What’s so ‘super’ about super-foods?

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.

Image result for superfoods

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.


Lunn, J. (2006). Superfoods. Nutrition Bulletin, 31(3), 171-172.

Seeram, N. P. (2008, January 23). Berry Fruits for Cancer Prevention: Current Status and Future Prospects. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 56(3), 630-635. Retrieved November 30, 2016.

What Are Phytonutrients? – Fruits & Veggies More Matters. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2016, from http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/what-are-phytochemicals

Photo 1 Link

Photo 2 Link

6 thoughts on “What’s so ‘super’ about super-foods?

  1. Akhil Dharmavaram

    This was an interesting read as I have never really wondered what makes a superfood so “super”. It was nice to see that you went into the details of beta-carotene and other phytochemicals and how they improve the immune system as opposed to simply saying that superfoods are healthy. I remember reading a blog post by Matthew Porr regarding why students get sick repeatedly during the school year. He explained that stress negatively impacts the immune system which is why students become more susceptible to falling ill. I think an interesting experimental study to do would be have a group of students that have a standard diet and a group of students that are made to incorporate more phytochemicals in their diet and then compare how many get sick/feel sick over the course of a year or two.

  2. Akhil Dharmavaram

    This was an interesting read as I have never really thought about what makes a super food so “super”. It was helpful to see that you went into details about beta-carotene and other phytochemicals as opposed to simply saying that they are healthy foods. I remember reading a blog post by Matthew Porr about why student get sick repeatedly during the school year. He explained that the results of a study he read were that stress negatively impacts the immune system, which makes students more susceptible to falling ill. Perhaps an interesting experimental study to do would be having stressed out students have an increased amount of phytchemicals in their diets and have another group of students continue with their standard diet and then record how many students fell ill.

  3. Jessy Severino

    Your blog post about super foods was really insightful being in college it is definitely hard to eat balanced healthy meals being that not everyone cares and that there so many options of things to eat. I knew that Super foods were rich in nutrients but I did not know that they can boost your overall health levels. I found an article that talks about the origin or super foods and also sheds light on the science behind them.http://www.eufic.org/article/en/artid/the-science-behind-superfoods/

  4. Michael David Harding

    Well as a person who gained the freshman 15 in high school this post is very interesting. As a child and teenager my super foods would be classified as pizza, fried chicken, fried snacks, and pizza (purposely repeated). Well at 21 I know that to be a healthy individual I have to eat right, but to be honest I really didn’t know how to eat like I should. I did some research and found out what I should be eating more of and I honestly found out that I only had to change minor details about my diet. I cut out a lot of fried foods and try to eat fish at least once or twice a week and getting my proper servings of fruits and vegetables. If you are looking into what you should be eating specifically for you choosemyplate.gov is a great place to start, you enter your body dimensions and it tells you exactly how many calories of each category you should be eating. When it comes to these super foods I thoroughly enjoy most of them and will plan on eating more of them in the future, now that I know that there are so many.

  5. Olivia Anne Browne

    Love this post. I try to eat extremely healthy so this post was super relevant to me. I tried to eat a ton of these super foods this summer in order to lose the Freshman 15. What I found when I got back to school this August was like you said, everything in moderation. I tried eating really clean this summer and exercising a lot, it worked to an extent. I actually had more progress just eating in moderation and doing moderate exercise. This was crazy to me!
    Check out this article on how much exercise is too much!

Leave a Reply