What makes a superfood so super?

Farmer picking kale

You've heard the term thrown around on television, social media and even the grocery store: superfood.

So, what on earth is a superfood and what makes it so super?

To put it simply: “Superfood” is a marketing term coined to influence food trends and sell products. There’s no scientific or research-based definition of the word. Still, Merriam-Webster defines it as “food (such as salmon, broccoli, or blueberries) that is rich in compounds (such as antioxidants, fiber, or fatty acids) considered beneficial to a person's health.”

Though many foods could be described as super, it's important to understand that no single food holds the key to good health or disease prevention. Calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients are all necessary fuel for the human body to function. Because we only need so many calories daily, the more nutrients we can pack into those calories, the better.

Or should I say the more super?

Since the term doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, I thought I'd share a closer look at some healthy, commonly available options worthy of the esteemed title.

What really are nutrient-rich, “super” foods

Non-starchy vegetables

Non-starchy vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals — with so few calories and carbohydrates that everyone can enjoy more!

Artichokes, asparagus, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, green beans, radishes, squash, tomatoes and turnips are just some examples of non-starchy vegetables.

Berries

Berries are a nutritional powerhouse of vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrient antioxidants such as anthocyanidins. Berries are higher in fiber and lower in carbohydrates than most other fruits.

Some of the most common berries include raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and cranberries.

You can enjoy them as part of your breakfast routine, on a salad, or even as a mid-day snack. The health benefits of berries are as versatile as their culinary applications!

Citrus fruit

Oranges, lemons, tangerines, limes and grapefruit — these citrus fruits are an excellent source of immune-boosting vitamin C and are packed with anti-inflammatory phytonutrients such as hesperidin, naringenin, alpha-carotene, zeaxanthin and cryptoxanthin.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms are full of nutrients and may reduce your risk of certain diseases. Though nutrient content varies depending on the type, mushrooms contain vitamin A, potassium, fiber and a unique antioxidant amino acid called ergothioneine.

Some of the most common varieties of edible mushrooms are button, portobello, shitake, crimini and oyster mushrooms.

Legumes

Legumes are a class of plant foods made up of beans, lentils, peas and alfalfa. They earn the superfood label because they're loaded with nutrients such as B vitamins, various minerals, protein and fiber. In fact, legumes are one of our highest-fiber foods, so they are good for everyone to include routinely.

Legumes are also a necessary part of a vegetarian or semi-vegetarian diet because they are a source of protein and chockful of minerals and B vitamins that we otherwise lack without animal protein.

Raw nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are rich in fiber, vegetarian protein and heart-healthy fats, and research indicates that eating raw nuts and seeds can protect against heart disease.

Common nuts and seeds include:

  • Almonds, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts and peanuts
  • Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds and hemp seeds

Overall, eating a nutritious diet rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants is one of the most important parts of a healthy lifestyle. However, I want to note that while superfoods are good for your health and provide many nutrients you need daily, eating superfoods does not guarantee a “healthy” diet.

Eating a superfood every day will not automatically overcome the negative effects of too much added sugar or fried foods.

Eating a superfood here or there will not make an otherwise poor diet a healthy diet.

Balance, variety and moderation are key considerations of a healthy lifestyle. Superfoods can improve your diet's quality, but you must consider everything you eat and drink.

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