How the superfood phenomenon began its journey:
The first people who started bringing up the phenomenon of superfoods were raw foodists and vegans – apparently people, who worried about their health, objected almost all the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO), and began to search for the ‘magic pill’ that would replace products of animal origin.
It was an expert in dietetics and an advocate of the raw food movement, David Wolfe, who presented products such as cocoa beans, seaweed spirulina, goji berries and acai to the world.
People around the world happily received the news that some ‘super’ food products that offer you to “feel better, look younger, live longer” have been discovered. Moreover, along with the trend for all natural, local and organic, the word ‘superfood’ is started being used on the packaging of various products, which increased sales and attracted consumers’ attention.
The European Union even introduced a special law, which regulates the use of the term on the packaging: from July 2007, all the manufacturers who wanted to place the word ‘superfood’ on their packaging have been obliged to provide appropriate medical and scientific papers.
This phenomenon would have remained among small groups of people if such stars as Madonna, Sting and Gwyneth Paltrow have not started to sing the praises of superfood in interviews with glossy (and not very glossy) magazines.
And knowing how diet, fitness and health trends work, the appearance of the word ‘superfoods’ in interviews with celebrities gave the superfood phenomenon a huge boost. People started googling about superfoods, discovering their health benefits and claiming that they found a magic pill that cures pretty much everything. But what is superfood and can it really cure everything?
What are superfoods?
Superfood is a group of products in which the concentration of nutrients exceeds the concentration of nutrients in 99% of other foods. Superfoods are commonly referred to as something between food and medicine.
Superfood’s description and definition sounds as if you’re reading about some super healthy supplement, but it’s still considered to be food.
What kind of superfood is there?
Superfoods are: roots, seeds, leaves, seaweed, berries and other plant parts that are used in the form of powders, juices and extracts. They grow, usually in remote places of the planet like the Amazon and Tibet, but you do not have to drive so far in order to get them: the most common products of this category can be easily ordered online or bought in health food stores. Convenient? Definitely!
The chemical composition of superfoods is not like of common food: it exceeds the concentration of protein, vitamins, minerals, essential acids, antioxidants and other nutrients with a minimum number calories. Isn’t it great? You get a product that gives your body everything it requires and you don’t gain excess weight. That’s fantastic, if you ask me.
A list of diseases that supposedly can be avoided by eating superfoods can take half of this article, so let’s not dwell on that. But generally speaking, by eating superfoods you become stronger, more energetic, more fit and healthier.
But that’s not it. The beauty industry has seriously shifted its focus to superfoods, moving it from grocery shelves right into jars of creams and shower gels. Skincare, haircare and other –care products supposedly stimulate the growth of nails and hair, while improving the skin color and getting rid of acne, rashes and allergies on the skin.
The best-known superfoods
Bright red berries that look like solid raisins are gaining popularity for their rejuvenating and toning properties. One tablespoon of berries contains one gram of protein, 36% of the daily dose of vitamin A and only 18 calories. Goji berries contain a record-breaking amount of vitamin C (hundreds of times greater than citrus) as well as essential amino acids and polysaccharides. They grow mainly in Asia, Mongolia and Central America.
First people who discovered about the super properties of these little sesame-like seeds were the Aztec and Mayan, who made chia their main crop. Over the years, these seeds were the main food of the Aztec army. Essential fatty acids that are contained in chia, can’t be found in such a concentration anywhere in the nature, while the amount of antioxidants is much more than in blueberries and other berries. Morevoer, chia is rich in iron, vitamins, minerals, zinc and potassium. Due to the fact that the seeds are able to swell and expand in contact with the fluid (they absorb 10 times more water than their own weight), they are often used in puddings and as egg substitutes in vegan desserts.
The blue-green alga spirulina has gained international fame in the late ‘90s, when many people started to follow the plant-based diet and the reliable source of complete protein became needed. Then the study that had found in spirulina vitamin B12 (deficit of which is a common problem of all vegans) and high protein content, came in handy: tablets and capsules with blue-green algae began to be sold out like hot cakes. Nowadays it is spirulina that is the most well-selling superfood, while special farms to grow spirulina are widely created around the world.
Let’s state the obvious: spirulina is amazing. Need more proofs? How about that: spirulina contains 4000% more beta carotene than carrots. Impressive, huh? Check out more impressive facts about spirulina here.
Cocoa beans – the original raw material which is used for making all chocolate products. However, unlike industrial chocolate products that contain fat, milk and sugar, raw cocoa beans are capable of raising your mood without unpleasant consequences. In addition, they contain iron and magnesium, and the amount of antioxidants is 20 times greater than in green tea. The raw cocoa beans taste bitter and remind the taste of coffee beans so they are often added to energetic bars and smoothies.
Scientists have learned about the beneficial properties of acai berries that grow in the northern part of South America only in 2004, during an expedition to the Amazon rainforest. Paying attention to the excellent physical form of elderly Ababorigines, scientists wanted to know their secret and began to analyze their diet.
