One Small Change: What Makes Superfoods So Super?

Superfoods have been all the rage for years, but what makes them so super? Should you spend extra money on exotic ones, or can you find them in your grocery store?

Acai, pomegranate and goji, oh my! In honor of the recent Superbowl and an article recently published on entitled, “A Doctor Dishes: Which ‘Superfoods’ Are Worth the Cost?”, I started thinking: where did the term “superfood” come from and what makes them so darn super? Here’s what my research dug up:

According to Oxford dictionaries, a superfood is “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being.” So superfoods must be healthy for us, right?

There is speculation as to whether the research backing up some of these superfoods has been overstated. In other words, can pomegranates alone really prevent cancer just because they have high antioxidant levels? Since then it seems like every health food marketer is claiming their latest exotic “superfood” will make all the difference in our health and well-being, it's important to get to the bottom of these claims before spending our hard-earned money.

As a result of recent criticism of the lofty health promises, some legislation has occurred, with the European Union prohibiting the use of the term “superfood” unless accompanied by a medical claim supported by evidenced-based research. In the US, we still have no regulations on the use of the term.

So, that leaves us with our original definition: A nutrient-rich, healthy food. Let’s consider what makes foods healthy for us:

  • Moderate in calories
  • High in fiber
  • Rich in omega-3 or monounsaturated fatty acids
  • High in vitamins and minerals
  • Low in trans- and saturated fat
  • Low in added sugars
  • Rich in phytonutrients (such as antioxidants and other healthy compounds found in fruits and veggies)

Do we really need to spend $12.99 per pound (or more) on exotic foods that can provide us with these nutrients? Probably not.  And in fact, the learnvest article indicates that some of the nutrients in these exotic foods may be lost during the packaging and shipping process.  Yet another reason to buy local!

If you hadn’t already guessed, the best superfoods are ones that we find at the grocery store every day like dark leafy greens, fruits, veggies, lean protein, legumes, nuts, whole grains and foods rich in omega-3’s like flax and salmon. Consider one small change by adding a “superfood” to each meal that you eat.

Breakfast: Add a handful of blueberries to your morning cereal, some ground flax or chopped almonds to yogurt, veggies in your omelet or just enjoy some oatmeal with cinnamon.

Lunch: Pack some carrot, celery or cucumber sticks with lunch. Put a big handful of spinach on your sandwich. Make that sandwich with whole grain bread. Choose the soup and salad or a sandwich and salad. Finish of the meal with a sweet, but healthy ending: fruit. Choose beans instead of meat for lunch one day.

Dinner: Roast some salmon and top with a simple mixture of plain yogurt, dill and lemon juice. Make a big side salad with all the colors of the rainbow (including fruit!) and top with a moderate amount of vinaigrette. Steam or sauté your favorite veggies in garlic, ginger and/or cayenne for a kick. Cook a whole grain like quinoa (cooks in 15 minutes), barley or brown rice and top with some lean protein, like salmon, to let the juices drip down and absorb into the grain.

Snack: Pair a fruit or veggie with a healthy fat or protein such as nuts, low-fat string cheese, a hard-boiled egg or yogurt. Munch on a handful of pecans and dates -- it tastes just like pecan pie! Or have a couple or squares (not bars) of dark chocolate, 70% or more.

Tell Us: What are your favorite “super” foods?

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Jason Machowsky, MS, RD, CSCS is a registered dietitian, certified personal trainer, author of Savor Fitness mp; Nutrition wellness blog and avid proponent of MyBodyTutor, a health coaching website dedicated to helping people stay consistent with their healthy eating and exercise goals.

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