The Truth Behind ‘Superfoods’

Diet & Weight Loss

So what’s this ‘superfood’ hype? Is it just a marketing ploy by shops or food manufacturers? Or perhaps there’s new research demonstrating their unique abilities, providing us with nutrients for optimum living that no other foods could?…. It’s not the latter.


The term ‘superfood’ was widely used within marketing and the media, but it’s not used by health care professionals. Its not a legally recognised term and is now tightly regulated; EU legislation in 2007 banned companies from marketing foods labelled as ‘superfoods’, unless the food comes with a reliable, scientifically based definition explaining why its beneficial for our health. The FSA has also provided some decent information on food labelling claims.

Generally we associate its definition as a food high in nutrients, antioxidants with impending health benefits. There are various categories advertised, e.g.  bee, green, or seaweed  ‘superfoods’, ‘superfood’ powders and drinks.

Photo by: dilynnroettker Flickr

Photo by: dilynnroettker Flickr


We have been overwhelmed by ‘superfood’ articles in numerous forms for a while now.  I’m sure at one point or another you’ve seen an article titled:

10 Top ‘Superfoods’ For….
  • Living longer
  • Weight loss or detox
  • Improving men’s/ women’s health
  • Chronic illness and disease prevention
  • Preventing flu and colds


So, where are all the scientific studies backing up these claims? These types of articles can create hype allowing food suppliers to charge more for foods, e.g. blueberries and quinoa, even though they are not marketing these foods with these suggestive marketing terms themselves. Subsequently on a personal level we can struggle to buy healthier foods but at a global level, local communities can find themselves unable to afford their staple foods, e.g. many South Americans, can no longer afford quinoa due to its worldwide popularity.

Quinoa salad. Photo by: Flickr

Quinoa salad. Photo by: Flickr


Supplements of ‘superfoods’ are another big market, e.g. Golgi berries in a powder form that suggest adding it to any recipe, for an inflated price of course. It’s easy to fall foul of claims such as: contains 5x more calcium than…, twice the protein of … and 150% more vitamin c than an orange.  The claims might be technically true but we have to put it into perspective. These supplements might be in a more ‘digestive state’, but no one can guarantee the rate of absorption, or how much we would have to consume to reap the ‘advertised benefits’ and they may not be in line with healthy living advice; they are certainly no substitute for a healthy diet.

Celebrities have also done their fair share of marketing & promoting  them, e.g. Elle Macpherson, Miranda Kerr, Salma Hayek and Victoria Beckham.

Here are some ‘superfood’ examples that have been in the spotlight and what nutrients they can offer.

Suggested ‘Superfoods’:


With any food, the portion size, bio-availability, its raw state when purchased and the cooking method can all dictate the amount of nutrients we absorb.


Some commonly advertised nutrients from these ‘superfoods’:

nutrient label

Please feel free to refer back to my vitamins and minerals article for further advice and links regarding nutrients and their food sources.


“Another big misconception is that antioxidants are interchangeable. They aren’t. Each one has unique chemical behaviors and biological properties. They almost certainly evolved as parts of elaborate networks, with each different substance (or family of substances) playing slightly different roles. This means that no single substance can do the work of the whole crowd”. Harvard school of public Health


The reality is that eating a well-balanced diet, not just specific foods will provide your body with enough nutrients to stay healthy and is key to producing the antioxidant effect within us. The body’s antioxidant cycle utilises the antioxidants from a variety of foods that contain, e.g. Vitamins: A, C and E, Selenium and plant chemicals (flavonoids & carotenoids).

woman and apple_c70

Photo by: CC-PR Flickr

I agree with the ethos, ‘let food be your medicine so you can reach good health’.

We all should be eating healthier, but not at the cost of lining the shops pockets or following insincere and overzealous marketing and/or literature.

So eat every colour of the rainbow and avoid becoming obsessed with the search for that one perfect, healthy food… it doesn’t exist.

Let’s not eat in vain and just enjoy our meals!


Article Written by: Lynn Risby BSc Nutritionist 
Feature image by: Licia Accorsi Flickr
Food Standards Agency
NHS Choices
Harvard School Of Public Health

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