Very soon they found out that the reason lies in small dark purple berries that are daily consumed in large quantities. In addition to the antioxidants that are present in the berries, scientists have found a lot of other nutrients such as essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and fiber.
After the edition of The Telegraph article in 2007 acai has got the second name – youth berry, and many scientists seriously believe that this berry can help to preserve beauty, health and youth. Since it is impossible to deliver fresh berries, they come frozen, sublimated, or transformed into a powder, which then can be added to yogurt, desserts and cocktails.
For the first time I learned about superfoods about a year ago at a lecture of a famous raw foodist and promoter of vegan food. The lecturer was skeptical about the properties of these supplements due to poor digestibility (all of these products either dried or sublimated, so their ability to exert a positive effect on the body is reduced), but did not see nothing wrong in their use.
I have taken many kinds of superfood: propolis, spirulina algae, raw cocoa beans, chia seeds and others. I cannot say that I feel a significant effect of their use, as well as of the use of multivitamin complexes. In any case, I like the fact that, unlike the latter, superfoods are 100% natural. As a rule, it is labeled as ‘bio’ products and are very tasty. Their color and texture can become a bright element in dishes and drinks.
As for the price and if it is justified, it depends on the specific cases. I would not recommend buying coconut sugar, which is considered to be superfood (mainly due to its low glycemic index) as it’s pure robbery. But at the same time, I can advise to consume vitgrass for those who have no opportunity to consume a lot of fresh herbs (vitgrass contains a record number of chlorophyll).
My personal opinion about superfoods
I would like to say that superfoods are really very useful products that contain a great number of vitamins and minerals. It would be highly beneficial to include them in our diets. But the other side of the issue – many overseas products are not traditional for our area, our ancestors did not consume them, and so the intolerances or simply developing allergies to them is quite possible.
Moreover, you also should not consider superfood products, such as goji berries, as a wonderful means to lose weight or cure all diseases. Despite the fact that they contain a large amount of antioxidants and may slightly reduce appetite, you cannot solve the problem of weight loss only with consumption of these berries.
Propagandists of superfoods claim that by consuming them, you can treat many (if not all) diseases. This is partly true. However, you should understand that superfood is not medicine and it will give at least some results after few months (or even years) of regular use. And we – humans – are usually not that patient.
Including superfoods into your diet is definitely a good idea, but limiting yourself in other foods just because you’re eating superfoods is lunacy. Let’s say the diet of an individual consists of goji berries, chia seeds and cocoa beans. Yes, such an individual indeed gains tons of Vitamins, minerals and amino-acids, but what this person lacks is protein, which can be found in meat and dairy, and healthy fats, which can be found in fatty fish, avocados, dark chocolate and other foods.
What science says
The most useful superfood due to ORAC scale (ORAC – table of products’ antioxidant activity) are sorghum bran, acai berries, blackberries, blueberries, ginger and pecans.
ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) is the measure of the antioxidants’ ability to absorb free radicals. The higher the rate of the ORAC is, the more effective the product is in the fight against cancer, cardiovascular diseases, chronic diseases of organs and tissues, and so on.
Products with high ORAC rates are capable of slowing down the aging process of both body and brain. Therefore, a diet consisting of foods with high ORAC, can help you to stay healthy, young and beautiful for a long period of time. The foods which have the highest ORAC rates are fruits, vegetables and berries.
Actually, any product rich in vitamins and minerals that are so needed for the body, can be considered as superfood. For example, blueberries can be easily called superfood since they contain vitamins and antioxidants in large quantities.
The same goes for parsley, dill, cilantro, goutweed from your grandmother’s garden can also be considered as superfood. But, you see, it’s not fashionable! Goji berries, chia seeds sound much more fashionable! They grow, usually in remote places of the planet, which greatly increases their prestige and, of course, cost.
So it’s not the health benefits people are chasing with all these superfoods, it’s the prestige. The trendier the product, the more chances that people are going to be buying it.
Ten experts at the Conference on Functional Medicine in 2013 voted for their top 12 of superfood. The list included: avocado, spinach, seaweed, pomegranate, blueberries, broccoli (and cruciferous), beef, wild salmon from Alaska, almonds, coconut oil, olive oil, green tea.
Also, the following products can be easily considered superfood: black and red berries: strawberries, raspberries, cherries, blackberries, blueberries, mulberries, red and black currants; vegetables and fruits, selected according to the rule of traffic lights (red, yellow, green) – leafy vegetables, cucumbers, tomatoes, colorful peppers; buckwheat, barley, whole-grain products; dairy products (yogurt and cheese); dry red wine.
By adding superfoods to your diet on a regular basis, you help your body to gain all the necessary substances needed for proper functioning. Such a diet is not only good for the body, but also contributes to the elimination of toxins and other harmful substances from the body. The absence of allergenic properties suggests that it is the right choice, even in terms of medicine.