Why I Hate the Word Superfood

A single food that helps lower your blood pressure, prevent sudden heart attacks, or combat cancer? Seriously, c’mon. I’ve learned that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I get why the word “superfood” was coined – the non-official and non-scientific definition is that they’re foods with high levels of vitamins and minerals. And this is yet another food trend you won’t see me touting.

The focus on so-called “superfoods” gets us further and further away from the need to simply enjoy a variety of real, whole, traditional foods rather than breaking our food down into the specific nutrients it may or may not contain. We are one of the few societies that obsesses over tracking vitamins, minerals, protein, calories, fat grams and the like. And look where that’s gotten us.

Why I hate the word Superfood on 100 Days of Real Food

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Food, Not Nutrients

We recently watched the new In Defense of Food documentary with our kids. (It’s a fabulous film by the way – I highly recommend it to everyone!). It was a great refresher of everything we learned in the book as well as a good compilation of some of the newer issues that have become more prevalent since it was written.

One of the major points Michael Pollan touches on is this:

Since nutrients, as compared with foods, are invisible and therefore slightly mysterious, it falls to scientists to explain the hidden reality of foods to us …which implies the need for a priesthood. For to enter a world where your dietary salvation depends on unseen nutrients, you need plenty of expert help. – Michael Pollan

Food is not meant to just be a delivery system of specific nutrients to ensure we achieve optimal health. Food is about so much more …enjoyment, community, family, culture, and even expressing yourself. How about this quote for “food” for thought?

No people on earth worry more about the health consequences of their food choices than we Americans do – and no people suffer from as many diet-related health problems. – Michael Pollan

So rather than having an unhealthy obsession with meeting our daily quota of certain vitamins, minerals and protein, let’s instead enjoy (appropriate quantities) of a variety of whole foods – including plenty of vegetables! – and let the rest fall into place. Thankfully the so-called “superfoods” are whole foods, some of which I enjoy on occasion. But I prefer to just refer to them as food, real food that is, and eat them for nothing other than enjoyment and pleasure.

Do you agree or having you gotten on the “superfood” bandwagon?

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36 thoughts on “Why I Hate the Word Superfood”

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  1. Hello, Lisa,

    we produce superfoods, so I may be a little biased. Here in Germany we have many factors influencing the nutrient density of a food. In the 1990s we had acid rain that leached out the soil. That is why, for example, many people here have a selenium deficiency. Another example is organic vegetables, which have more antioxidants than conventional vegetables. So yes, eating should be fun, taste good, but in the end it should also be healthy and provide us with the necessary nutrients. Superfoods can help here.

    Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator

  2. Don’t eat too many cacao nibs or too much (also touted-superfood) deep dark chocolate: Chocolate also sucks many vital nutrients for teeth in bones in large quantities, due to its PHYTIC ACID content. Same with tea and coffee – caffeine depletes nutrients from your body too! I learned this the hard way after a tremendous toothache, thinking all the cacao and 80% dark chocolate I was eating (my only treat I was allowing myself) would reduce my inflammation. BOY was I wrong!!! I stopped all chocolate and caffeine, as well as unsprouted grains, and followed Ramiel Nagel’s ‘Cure Tooth Decay’ book. Best thing I ever did for that tooth I would had list over-eating a “Superfood”;)

  3. Here is a great resource and why I do believe in superfoods. That said, I also believe in a wide variety of plant foods, as well as as Michael Pollan advised meats and fish (organic and responsibly farmed/fished as much as possible)

    https://www.drfuhrman.com/library/gbombs.aspx

    “G-BOMBS” is an acronym that you can use to remember the most nutrient-dense, health-promoting foods on the planet… eat every day, and they should make up a significant proportion of your diet. These foods are extremely effective at preventing chronic disease and promoting health and longevity.
    Greens
    Beans
    Onions
    Mushrooms
    Berries
    Seeds

  4. I believe superfoods is valid, some plant foods are superior in nutrients: vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and “phytonutrients” (plant chemicals) which are fairly recently researched for the postiive impact on health. My idea of superfoods is based on the work of Dr. Joel Fuhrman – these are easily available vegetables, fruits and nuts rather than exotic foods. I roll my eyes when I see the new burst of enthusiams for goji berries or tumeric pills.
    http://www.amazon.com/Super-Immunity-Essential-Nutrition-Boosting/dp/0062080644/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1455074359&sr=1-1&keywords=superimmunity
    Another great resource is
    http://www.amazon.com/SuperFoods-Rx-Fourteen-Foods-Change/dp/0061172286/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1455074318&sr=1-6&keywords=superfoods

  5. Chill. I think not everything has to be black or white.

    You can have a whole foods diet and also add superfoods as a supplement for an extra kick of nutrients. Eating them doesn’t mean you’ll inevitably become a superfood junkie that only eats goji berries.

    The real problem here is the people that take anything from magazine articles and make a religion out of that, superfoods are great, people is the one that needs to be informed and act responsibly.

