Aerial shot of superfoods in separate spoons on a grey concrete background

March marks National Nutrition Month—and that’s super exciting! But you might want to rethink celebrating this super month with superfoods.

Superfoods have been touted as cure-all foods that some claim can cure the common flu, prevent your risk of cancer, and tackle any health concern in between.

So are superfoods more hoax or health cure? Let’s see what some of HealthTap’s doctors have to say.

 

The Truth About Superfoods

Superfoods are defined as nutrient-dense foods that are generally believed to be especially beneficial for a person’s health or well-being. This isn’t necessarily false, as Dr. Ed Friedlander notes, “some foods are more nutritious than others—you’re better off eating an orange than salty corn chips”.

But there’s a big difference between recognizing that some foods are more nutritious than others and claiming that singular foods have super healing powers. In fact, there is no FDA regulation or criteria for what makes a food super. This makes a lot of sense when you discover that “superfood” is actually a marketing, not a medical, term.

The term “superfood” originated from a post-WWI food marketing strategy of a fruit company trying to drive up sales of their bananas. The United Fruit company claimed that bananas had a wealth of healthy benefits and should be included in every meal—and the superfood was born!

 

Breaking Down Antioxidants

But what about all the antioxidants at the center of so many superfoods’ health benefits? Surely those have to be great for me! Well, yes and no.

Antioxidants are “substances that protect your cells against oxidation, especially oxidation molecules called free radicals” (thanks, Dr. William Cromwell!). Free radicals are thought to be harmful to the body because they cause cell damage.

Some NCCIH studies found that people who eat more fruits and vegetables, which are high in antioxidants, have lower risks of several diseases like heart disease, stroke, and cancer. The only issue is that these studies couldn’t determine if lowered disease risk was due to just eating antioxidant rich foods or if it could be due to other lifestyle factors, like exercise or not smoking.

According to clinical trials and Dr. Martin Bress, there is no evidence that antioxidant pills and supplements prevent disease in any way.

So while it does appear eating whole fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants can be beneficial, consuming antioxidants in their isolated, supplemental form does not promote better health.

 

How to Actually Eat for Your Health

To nourish your body, focus on a super plate, not specific superfoods. That’s really the bottom line.  Feel free to dig into quinoa or treat yourself to an acai bowl, just be sure they’re only part of a well-rounded diet.

If you stick to primarily eating whole fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds you’ll receive all the nutrients and vitamins your body needs and be well on the way to becoming your super healthy self. If you need any help getting started with a healthy eating habit, enroll in a nutrition care guide or talk to a virtual doctor to create a nutrition plan.

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Hannah Dennison

Content Marketing Manager and Writer at HealthTap. Lover of all words, most books, and the Oxford comma.

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