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When looking for healthier alternatives to nourish our bodies, we are often recommended to include “superfoods” in our diet. What exactly are these “superfoods”, and what makes them super?

In this article:

  1. What are Superfoods?

    • The Origin of the Superfood

    • Functional Foods

  2. Are Superfoods worth the hype?

    • Health in the Modern World

    • Superfoods and Cultural Connections

  3. Things to Think About…

What are Superfoods?

Produce and foodstuffs labeled “superfoods” are not limited to a single food group. As a matter of fact, weblists often present a wide variety of fruits, roots, leafy greens, grains, nuts, and fermented foodstuffs, that you might wonder at this point, “what isn’t a superfood?”

Right now, the term “superfood” does not have an official scientific, regulatory, or legal description. In general, it is used informally to indicate foods that can provide nutrients in high quantity, play and important role in diets, and contribute to the proper operation of the body (Fernandez-Ríos et al., 2022a).

 

The Origin of the Superfood

The earliest recorded instance of the term “superfood” was around the World War I era. Food marketing strategists saw the benefits of the banana’s practicality during a time of frugality. So, they lead with this fact in their advertising campaigns. Published pamphlets emphasized the convenience of adding bananas in a daily diet. It was “cheap, nutritious, easily digested, available everywhere, good when cooked and not cooked, and sealed by nature in a germ-proof package” (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, n.d.).

 

Functional Foods

Superfoods: Legit or Myth
Are Superfoods really what they claim to be? | Superfoods: Legit or Myth? | image © rawpixel.com, Freepik

Superfoods are comparable to “functional foods”. These are foods or food ingredients that provide health benefits beyond meeting one’s basic nutritional needs. This is because they contain vitamins, minerals, protein, or prebiotics that positively affect the body’s physiological functions. They can improve one’s wellbeing and health, reduce disease risk, and/or improve disease outcomes (Litwin, Clifford and Johnson, n.d).

However, a noticeable difference between the two is the public’s perception. “Superfoods”, as the more colloquial term, has gained a reputation of being a marketing tactic used to drive sales from the growing health-conscious population. Meanwhile, the label, “functional foods”, has seen more use in the scientific research community.

Interestingly, scientific attention to discover more about these special foods and their special atttributes has been steadily developing. In truth, a rising number of studies confirm the potential impact our food has on our health (Jagdale, 2021). So, it only makes sense that we make an effort to be more discerning with the foods and drinks we consume.

 

Are Superfoods worth the hype?

In recent years, it would seem that more and more produce and foodstuffs are quickly being labeled as “superfoods”. Familiar commmercials emphasize the high content of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in these foods. But the question remains: “Are superfoods worth it?”

 

Health in the Modern World

As cities expand and the urban lifestyle is adopted, superfoods can provide those essential nutrients and energy in a convenient way (John and Singla, 2021). Adding superfoods to your meals can help the busy you reach your daily nutritional needs in a pinch.

Nevertheless, we must keep in mind that consumption of these nutrient-rich foods need to be controlled. Excessive intake of these foods can still cause adverse effects (Fernandez-Ríos, 2022a). Only consume superfoods at recommended amounts to maximize their health benefits.

 

Superfoods and Cultural Connections

The term “superfoods” also carries the notion of foods that are “traditionally utilized” in non-Western areas. Categorically, these superfoods can both be seen as food and medicine (Jagden, 2021).

In the Philippines, we have our fair share of endemic superfoods as well. Some of these are mangosteen, malunggay (moringa), saluyot (jute), talinum (waterleaf), atis (sugar apple), alugbati (vine spinach), kulitis (amaranth), guyabano (soursop), coconut, and mango (Keerthana, n.d.). While most of these super fruits and vegetables are known to make for tasty local dishes, they are traditionally used to naturally prevent ailments, and treat injuries too.