  6. I completely agree with you Lisa and personally feel that once something is labeled a “superfood” the inevitable American knee-jerk reaction happens and that food becomes the latest trend until the next thing pops up or the trend dies down.

  7. I don’t “hate” the term superfood. If anything it gives me more variety; new foods to try. However, I do understand what you mean; a superfood shouldn’t become your new main diet.

  8. I appreciate what you’ve written and have thought this for a long time, however, after reading the book “The Gabriel Method” I’m more convinced then ever that it’s bigger than simply just eating “real food”. Our food supply is so far away from nature’s intention that supplementing with at least Omega 3s has become a necessity & not simply a fad.

    Keep up the great work! I love your blog!

  9. I disagree because it is important to know that some foods are more nutrient dense that others. All foods are not the same, and I believe that you should choose foods based on their health benefits, not just what tastes good. Of course we do eat dessert in my house, but overall we strive for healthy food choices because of the nutritional benefits of those foods. Making optimal food choices helps your body in so many ways, from strenghthening your immune system, providing optimal energy, maintaining healthy glucose levels, etc.
    As we age, our energy needs (caloric intake) decline, and it is even more important that the foods we eat are nutrient dense and of high quality.
    As a mom, I try to teach my family to love the foods that are good for you.

  10. I actually like the word superfood because it’s helped open my eyes to new and interesting foods which are not in the traditional American diet. Many of these I would have never have tried before they became the trendy darling of the day. Who knew I would love sautéed kale? I sure didn’t. It’s slightly sweeter tasting than spinach which I also enjoy. (Collard greens, are much more prevalent in the south but just have never been my thing.) Its the same with the nutty flavor of quinoa.

    But I agree that the focus should stay on real food. I laughed out load when I saw a canister of powered coconut water in the supermarket (seriously, it exists – I snapped a picture – it was just that crazy to me).

  11. I actually do like the word superfood, mainly because it is true. There are some foods that definitely have a better quality and more abundance in certain vitamins, minerals, or amino acids that the body needs. In our country you don’t see so much malnourishment as you would in a 3rd world country, but there, I’m sure they would benefit a TON more from a bowl of quinoa than from a bowl of real, organic, say corn. The quinoa would be able to not only sustain their life, but provide all the amino acids their bodies need to be completely nourished, unlike corn.

  12. I’m with you in that I don’t think we’ve been well-served in the US by the years of over-emphasis on individual “nutrients” in our foods. Even the fact that our food labels name some nutrients (e.g. vitamins A and C) but not others, encourages that mind set. As a result of this emphasis, for example, I hardly ever ate an apple for many years. They did not have much vitamin C or A, and had substantial calories, so I figured they weren’t worth having in my diet. When people started talking about the different colors in foods, and said that bright-colored fruits and veggies have important stuff in them (other than vitamins) that we need for optimum health, it was news to me! Another example along these lines – when I was growing up, you were supposed to have at least 6 ounces of orange juice every morning, “to get your vitamin C.” Last January I learned that actually, I should have whole fruit and skip the juice, which is the sugar from several oranges with the fiber removed and therefore not very healthy. My conclusion from my history with food and the advice of “food experts” is that people really don’t know everything about what food is “for,” as far as nourishing the body is concerned. Food science just has not figured it all out. So that’s why Michael Pollan’s emphasis on eating “real food” is so persuasive to me. We need whole food because people just aren’t smart enough to know everything the body needs for optimum health, and therefore people can’t make a processed product that provides good nourishment.

    But I don’t “hate” the word superfood. I do eat a lot of wild blueberries, broccoli and cauliflower, etc. There does seem to be some evidence that these foods are packed with more good things than, say, celery. (Not that I plan to eliminate celery from my diet, but I won’t go out of my way to get a lot of it, either.) If the term superfood helps some people to think about their diets and focus on eating whole and colorful fruits and veggies, it’s OK. If it instead is interpreted to support the idea that it’s possible for people to figure out a list of “nutrients” the body needs, and to get those from processed stuff, then it’s not helpful, IMO.

  13. I agree! Be smart, healthy a variety of healthy foods. Splurge once in awhile. And, for God’s sake stop stressing and obsessing–that isn’t good for your health either!

  14. I agree. The term ‘superfood’ has been bothering me since it started appearing in the media. If a food is in its original, natural form – eat it. It’s quite simple. If you eat a wide variety of foods, your body will thank you for it.

    We try to analyse and break everything down to the nth degree. Make everything so much harder and more confusing than it needs to be. Science is wonderful, but we’ve lost touch with the whole when we focus so much on the parts. Simplicity is key – choose whole foods, and eat them.

  15. I agree Lisa! I much prefer to eat whole real food and know that it is enough to nourish me without having to be a mathematician to figure out all the nutrient ratios and percentages I need.

    The one positive I can thing I will say about “superfoods” is that when I read an article or hear a story about a new “superfood” it intrigues me to want to taste it. As someone who used to be an incredible picky eater, knowing that a food is healthy for me is a motivating factor for me to try it. I’ve ended up trying so many new foods I never would have before by reading healthy eating blogs like yours.

