What Are Superfoods?

I first read about superfoods a few years back in a national newspaper and it was still yet another fad dietitians had concocted for the sole purpose of confusing the likes of you and me. New theories about what we should and should not eat seem to appear regularly. A few years back butter was meant to be bad for you, now it is not. And after a long spell in exile, coffee has made a return and is now supposedly good for you (in moderation of course) due to it being full of antioxidants. I have no wish to confuse you any further with regard to what you should or should not eat, but I will try to explain exactly what a superfood is and what is not.

Any food which has a high phytonutrient content can be classed as a superfood. I know what you’re thinking. Just as you manage to eat a diet high in all the essential nutrients, along come phytonutrients to upset the apple cart! Do not worry, phytonutrients are not an essential part of a healthy diet. Phytonutrients are chemicals which naturally occur in plants and there is a little evidence that these chemicals may help prevent diseases such as some cancers and heart disease. Unlike nutrients which have been proved to be beneficial to health, there is still little evidence to indicate the health benefits of phytonutrients.

The role of phytonutrients in plants is to protect from toxins in the environment, insects and disease. They help the plant’s immune system if you like. In humans, some scientists claim that phytonutrients such as flavonoids (which are found in cocoa) and lycopene (found in tomatoes) can help in the prevention of cancer.

So, what is not a superfood? Well, all of the rest really – any food that does not contain high levels of phytonutrients. It is important not to get blinded by the term ‘superfood’. All food high in the essential nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, proteins and essential fats, you need to have in order to live. Superfoods are not essential and you can live a perfectly healthy life without including superfoods in your diet. However, you would struggle to exclude all superfoods from your diet because they include everyday foods such as tomatoes, broccoli and apples. Superfoods are simply a subset of essential healthy foods and the term probably owed more to media sensationalism than scientific inquiry.

The important thing to realize here is that balance is the key. A diet containing foods which include all the essential nutrients is what one has to aim for. Some of these foods may have been labeled as so-called ‘superfoods’ and may help prevent some cancers and heart disease. However, until there is more scientific evidence relating to this, the verdict is still out.

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