Superfood: super healthy or super hype?

Some call them superfoods, others power foods. There are those who seek them to improve their health, those who study their concept as a theme to be explore and those who criticize them. There is no consensus on what they are, how much superfoods affect general health or how much we should eat superfood regularly to get more benefit. It seems that no one can agree on the criteria to classify, define or determine if a food is in fact super.

But what exactly is a superfood? Is it correct to talk about superfoods or does it make more sense to define these novel foods as marketing operations? What are the main benefits they bring to the body?

What is a superfood?

In general, there is no shared definition of superfood. The Oxford Dictionary defines a superfood as a nutrient-rich food that is considered particularly beneficial for health and well-being. For Live Science, a superfood is mostly vegetable-based, but also fish and dairy products - designed to be nutritionally rich and therefore good for your health. Its inclusion in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, one of the most popular in the Anglo-Saxon world, confirms its widespread use. According to Harvard Medicine Insitute, a food is promoted to the superfood status when it offers high levels of desirable nutrients, is related to the prevention of a disease, or is thought to offer several simultaneous health benefits beyond its nutritional value.

Superfood today

The term superfood is now a common language word on social sites and pages dedicated to food and nutrition, and indicates foods that promise miracles or at least beneficial effects for the body. A 2012 study by the European Food Information Council states that there is no proven benefit to superfoods, and that the marketing conveyed by this type of communication is misleading. Moreover, the scientific evidence underlying the health effects of these foods - even if positive - does not necessarily apply to real diets.
According to some commentators, the concept of superfood is the perfect marketing operation developed on a simple and captivating idea: that some foods are healthy, some harmful and some super-healthy. The British newspaper Guardian, for example, in an article published in 2016, sarcastically wonders why eating habits can be changed when it is possible to correct them with the addition of goji berries, or why settle for a boring and old healthy dish, when the chia seeds on your cereal can make you become super healthy.

A food is promoted to the superfood state when it offers high levels of desirable nutrients

Banana: the first superfood

The first example of a so-called superfood product took place at the beginning of the 20th century, more precisely in 1914, as part of a wider food marketing strategy. The United Fruit Company launched an advertising campaign to promote the sale of bananas, its flagship product at the time. To support the launch, it distributed information leaflets with written information on the organoleptic qualities of the bananas and their nutritional value.
Initially the company had advertised the convenience of bananas in a daily diet, being cheap, nutritious, easily digestible, available everywhere, and sealed by nature in a germ-proof packaging. To further increase sales, they suggested adding bananas to breakfast cereals, lunch salads and also fried for dinner.

Technogym and Wellness Lifestyle conscious Nutrition

On the other hand, a diet based on a variety of nutritious foods, including a lot of fruits and vegetables, remains the best way to ensure a balanced supply of nutrients for optimal health. Technogym has always been a promoter of a healthy, balanced and conscious lifestyle. The pyramid of the Wellness Lifestyle is an original and synthetic guide created by the Wellness Foundation to develop and integrate the components that contribute to the achievement of complete psycho-physical well-being. one side of this pyramid is nutrition, which combines foods proportionately with physical activity and recommends an abundant consumption of water, fruits and vegetables. Movement, another pillar of wellness, is based on constant motor activity such as walking, climbing stairs or cycling.

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Superfood = super sales

According to the Harvard Institute, the superfoods often translate into super sales: in the United Kingdom alone, the value of this market exceeds a billion dollars. According to a Nielsen survey, consumers are willing to pay more for food that they perceive to be healthy and whose health claims on labels seem to help. Interestingly, foods already perceived as healthy with a health claim are the ones with the highest sales.
This may be due to the fact that it provides further confirmation of the consumer's knowledge of healthy food, increasing the likelihood that the consumer will buy it. The survey shows that about 80% of respondents see food as a medicine and eat some foods to prevent health problems such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. It is not surprising, therefore, that foods based on fruit, vegetables and whole grains, which are generally perceived as healthy, often appear in the top 10, or therefore, superfood lists.

Antioxidants in superfoods

Directing your choices towards a healthy lifestyle, along with a balanced and nutritious diet, greatly reduces the risk of contracting diseases, syndromes and tumors. Recently, when it comes to choosing the foods best suited to your diet, you often focus on so-called superfoods.
These foods can improve can improve performance in training, as well as being valuable for recovery from an injury. A diet based on a variety of nutritious foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables, remains the best way to ensure a balanced supply of nutrients for optimal health.

Some of the foods considered to be superfoods are also rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants are chemical substances that are believed to protect against the harmful effects of certain elements, called free radicals, that are found in all living cells, causing their progressive degeneration.

  • Beta carotene: The human body converts beta carotene into vitamin A. Beta carotene is not an essential nutrient per se, but it does act as a precursor to vitamin A (see next section).
  • Vitamin A: also known as retinol, plays a key role in strengthening our immune system: it increases your ability to see objects in the dark and preserves the health of your skin.
  • Vitamin C: or ascorbic acid as it is sometimes called, protects cells and preserves their health; it is also necessary to preserve the health of your connective tissue and also facilitates wound healing.
  • Vitamin E: One of the many important functions of vitamin E is to protect cell membranes. This characteristic is to preserve the health of the skin and eyes, but the main benefit it brings is to strengthen the immune system.
  • Flavonoids: Flavonoids are part of plant metabolites and are mainly known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory function, as well as strengthening the cardiovascular and nervous systems.
  • Selenium: Selenium is a mineral found in soil and in nature it is also found in water and some foods. Although humans only need selenium in very small amounts, it plays a key role in their metabolism.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids: Omega 3 fatty acids are considered to be of fundamental importance and are also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids. Omega 3s play an essential role in the functioning of the brain, as well as in the natural process of development and growth.

The marketing component of superfoods

The proud are often nutritious, that's true, but the term is definitely more useful for sales incentives than for providing optimal nutritional recommendations. One point against overfeeding is that labelling alone can make people focus on certain specific foods, diverting interest away from other equally nutritious but less attractive options.

As proof of the marketing effect of this kind of communication, a survey conducted by YouGov in 2011 shows that 61% of British people reported that they had bought food because it was considered super.

Therefore, the food industry has an incentive to market a product called superfood because it stimulates its sales. According to a Mintel research, in 2015 there was a 36% global increase in the number of foods and beverages launched as superfood or superfruit, with the United States driving sales of these products. Quinoa and other ancient grains, chia seeds and more have recorded steady sales growth in 2017. A recent list of the 13 most popular ingredients based on data from food and beverage starters includes pea protein, algae, ginger, turmeric, matcha, oats, barley and chickpeas.
In conclusion, you should explore the individual foods, learn to select them and prepare them, but you should not be distracted by the latest food or overhyped mania. It is certainly more important to focus on creating a super-dish, based on different foods which are healthy and tasty at the same time.

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