Goji berry smoothie bowl

The Truth About Superfoods

Superfoods are an idyllic concept: powerhouse ingredients that will cure all of our nutritional woes with one serving. It is no wonder that as a nation we are in love with the idea of superfoods, and have been for a long time! That feeling of adding spirulina or wheatgrass to a green smoothie after a night out with your friends truly makes you feel like you have restored your health. However, are they all that they are cracked up to be?

What is a superfood?

Technically speaking, there is no scientific definition of a superfood, they just tend to be  nutrient-dense foods. That is, foods that have a whole lot of nutrients in them, they really pack a punch. All foods have nutrients in them, that is the purpose of a food, but some have more than others and different foods contain different nutrients. That is why eating a variety of foods is so important, it ensures we get the variety of nutrients that our body needs. A superfood tends to have a lot of nutrients in a very small serving size, adding a scoop of spirulina to a smoothie will add a lot of nutrients to that smoothie. Whereas for some other foods we may need to eat a lot more of that food to get the same amount of nutrients. This is where the appeal lies, the ability to get maximum benefit out of a minimal amount - allowing us to feel like we have restored ourselves with very little effort. They often tend to be rich in antioxidants and other compounds that are believed to be beneficial for our health. 

How are they different from other foods?

This is where a slight problem arises - they aren't. Plenty of our everyday, standard foods are also rich in nutrients and antioxidants and are extremely healthy for us. Elevating some foods to "superfood" status almost puts down the other foods and creates a superiority complex around health foods. You don't need to eat trendy superfoods to be healthy, in fact, obsessing over only eating these foods is a major component of orthorexia. Our normal fruits, vegetables and protein foods are all amazing sources of nutrients that are designed to give our body what it needs. Foods such as tomatoes, spinach and berries are all extremely nutrient-dense. This isn't to say that there is no benefit to superfoods, they obviously contain lots of amazing things, just that it is important to acknowledge that they aren't the be-all and end-all and that you shouldn't feel bad if you can't afford to buy in to these trendy foods. Focusing on a standard, balanced diet with lots of fresh foods is the best thing you can do for your body. With that being said, let's look at a few of the most popular and the true benefits they can offer us.

1. Spirulina 

While this is technically pond scum, it is pond scum which packs a punch. At over 65% protein, spirulina is rich in omega-3s and essential amino acids. It is also high in B vitamins, calcium, iron and antioxidants. This makes it a great supplement for vegetarians and vegans looking to make up for missing nutrients from meat products. It does sort of taste like pond scum however. 

2. Wheatgrass

Made from the sprouts of certain wheat plants, there are claims that wheatgrass is the most nutrient dense plant out there and that it can cure diabetes. While these claims are mostly unsupported, wheat grass is a rich source of vitamin K, vitamin E, iron and calcium. However recent nutritional analysis has shown that the content of these nutrients is roughly equivalent to spinach or broccoli.

3. Goji Berries

These strange tomato-tasting berries have been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. They are rich in vitamin C, antioxidants, essential amino acids, zinc and iron. However, they are traditionally bought dried which will reduce the nutrient content. There isn't much added benefit to a goji berry over many other delicious berries which are also nutrient-rich! They are a tasty, crunchy topping to a smoothie or a granola bowl, but they won't cure cancer!
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