A search for a definition of the term superfood reveals some confusion and frustration. Wikipedia begins their superfood page as follows: “Superfood is a marketing term used to describe foods with supposed health benefits." In the notes section of the Wikipedia entry, we find this:
“The term 'superfoods' is at best meaningless and at worst harmful,” said Catherine Collins, chief dietitian at St George's Hospital in London. “There are so many wrong ideas about superfoods that I don't know where best to begin to dismantle the whole concept.”
Poor Catherine seems incensed at the very notion of superfoods! I empathize with her. As I shared in my blog entry, Super, why? the term has been so abused, misused and taken advantage of, that giving up on it entirely seems like a viable option. But the term superfood has a dignified history that predates this confusion and abuse; one born of the recognition of the beneficial properties that certain foods possess above and beyond their counterparts.
The Oxford dictionary definition of superfood begins to steer us in the right direction: "A nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being."
This definition gives us two distinct features of a superfood to work with: “nutrient-rich” and “especially beneficial for health and well-being”. This is a great start! Yet what does it mean to be “nutrient-rich” or “especially beneficial”? We need to get more specific.
A superfood’s nutrient content refers to the antioxidants and phytonutrients present in whole food form. As such, “nutrient-rich” is referring to specific types of nutrients*. Antioxidants and phytonutrients found in whole foods have been strongly linked to the reduced risk of numerous chronic diseases in a plethora of scientific studies. Additionally, there are numerous examples of cultures worldwide where dietary intake of increased quantities of antioxidants and phytonutrients from whole foods has corresponded with decreased presence of chronic illness.
With this understanding, a true superfood must possess these salutary antioxidants and phytonutrients in a concentration or complexity that is greater than other foods from nature in their category. Nearly all fruits and vegetables confer benefits to our general well being when eaten regularly and should be the basis of our daily diet. Yet when we are declaring certain foods to be “super,” their beneficial properties need to reflect that lofty title. If this were not the case, then what would be the logic or reasoning behind distinguishing between “good” foods and “super” foods to begin with? The majority of true superfoods have been widely utilized for generations by different cultures worldwide for their therapeutic, vitalizing and rejuvenating qualities, their benefits have been validated by practical application, time and time again. Modern science continues to validate their efficacy through identifying the components of the whole-food that are deemed to be the source of their beneficial activity.
On cue, let’s focus on the second part of the Oxford definition, a superfood is “especially beneficial for health and well-being”. The nutrients mentioned above are revered because of the benefits that they offer to us. Some of these primary benefits are as follows:
In select instances science has validated the components of certain superfoods in actually combatting disease:
The following list illustrates some examples distiinquishing between “good foods” and superfoods based on the criteria of being “nutrient-rich” and “especially beneficial for health and well-being” as detailed above:
Good food Superfood
Cremini, Portabella, Porcini Reishi, Chaga, Turkey Tail
Blueberry, Raspberry, Blackberry Maqui berry, Acai berry
Apple, Pear, Plum, Orange Mangosteen, Camu Camu
Broccoli, Spinach, Sprouts Kale, Spirulina, Chlorella
All right! Now let's summarize with a clear and complete definition:
A superfood is an (organically grown) food in nature that:
I hope this definition provides some clarity and sparks you to question and discover what makes certain foods, super. True superfoods have a great deal to offer humanity and their full value and potential is yet to be completely realized. In future posts, I will explore how combining superfoods opens a doorway to wellness and vitality, never previously accessible.
*These nutrients go by many names including: polysaccharides, polyphenols, bio-flavonoids, anthocyanins, ALA, EPA, DHA, amino acids, curcuminoids, xanthones, carotenoids, etc.