It’s hard to be online without running into click bait about so-called “superfoods”. What they are seems to depend on whom you ask (and what they’re selling). Likewise, it’s hard to pin down the exact health benefits of superfoods since this too seems to be all over the place.
That’s why this seems like a good time for a superfoods review. Let’s see what is backed by science and what’s not.
What are ‘superfoods’?
A healthy lifestyle full of wise choices can reduce the risk of chronic disease. In other words, what you eat is important not only for maintaining a healthy weight, but also for avoiding diseases like cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
Superfoods are those which help you along these lines. They’re good for you on more than just one level and consumed for their disease-preventing properties. Many of these claims are indeed backed by science.
Retailers of so-called superfoods also want you to believe that some superfoods also go so far as to act as anti-aging, mood-lifting, brain-boosting agents as well.
The most likely health benefits, as you’ll see below, are related to antioxidant and omega-3 fatty acids found in some superfoods.
Here are the most talked-about superfoods.
While it’ not the ultimate source, WebMD does carry some cache when it comes to healthy living and diet. We’ll use their list to explore the most talked-about superfoods and to separate the hyped products from the true superfoods.
Their list of top superfoods (1) looks like this:
- tea (green or black)
Fiber makes a superfood.
Several items on their list, including beans, are there because they are rich in fiber. Fiber is a superfood because it helps you feel full, helping with weight loss. It also maintains healthy blood sugar levels and cholesterol as well (2). Beans and vegetables or fruit are good sources of fiber, which explains a number of items on the WebMD superfoods list.
Soy lowers cholesterol, or so they say.
Soy is on most superfood lists because it’s long been believed to lower cholesterol. However, this may not be true (3), and it may even raise the risk of breast cancer in women (4). The jury is still out on that one. Therefore, some do not consider soy to be a superfood.
Omega-3 for the heart and joints.
Salmon and walnuts are considered superfoods partly because they are high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s impart a wide variety of health benefits in the human body, not the least of which include:
- possibly helping a little in relieving symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (5) like joint tenderness
- reducing risk of cardiovascular disease (6)
Tea for lowering cholesterol and preventing cancer.
Tea (both black and green) (7) contains incredibly high levels of antioxidants. Antioxidants soak up free radicals in the cells, acting like a sponge. Free radicals are associated with cancerous cell growth so it’s important to have as few of them as possible.
Plus, if you substitute tea for sugary sodas, you’ll be cutting calories, lowering your glycemic load, and possibly losing weight as a result.
Calcium is essential for building strong bones and preventing osteoporosis. Ounce for ounce, yogurt has the highest concentrations of calcium than any other food (8).
Other major sources of calcium include other superfood list items salmon and tofu (soy).
Blueberries are one of the most antioxidant-rich foods we know of.
Broccoli: prevention of cancer, cardio vascular disease, and help with diabetes
There is growing evidence that broccoli may actually fight cancer. It’s the isothiocyanates in broccoli that work to destroy cancer cells and to suppress tumor development, according to work published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry (9).
Tomatoes, pumpkins, and oranges.
Tomatoes are also believed to help fight cancer. They’re especially useful by the body if you simmer them, making their nutrients more readily absorbed.
Again, it’s about the antioxidants (10). Tomatoes contain high levels of beta-carotene and lycopene. It’s the lycopene that neutralizes free radicals, possibly leading to cancer-preventing and fighting properties.
Beta-carotene strengthens the immune system. Tomatoes are also full of Vitamin E and flavenoids.
Pumpkins are noted for their antioxidants as well: beta-carotene, to be exact. Beta-carotene is converted to Vitamin A and imparts eye health benefits. It has also been linked to heart health (11) (12).
The final word
While it would be silly to believe you can prevent chronic disease by eating a mouthful of any superfood, all the foods explored here today are healthy for you.
The importance of a balanced diet is not up for debate, and the danger of concentrating on just the superfoods could upset an otherwise healthy diet.
No food is going to do much on its own. It’s best to consider the whole diet rather than concentrating on a few superfoods amidst an otherwise unhealthy diet.
Summary: Considering the countless health benefits, superfoods should most definitely be the foundation of your diet.
All references retrieved 10/21/2015
- Seliger, Susan. ‘Superfoods’ Everyone Needs. WebMD. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/diet/superfoods-everyone-needs
- Harvard T.H.Chan School of Public Health. Fiber. Retrieved from http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/fiber/
- JM van Raaif, MBKatan, CE West, and JG Hautvast.
Influence of diets containing casein, soy isolate, and soy concentrate on serum cholesterol and lipoproteins in middle-aged volunteers. Retrieved from http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/35/5/925.abstract?ijkey=ddf60a294968bb5bed025bf6c1147a7c9ff75a8f&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha
- Dr. Otis Brawley. Is soy linked to breast cancer? Retrieved from http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2011/01/19/is-soy-linked-to-breast-cancer/
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/omega3/introduction.htm
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Health. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcidsandHealth-HealthProfessional
- Ki Won Lee and Hyong Joo Lee. Antioxidant Activity of Black Tea vs Green Tea. Retrieved from http://jn.nutrition.org/content/132/4/785.full
- Calcium. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/
- Mirsky, Steve. Broccoli Fights Cancer by Clearing Bad Tumor Suppressors. Scientific American. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/broccoli-fights-cancer-by-clearing-11-01-27/
- Lycopene. Medline Plus. Retrieved from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/554.html
- Beta-carotene. University of Maryland Medical Center. Retrieved from http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/betacarotene
- Brambilla D, Mancuso C, Scuderi MR, Bosco P, Cantarella G, Lempereur L, et al. The role of antioxidant supplement in immune system, neoplastic, and neurodegenerative disorders: a point of view for an assessment of the risk/benefit profile. Nutr J. 2008 Sep 30;7:29.