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Superfood is a marketing term used to describe foods with supposed health benefits.
The superfood term is not in common use by dietitians and nutrition scientists, many of whom dispute that particular foods have the health benefits often claimed by advocates of particular superfoods.[n 1]
The Macmillan Dictionary defines 'superfood' as a food that is considered to be very good for your health and that may even help some medical conditions. The Oxford Dictionary definition states a superfood is “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being”.
The group Cancer Research UK says, "the term 'superfood' is really just a marketing tool, with little scientific basis to it". Another source defines superfood as "a non-medical term popularized in the media to refer to foods that can have health-promoting properties such as reducing one's risk of disease or improving any aspect of physical or emotional health. So-called superfoods may have an unusually high content of antioxidants, vitamins, or other nutrients."
Use of the term
Many recent superfood lists contain common food choices whose nutritional value has been long recognized as exceptional. Examples of these would be berries, nuts and seeds in general, dark green vegetables (such as spinach, kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli), citrus fruits, fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, vegetables with bright, dark, or intense colors (such as beets and their greens, and sweet potatoes), many legumes (peanuts, lentils, beans), and whole grains as a group.
Possibly the most frequently mentioned superfood group, berries remain only under preliminary research and are not yet certain of providing health benefits. Specifically, blueberries, as a popular superfood example, are not especially nutrient-dense (considered to be a superfood characteristic), having moderate content of only three essential nutrients: vitamin C, vitamin K, and manganese. A food such as spinach or kale, by contrast, contains many nutrients rich in content (see nutrient tables in respective Wikipedia articles) and so may confer nutritional benefits beyond those of other foods moderate in nutrient content, such as berries.
Potential health effects
Cancer Research UK note that superfoods are often promoted as having an ability to prevent or cure diseases, including cancer; they caution, "you shouldn’t rely on so-called 'superfoods' to reduce the risk of cancer. They cannot substitute for a generally healthy and balanced diet".
Possible health benefits and effects of foods described as superfoods are often disputed or unsupported by scientific studies. For example, in one study, raw cocoa had positive effects on blood pressure and markers of heart health, while other research indicated less certainty about the possible effects of cocoa on cardiovascular disease.
Many dieticians say the word 'superfood' is just a marketing device. One expert said it can actually be harmful when applied to foods which have drawbacks. For example, some seaweeds hailed as superfoods contain natural toxins which are thought by some to increase risk of cancer and liver damage. The Dutch food safety organisation Voedingscentrum, presents some health claims that marketers use in selling many so-called superfoods such as goji berry, hempseed, chia seeds and wheatgrass and notes that such claims are not scientifically proven. The organisation warns that people who go to extremes in their conviction and consume large quantities of specific superfoods end up with an "impaired, one-sided diet". Historically, food fads come and go. For example, in the early 1900's bananas were praised as "sealed by nature in practically germ-proof packages" by the Journal of the American Medical Association and touted as a treatment for celiac disease.
Dietary supplements industry
Another noticeable consequence of the term 'superfood' is that it is often used as a marketing strategy for companies. For example, many weight loss supplements contain green tea extracts as key ingredients such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Currently, there is insufficient scientific evidence that consumption of green tea or EGCG specifically has any health benefit. Concerning possible anti-cancer effects, a review of research and promotion about green tea produced a 2013 warning letter from the US Food and Drug Administration about false advertising and health claims concerning the effects of green tea consumption.
- "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."
- di Noia, Jennifer (2014-06-05). "Defining Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables: A Nutrient Density Approach". Preventing Chronic Disease (National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (USA)) 11. doi:10.5888/pcd11.130390. ISSN 1545-1151. Retrieved 2014-06-11.
- "Nutrition facts profile for blueberries per 100 g, USDA Nutrient Tables, SR-21". Conde Nast. 2014. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
- Hill, Amelia (2007-05-13). "Forget superfoods, you can't beat an apple a day". The Observer.
- "The science behind superfoods: are they really super?". European Food Information Council. November 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
- superfood - definition. American English definition of superfood by Macmillan Dictionary
- Superfood (search). Oxford English Dictionary, online edition. 2014. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
- "'Superfoods' and cancer". Cancer Research UK. Retrieved August 2013.
- Superfoods definition - Medical Dictionary definitions of popular medical terms easily defined on MedTerms
- "Superfood 'ban' comes into effect". BBC News. 2007-06-28.
- Seeram, N. P. (2008). "Berry fruits: Compositional elements, biochemical activities, and the impact of their intake on human health, performance, and disease". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 56 (3): 627–9. doi:10.1021/jf071988k. PMID 18211023.
- Taubert, D; Berkels, R; Roesen, R; Klaus, W (2003). "Chocolate and blood pressure in elderly individuals with isolated systolic hypertension". JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association 290 (8): 1029–30. doi:10.1001/jama.290.8.1029. PMID 12941673.
- Galleano, M; Oteiza, PI; Fraga, CG (2009). "Cocoa, chocolate, and cardiovascular disease". Journal of cardiovascular pharmacology 54 (6): 483–90. doi:10.1097/FJC.0b013e3181b76787. PMC 2797556. PMID 19701098.
- "How 'Superfoods' Like Bulletproof Coffee Get Popular (Hint: It's Not Nutritional Science)". Healthline. January 2015. Retrieved 10 Mar 2015.
- Jeroen Schutijser, "Superfoods bestaan helemaal niet", NOS.nl 6 March 2014
- Levinovitz, Alan (22 April 2015). "The First Superfood". Slate (magazine). Retrieved 23 April 2015.
- "Green tea". National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, US National Institutes of Health. 2014. Retrieved 10 Sep 2014.
- Schneeman BO (April 2013). "Letter Updating the Green Tea and Risk of Breast Cancer and Prostate Cancer Health Claim April 17, 2012; RE: Health Claim Petition: Green Tea and Reduced Risk of Cancer Health Claim (Docket No. FDA-2004-Q-0427)". US Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved 20 November 2013.
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