Diet and Nutrition

What Makes Superfoods So…Super?

The term “superfood” has seen an increasing amount of buzz over the past couple years, but rather than this word being strictly a designation, it’s become more of a blanket term for the latest fit-food fad.

Follow me here: search “superfoods” in Google and you’ll see no less than ten results on the top 10, 12, 20 (insert number here) superfoods you should be eating, and that’s just on the first page. Some of the lists have the same items, and then another list will have a wild card superfood that didn’t show up on any of the other lists. It makes deciphering what is actually a superfood pretty difficult.

The reality of the situation is there are a lot of superfoods out there, and unlike what the terms implies, eating particular superfoods isn’t going to be the magic ticket to protection from disease and obesity. No single food contains everything we need to live in optimal health; however, incorporating many of these foods in to your diet will surely help to carve out a healthy lifestyle. Here’s why:

Superfoods are Extremely Nutrient Dense and Diverse

Along with “superfoods,” hopefully you’ve also heard the term “empty calories.” Sugary drinks, desserts and other junk foods are empty calories. They provide us with fuel, but it’s not the kind of fuel that does anything positive for your body. It’s kind of like putting the wrong type of gas in your car. It’ll still run, just not very efficiently, and it’ll cause problems with your engine over time.

So when we eat things like “superfoods” we’re providing fuel that is going to be the best for our system because they are nutrient dense. Nutrient density refers to the ratio of nutrients in one serving. Superfoods are known to have the highest level of nutrients for the least amount of servings.

Additionally, superfoods have some of the best diversity of nutrients meaning they contain more variety in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in one, single food. So you can already see the benefits, essentially you’ll get most nutritional bang for a bite.

 

They’re In Their Natural State

If you do take a look at all the varying lists of superfoods you’ll notice they all have one thing in common: they wont be found in the middle of the grocery store. Superfoods are whole foods, meaning they’re not processed with any other ingredients or additives. All of those nutrients come naturally to the superfood source, and those kinds of foods are commonly found along the perimeter of the store.

More specifically, you’ll find many superfoods in the produce section since the majority of them are fruits and vegetables. However, stuffing your cart with fruits and vegetables still won’t guarantee you all the great nutritional benefits. If it’s possible to buy organic you’ll ensure you’re getting whole foods that don’t contain residues such as pesticides and other chemicals. Buying produce that is in season will also assist in getting the best nutritional bounty in the store.

 

Superfoods Possess Preventative Properties

One the most well known benefits of superfoods is their preventative elements, antioxidants being a big one. Antioxidants help to protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals. Without getting too molecular, free radicals are a group of atoms that are highly reactive and can start a chain reaction of the damage when they get involved with the DNA or membrane of our cells. Free radicals can be caused by nearly everything we’re subjected to in society (second hand smoke, ppollution, you name it), and antioxidants come in to play to ward off these reactions.

And we don’t have to tell you where these vitamins (particularly vitamins E and C) and carotenoids can easily be found. So when you see claims touting a food’s “superfood” status and ability to prevent different types of cancers and slowing down the again process, take a look at the label on the back.

 

So although “superfoods” do exist in the sense of having awesome nutritional qualities, there are plenty of other foods that are great for you and have been snubbed of the superfood label. Do your research on nutritional content, and you could already be eating more of the superfood diet than you think.

Just keep in mind that balance is the answer to everything. No one superfood is a cure-all, and there’s no need to break the bank on exotic foods like goji berries and maca root when broccoli and blueberries will give you just as much of a “superfood” punch.

 

 

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Elle Michels

Elle Michels

Based in Washington, D.C., Elle Michels is a contributing writer to Womenshealth.com.

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