Why You Can Ease Up On Superfoods

mona-vie-product-picsThe race is on to be the next superfood.

I’ve frequently written about these boastful foods and beverages — whether it’s chia seeds, coconut water, kombucha, tropical berries like acai and gogi, or superjuices, such as MonaVie and Vemma.

As I’ve said before, these products may actually be good for you.  Many do contain an abundance of nutrients or they’re high in antioxidants. But I’m just not sure they deserve such glowing praise — or in many cases, the steep price tag.


Bottom line, I’m opposed to the magical thinking.

And I’m worried an over-reliance on superfoods could cause you to take your eye off the bigger picture and distract you from eating a wide array of nutrient-rich foods.  I’m also concerned about the “health halo” effect that I recently wrote about.  Maybe a giant muffin contains a sprinkling of flaxseed, but that doesn’t erase the amount of calories and fat inside this breakfast cake.
chia

Just because a berry came from the Amazon and rates a high ORAC score, doesn’t mean it’s any better than home-grown fruits that are just as high in antioxidants and cost a heck of a lot less.  In fact, some experts are concerned that our devotion to exotic superfruits may steer us away from eating traditional fruits that don’t seem to live up to the praise bestowed on these more glamorous fruits.  We may just get a dose of the superfruits and end up eating even fewer fruits.

So I’m a bit troubled by today’s extreme worshipping of superfoods. That’s why I was thrilled to see the topic featured in the May issue of Cooking Light magazine (“Good news: You can ease up on superfoods”).  Registered dietitian Kathy Kitchens Downie did a superb job of tackling the superfoods debate. She wrote:

There’s nothing wrong with many superfoods (we will not come between you and your chocolate); what’s wrong is the claim of superpower status.  The superfood concept worries me because it suggests a magic way to get the nutrients you need — when the task of eating a richly varied and balanced diet is not, in our rush-hour world, all that easy anyway.

A single food can’t live up to the hype.  It’s about our pattern of eating…our overall diet.chia-bar

A mountain of evidence supports eating a varied diet than leans heavily on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, with some fish, quality protein and dairy products.  That’s the ticket to the ultimate nutrition goal:  a superdiet.

Amen.

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22 Comments

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  • I’ve always been bothered by “superfoods” too, mostly because they’re exploited in products that don’t actually contain the nutrients they’re marketed for. Example: my mother-in-law heard that blueberries are an “antioxidant powerhouse,” so she stocked up on blueberry juice, blueberry yogurt (sugarsugarsugar), and blueberry Poptarts. Yes, her Poptarts were now healthy because they had blueberries–never mind that they were 2% actual fruit and 98% artificial flavoring. Apparently, if it’s a “superfood,” you only need a little bit to reap the nutritional benefit =/

  • Janet

    Tamara,
    Thanks for your comments. That’s an excellent example of the superfood health halo in action. Blueberries are great…but the halo is giving people permission to load up on all sorts of products that may only contain a smidgeon of actual blueberries. Plus, all berries are great. I’d love people to be excited to eat all sorts of fruit.

  • Great post! I just had this conversation with the students in my Intro Nutrition course last week. We were discussing MonaVie, and one of my students said, “Is it bad for you?”, and I brought up some of the points you mention here, like the fact that there are many fruits that also have high antioxidant activity that don’t cost as much!

  • Loved this Cooking Light article. I sort of see superfoods like that high school boyfriend that was great in so many ways but you ultimately broke up. Superfoods are great on paper, interesting, new and exciting but there are many just-as-super foods that haven’t been labled super. I like understated, modest men and foods. I appreciate the myth-busting, thanks for the post.

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  • Christine Weithman

    Great post as ususal -One benefit to super fruits is it gets people to try a new item. Given the terrible statistics on the poor intake of fruits and vegetables by folks in this country, having a reason to try something might spark an interest in continuing to try new fruits/veggies. Now that the apple has “superfruit” status by some, it would be great for folks to eat more apples. Tamara’s comment about taking a new super fruit to the extreme however does not encourage variety which was another great point to the post. Fruits and veggies can be fun and tasty to eat, we just need to all work on ways to encourage folks to practice eating more of them to get to that “superdiet”.

  • Why would you want to “ease up” on superfoods? They’re the best foods on the planet, and you can’t really get too much of them. Plus, they help make up for some of the unhealthy food most people inevitably eat every day. Are you recommending replacing them with less-nutritious alternatives? WHY?
    I personally consume generous amounts of superfoods every day – spirulina, chlorella, wheat grass, hemp seed, coconut oil, parsley, cilantro, basil, turmeric, superfruit juices like pomegranate, acai and goji. I’ll bet that I don’t spend any more money on food than people do on a processed-food diet. The really great thing is that I can get the equivalent of 5 or 6 servings of spinach or kale in just ONE TABLESPOON of a green superfood powder. How many people eat that many green vegetables EVERY DAY?
    Oh, BTW… I’m also 60 years old and have never been treated by a doctor for any health condition in my life. Statistics show that two-thirds of people my age are on medications for chronic health conditions.

