Blueberries, quinoa, kale, Greek yogurt, oatmeal, green tea, almonds, cranberries. The list could go on and on. To some, this is just a list of food. To others, this list of foods are known as something more: super-foods. But what is it about these particular foods that makes them so super? Is there something that allows a seemingly average food to earn the prefix of ‘super?’
I’m not vegetarian. I’m not vegan. I wouldn’t even consider myself an organic eater. I do, however, love fresh food. I like to know where the meat on my plate came from and whether or not my produce was grown locally or even regionally. In other words, I try to be conscientious about what I put in my body. After skimming a list of super-foods, I discovered how many I incorporate into my diet without realizing it.
Now I grew up in a home that put a good deal of emphasis on health and nutrition. I know what a balanced meal is supposed to look like and how many cups of vegetables you’re supposed to eat in a given day. If we were to poll the class, I’m fairly certain that most of the class would be able to distinguish healthy foods from unhealthy or junk foods.
But we’ve also been taught to pair health benefits with certain foods. I’m sure all of us have heard that eating carrots improves your eyesight. Or that drinking milk will strengthen your bones. Or even that eating oranges during the winter will help keep you from catching a cold.
So is this it? If a food brings a certain health benefit to the table (pun not intended), can it now be classified as super? According to an article from the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry– the answer is both yes and no.
In the realm of science, one of the most defining characteristics of super-foods, is that of energy density. Looking at fruits or vegetables in particular, these special foods are especially rich in phytochemicals. Phytochemicals, otherwise known as phytonutrients are exactly what is in the word: the nutrients or chemicals of a plant. These play a hugely significant role in human health and can be found in fresh super-foods that are produce. In produce such as kale or pumpkin, there exists a phytochemical called beta-carotene that benefits the immune system, skin health, bone health, and vision. Produce that contain high levels phytochemicals automatically get bumped up to the status of super.
So why classify foods as super? I think that this name is helpful in understanding that no matter what the benefit may be, super-foods have something special that makes them stand out that other foods may not have. Whether it be a load of vitamins or antioxidants, these foods can earn this title because they all have one thing in common: they boost your overall health levels.
Yes, on a college campus these foods might be harder to find, but it might just be worth taking a closer look at the dining hall menus or maybe stopping by Jamba Juice for a Acai Super Antioxidant smoothie.
As we have discussed in class, science informs public health policy, but there is much more to science than just the facts. We see foods getting bumped up to super status all the time in food journals, magazines, and every day news. Science is ever changing, as is the realm of nutrition. Probably the most important takeaway despite this, is that no single good thing eaten out of moderation will remain a good thing. In other words, no matter how super a food may be, it is ultimately more important to maintain a balanced diet.