Superfood or Super PR?

"Superfood" on Google Trends

"Superfood" on Google Trends

It seems these days almost every other food we hear about has some magic property that turns it into a “superfood.” The term, which did not exist 10 years ago, was coined by Steven G. Pratt, MD in his book SuperFoods Rx: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life. Dr. Pratt listed 14 foods that “actually stop the incremental deteriorations that lead to common ailments and diseases”:

  • Beans – reduce obesity
  • Blueberries – lower risk for cardiovascular disease
  • Broccoli – lowers the incidence of cataracts and fights birth defects
  • Oats – reduce the risk of type II diabetes
  • Oranges – prevent strokes
  • Pumpkin – lowers the risk of various cancers
  • Wild salmon – lowers the risk of heart disease
  • Soy – lowers cholesterol
  • Spinach – decreases the chance of cardiovascular disease and age-related macular degeneration
  • Tea – helps prevent osteoporosis
  • Tomatoes – raise the skin’s sun protection factor
  • Turkey – helps build a strong immune system
  • Walnuts – reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer
  • Yogurt-promotes strong bones and a healthy heart

SuperFoods RX was an instant bestseller and gave birth to an entire industry of buzzwords (notably “super______” and antioxidants).  The Los Angeles Times ran an interesting story last week about a subset of superfoods – the SUPER FRUIT –  and how clever marketing has got us buying exotic fruits such as goji berries, pomegranates, mangosteens, sea buckthorn, and jujube fruit, to name a few. All in the name of health.

Thousands of studies have been conducted on some of the so called superfruits over the past decade. The antioxidant properties of each type may vary greatly as there are an almost endless number of chemicals present in various combinations in each type of fruit. Even within the blueberry family, there can be a fourfold difference in polyphenol content between the standard blueberry and 2 South American varietals (Cavendishia grandifolia and Anthopterus wardii) that are now being called “extreme superfruits.”

While scientists don’t deny the health benefits of superfruits, it’s not exactly clear that plain old everyday fruits are much less healthy for you:

the little-nobody fruits are often less likely than the high-end crowd to get research attention — and dollars.

“We can’t say anything about fruits we haven’t studied,” [Tufts University Researcher Barbara] Hale says. “Who knows? Maybe the peach is the best thing out there. We don’t know, because we haven’t studied the peach.” Read more…

Conclusion: all fruits (and vegetables) are good for you. Even if they have not been dubbed Supa-Dupa. So eat more of them all, don’t hold out for the rock stars…

What are your favorite super foods and fruits? Do you think you’re eating more in recent years as a result of marketing messages?

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  • Ken Leebow

    If you follow Joan Gussow’s advice, you never fall for any of the hype … 

    People don’t love nutrients. Nobody says: “I love vitamin C.” But they do say: “I love a fresh orange.” People have feelings about food. They don’t have any feelings about nutrients. – Joan Gussow

    Ken Leebow

    • Matt B

      Great line Ken.  Definitely looking up Joan Gussow now ;)

  • Frugaldieitian

    SUPER HYPE = SUPER FOOD!!! Agreed!

  • Frugaldieitian
  • Sarah @ Semi-Sweet

    It’s interesting, I don’t eat any of the super-hyped super-fruits. That always seemed like marketing jazz to me (esp. pomegranate JUICE – full o’ sugar, people!). I eat a LOT of superfoods, and have for years ’cause they’re just good for you. But cabbage isn’t sexy. And neither are spinach and kale or bok choy. Or an orange. But they all love you back if you eat them!

    • Fooducate

      Kale was actually knighted a superfood by the powers that be a few years ago…

  • Christa

    Sad but true.  I can get sucked in to the marketing…until I see the price tag then I reach for the same great food that has been good to me.  No reason to eat fruit that had to fly over international date lines.  There are plenty of “run of the mill” foods out there to love and love me back

  • Carol

    The good doctor could have at least done his research — spinach is not the only leafy green with good nutrition, same for pumpkin (where’s the butternut squash?), or blueberries (what about blackberries and cherries?), oats (barley, etc…..).

  • Lauren

    I think there are food trends that affect recipes and consumption. As much PR and hype as there is if it gets people eating kale and chia, is it bad? Wrote a post “Is Kale Becoming a Kardashian” and at the end of day overexposure of produce is fine by me.

  • Mike Orr

    Can’t beat an apple a day – oldie but GOODY!!

  • Liz Gates

    I think it’s all good. I also think tomatoes are much more than something that raises skin protection factor. I think that purple grapes are good for you too

  • Joecostadura

    Genesis 1:29 KJV

    And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.

  • Rachel Harold

    Great article!  Agreed!

  • Rachel Harold

    Great article!  Agreed!

  • read the China Study

    yogurt -leaches calcium out of your bones
    salmon – as much cholesterol as red meat, this is a contaminated list

    • Anonymous

       [citation needed]