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True Super

February 06, 2016

True Super

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:

  • Combatting the harmful effects of oxidation in the body caused by environmental and physical stresses and toxins in the body.
  • Reducing inflammation.
  • Balancing blood sugar, increasing oxygen flow and supporting immune system strength.
  • Protecting cell integrity and nourishing neurological and cognitive function.
  • Detoxifying heavy metal content from the body.
  • Supporting lymphatic and endocrine systems function, increasing oxygen flow and balancing hormones and adrenal levels.
  • Supporting sexual and reproductive system function and vitality.

In select instances science has validated the components of certain superfoods in actually combatting disease:

  • Curcumin in turmeric has been proven to kill certain types of cancer cells.
  • Polysaccharides in medicinal mushrooms have been shown highly active against various flu strains.

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:

  • Possesses a uniquely high concentration or complexity of salutary phytonutrients, antioxidants, etc. compared to other natural foods in its category.
    • e.g. Maqui berries have ten times the antioxidant activity than blueberries. Camu camu fruit contains six times the vitamin c content of that of an orange, as well as high concentrations of the amino acid, serine.
  • Confers therapeutic benefits to human beings' physiological and psychological well-being - these benefits must be validated by:
    • traditional cultural use and effectiveness for multiple generations and/or
    • scientific or clinical validation of efficacy.
      • e.g. Reishi, chaga and turkey tail medicinal mushrooms have been shown to support balanced blood sugar levels and strengthened immune systems. Mangosteen and turmeric have been shown to reduce inflammation. Chlorella has been shown to detoxify the body of heavy metal content.

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.






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