  • Janet

    Stan,
    You’ve totally missed my point. Of course I’m not recommending that people load up on less nutritious or processed foods. I just wish that people would expand their view of what is “super.” I agree with Christine who said one benefit of superfoods is that it may at least get people to try something new. Absolutely! That’s a tremendous benefit. For example, quinoa is being praised as a supergrain. Hey, I agree. I love quinoa…and if all the hype gets people to go out and buy quinoa and start cooking it at home…then that’s super!!

    What I don’t want to see is a quinoa pill. What I don’t want people to do is go out and buy a green superfood powder and take that instead of eating the real thing. Sorry, I disagree with your approach. If you take a swig of your green superfood powder, do you think you’re off the hook and make less of an effort to eat leafy greens and other vegetables — which all contain such a beautiful matrix of nutrients and compounds that simply can’t be captured in a pill or a potion.

    I’m happy that you’re in good health. I just don’t think the answer to vitality and longevity lies in a manufactured supplement or a single superfood. It’s your whole diet that really counts. And it should be full of a wide array of nutrient-rich superfoods. Plus, people should be enjoying the real stuff, not just crossing things off their list because they took a spoonful of green liquid or stirred hemp seed into their acai juice.

    Simply my point of view,

    Janet

  • Hi Janet

    I agree with the majority of your post here – superfoods are good news if they’re eaten as part of a well balanced diet.

    What I don’t understand about the superfood obsession is how every few weeks or months a new one is ‘discovered’ – like the previous commenter mentioned about blueberries. I hear clients talking about adding these superfoods to their diet because of all of the media coverage they’re receiving. and while it’s great that they’re adding new fruits and vegetables and healthy grains to their diets… I think we need to all have some common sense and some detachment from the media coverage.

    Because, really, if we step back a little, who DIDN’T know that blueberries were good news?! Why does it take a news headline to get people to eat them instead of sweets?!

    Great post tackling a controversial topic,

    Katie

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  • Green superfood powders like wheat grass, chlorella and spirulina ARE the real thing! They’re whole foods just like spinach, kale, broccoli or celery, and have many times the nutritional value of any of those. Where did you get your nutritional degree anyway?
    They are also not marketed as a “substitute” for other foods, but as “supplements,” and people who consume these items are generally health nuts and don’t eat processed food anyway.
    People who take a swig of superfruit juice and think they don’t have to eat healthy don’t want to take the effort to improve their health.

  • Stephanie Clairmont

    Thanks Janet for putting this information “out there.” I came across your blog today for the first time and will be following your posts in the future. I am a Registered Dietitian in Ontario where there is a great amount of information, push and up-sell on these “super” foods by various “nutritionists” and media. I love that you are presenting the truth in a clear and understandable way. People do not need to believe they are required to spend $$$ on foods to be healthy. There is a beautiful array of affordable, nutritious, local foods that we can eat to be as healthy as can be. As RD’s I think we need to stand up and let people know this truth. Thank you for doing so. All my support. Stephanie Clairmont

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  • Thanks for the info. Sometimes the people who take and promote these superfoods make very unrealistic claims. A radio host who interviews me swears by an acaiberry juice (very expensive). He tells me his arthritic knee is now “healed”.

    He has no reason to lie to me, however, I’m very skeptical.

    Thanks,

    Ken Leebow
    http://www.FeedYourHeadDiet.com

  • Taking just one superfood product may or may not cure a condition. People who tell such stories are not making them up, but it doesn’t mean it will do the same for you.

    That being said, nutrition is certainly the best healer on the planet, and a way better way to go instead of drugs. Ironically, the FDA says that only a drug can cure disease!

  • Excellent post and certainly supports my perspective. Superfoods are wonderful and a positive addition to the diet—but pills, powders, and potions should always be viewed as a supplement to a balanced approach to eating. A handful of Goji berries at lunch does not erase the morning’s donut! Eating has become so complicated and it really shouldn’t be. Thank you…great blog by the way!

  • I am glad to learn about them that many do contain an abundance of nutrients or they’re high in antioxidants. I’ve enjoyed reading this interesting and informative post on easing up on superfoods. Yours is a nice job.

  • I do agree with the argument that the answer to vitality and longevity doesn’t lie in a manufactured supplement or a single superfood. I appreciate the points in favour or against the claim. Thanks for the nice article.

  • http://www.myhealthyfitness.net

    This is a great website to check out if you’re interested in taking care of your body. There’s tons of information updated daily that includes how to loose weight, how to weight train if you’ve just started, info for bodybuilders, and awesome recipes…

  • I am a firm believer in too much of “anything” is not good for you. Although these “superfoods” may be beneficial, putting 100% confidence in them is not good. Its always good to keep a balanced diet and compliment it with superfoods like the Acai.

  • Robert Hollis

    Totally agree Janet! We shouldn’t rely on a single food to supply us all the nutrients that we need daily. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is always the best. Thank you for sharing this. I would definitely share this to my clients. More posts to come! Cheers!

    Body Slimming San Antonio TX

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