in Today’s Dietitian) – 4 of the 10 top spots are produce (avocado, blueberries, beets and exotic fruits such as acai) in addition to fermented foods, ancient grains, nuts, coconut products, non-dairy milks

**The 13 best superfoods according to registered dietitians – pistachios, seaweed, cocoa, pomegranate, chia seeds, brussel sprouts, sorghum, turmeric, beef, halibut, nutritional yeast, black rice, sweet potatoes

**10 superfoods to boost a healthy diet – berries, fish, leafy greens, nuts, olive oil, whole grains, yogurt, cruciferous veggies, legumes, tomatoes

**10 trendy superfoods nutritionists say you can skip – acai, activated charcoal, raw cow’s milk, apple cider vinegar, pomegranate juice, bone broth, collagen, adaptogenic mushrooms, green superfood powders, bulletproof coffee and MCT oil (don’t know what adaptogenic is? Go to the NIH article @ to learn more.)

Concerns about superfoods
**In excess, some superfoods too much of a good thing – kale has thiocyanate,  a lot of it, and for some, may cause an enlarged thyroid gland.

**Superfoods are a marketing ploy – adapted from Marion Nestle’s book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat – 4 examples of trade associations’ attempts to market their superfoods.

**What’s the cost of rising demand for superfoods? – the demand for superfoods affects global trade. Farmers can’t easily switch what they grow when a new superfood is a fad and not a more long-term trend. And some superfoods have negative environmental effects.