  16. I’m not even sure about the term “real food.” If you eat it, I like to think of it as either “food” or “junk.” I think of “superfood” as food that contains high amounts of nutrients, or nutrient-dense.

    1. AJ,

      I agree with you. “Real food” a term is very comparable to the topic on the post. How about just “food” as you call it. If “super foods” doesn’t work, neither does “real food” in my opinion. It’s all in how we choose to interpret these terms.

  17. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the term! ; I think it simply draws attention to the fact that is a healthy food for people to try. Most people are smart enough to realize that chia seeds are not going to cure heart disease, cancer, and high cholesterol for example!

  18. I also hate the word ‘detoxify’. If you need to do this, why are you eating toxins in the first place? Even if you do, isn’t that what our liver and kidneys are for?

  19. I love the word superfood!!! This is because it brings awareness of how nutrient dense whole foods can be. For example, people are so confused but when they hear superfood related to a fruit or vegetable. When you explain how many awesome nutrients blueberries can provide and then realize that all our fruits and veggies can provide different nutrients for our bodies they want more! Its an amazing shift of thinking…

  20. The only trick I employ is “eat the rainbow”. It’s colorful, fun, and ensures we get a wide variety of foods and thus nutrients. Counting calories and depending on nutrition labels seems so alien now.

  21. I mostly agree, but I also know that one “superfood” called Moringa Olefeira (not all companies/products are the same, nor contain the same amount, but that’s a different problem) has dramatically changed my health! I no longer suffer from several dibilitating issues, and I no longer need my prescription meds, so Moringa is one “superfood” I keep stocked, and I’d be a fool not to.
    Ask Google what the most nutritious plant is on the planet, and you will see Moringa. It’s not a fad. It’s been around since creation.
    While I agree we can live life without concerning ourselves with “superfoods” by making sure we eat mostly foods that grow, I love foods that are power-packed with nutrition!

    1. Kelly, you make a good point and it is interesting to learn about Moringa. Glad it helped you regain your good health. Sounds like you used this more as a medicine than as a food.
      I believe in eating locally grown food in season as much as possible. I notice that many of the Super-foods can’t be grown in my garden. chia and algae are other examples. And who could sit down to a dish of those?
      However, I do see the logic of including things like blueberries and sweet potatoes in my diet, even though they would not grow in my climate either. And using some of the more unusual “foods” as medicine to address particular health problems sure makes more sense than drugs.

  22. I’ll admit that I have been on the superfood bandwagaon for several years. I bought Julie Morris’s Superfood Smoothies book, which, along with my Vitamix and about $200 worth of “superfoods”, started me on my journey to transforming the way I eat. Did I need these things to eat healthy, real food? Of course not. But it was fun to experiment and it led me to discover this blog, Food Babe, Mind Body Green and other supportive and informative resources. So for me, I totally fell for the superfood fad, but the outcome has been a positive one.

  23. Fad Food; so tired of it. Whole Foods, that are delicious, is the way I try to plan meals for my family. My favorite restaurants and recipes, do the same. We love to eat out; it’s fun to have someone else do the cooking and cleaning, to try new flavors and see how the pros do it. But more often than not, we come home feeling bloated and unhealthy… Such a shame that more chefs don’t get that we don’t want SODIUM LADEN, OVER PORTIONED, PROCESSED FOOD!!! Give me quality whole foods, prefeably organic and locally sourced, seasoned with herbs and spices (not salt) every time!

  24. Nice dose of sanity, Lisa! Obsession with which foods are “super” can take our focus away from just eating wisely and enjoying whole foods. And some of these superpowered ingredients can be so pricey!
    That said, knowing that giant bowl of berries my daughters devoured may enhance their health makes me willing to splurge on them a little more. I do like knowing some of what science can teach us about health, just not the excessive marketing hype that accompanies each new study,

  25. Every few years there is a new fad, and you are right none of it is working! Only thing that worked for me eating real food, ironic.

    Thanks for th link to the documentary, can’t wait to watch it with my family as well.

  26. I also don’t go out of my way to eat “superfoods”. I know from working in the nutrition field that pretty much every plant has high levels of some nutrient or phytonutrient (e.g., antioxidants). Vegetables could all have health claims! So eat ’em up. End of story.

  27. I totally agree with you. There is no superfood, just a marketing gimmick to make us buy or consume a certain product that is supposed to be trendy. You cannot live only on Kale, or Maca powder or Coconut oil. We need to have a balanced diet and eat real food that is grown in a natural way, local if possible and in season. Besides that, I believe that with so much starvation in the world, we are way too obsessed with certain foods that are supposed to make us healthier and live longer…

  28. I agree!! I do sorta pay attention to what foods have more nutrients and try to make sure that I regularly eat foods full of nutrients. But the truth is that when you only eat real foods, it all is packed with nutrients. Variety is absolutely best. Eating only a few ‘superfoods’ quite often robs you of the nutrients that you would be getting in other foods.