The Department of Health even looks into scientifically validating the medicinal safety and efficacy of plants used in Philippine traditional medicine. So far, they have validated 10 medicinal plants. They are namely lagundi, sambong, ampalaya, garlic, guava, tsaang-gubat, yerba-buena, niyug-niyogan, acapulco, and ulasimang-bato (Prinsipe and Jose, 2002).

 

Things to Think About…

In our search for bettering our health and well-being, we have found ourselves returning back to our roots. Likely, we have realized that opting for naturally derived medicine is the better choice over modern “miracle drugs” which can cause negative side-effects.

Since these plants are endemic and very accessible, you can try to grow them yourself. Add them to your meals fresh after picking them off the stem. Or hand out your harvest with family and friends to share the health benefits of including natural “super” ingredients in their diet. How exciting is it to know that superfoods can be grown in your own garden!

“Super Plate”, a Healthy Eating Plate | Superfoods: Legit or Myth?| image © Harvand T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Even so, including a few superfoods in your daily diet does not ensure that you will meet all the necessary nutrients you need in a day. We must still consume a variey of foods to gain the benefit of eating a wide array of essential vitamins and minerals. This way also prevents us from eating too much or too little of a particular nutrient. and, as a bonus, it keeeps our meals interesting and flavorful (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, n.d.).

For this reason, focus on creating a “super plate” that is full of different, healthy, and flavorful foods (ibid). A “super plate” requires a combination of healthy oils, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy protein, and water.

Lastly, when looking to use natural remedies, it would be wise to always refer to reliable and peer-reviewed scientific research. We can never be too careful when it comes to our health and safety.

 


References:

Butnariu, Monica and Ioan Sarac. “Functional Food.” In International Journal of Nutrition 3, 3 (2019):1-7. DOI: 10.14302/issn.2379-7835.ijn-19-2615.

Cobos, Ángel, and Olga Díaz. “‘Superfoods’: Reliability of the Information Available on the Web.” In Foods 12 (2023):1-24. DOI: 10.3390/foods12030546.

Litwin, N., J. Clifford, and S. Johnson. “Functional Foods for Health.” Colorado State University Extension. n.d. Accessed July 16, 2023. https://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/foodnut/09391.pdf.

Fernandez-Ríos, Ana et al. “A Critical Review of Superfoods from a Holistic Nutritional and environmental Approach.” In Journal of Cleaner Production 379 (2022a):1-13. DOI: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2022.134491.

Fernandez-Ríos, Ana et al. “The Environmental Impact of ‘Superfoods’: A Space for Debate and Joint Reflection.” In Biology and Life Sciences Forum 6 (2022b):1-6. DOI: 10.3390/Foods2021-11022.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Superfoods or Superhype?” The Nutrition Source. n.d. Accesed July 16, 2023. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/superfoods/.

Jagdale, Yash D. et al. “Nutritional Profile and Potential Health Benefits of Super Foods: A Review” In Sustainability 13 (2021):1-30. DOI: 10.3390/su13169240.

John, Rinaldo, and Ankit Singla. “Functional Foods: Components, Health Benefits, Challenges, and Major Projects.” In DRC Sustainable Future: Journal of Environment, Agriculture, and Energy 2, 1(2021):61-72. DOI: 10.37281/DRCSF/2.1.7.

Keerthana, A. P. “Filipino Superfoods to Boost Your Health.” Sprint Medical. n.d. Accessed July 17, 2023. https://sprintmedical.in/blog/filipino-superfoods-to-boost-your-health.

Kirsch, Fabian, Mark Lohmann, and Gaby-Fleur Böl. “Public’s Understanding of Superfoods.” In Sustainability 14, (2022):1-12. DOI: 10.3390/su14073916.

Prinsipe, Eduardo B., and Aurora S. Jose. “Propagation Management of Herbal and Medicinal Plants.” In Research Information Series on Ecosystems 14, 2 (2002):1-12. https://erdb.denr.gov.ph/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/r_v14n2.pdf.

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