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All About Superfoods - Part 1


What’s So Super About Superfoods?


Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard the term: superfoods. Amidst all the outrageous claims, there has to be some kernel of truth…so what are superfoods, really? Part 1 of this two-part series is an attempt to get a clearer understanding of what qualities define a superfood.

The phrase was first heard in the ‘90s and has since become increasingly popular. General consensus amongst health experts is that superfoods are whole foods that contain large amounts of phytonutrients, polyphenols, antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Basically, these are foods bursting with goodness which pack quite a nutritional punch!

However, when it comes to determining what exactly makes up a superfood, the jury is out. These articles are an investigation into what constitutes a superfood and how to see through the hype. The idea is to be able decide for yourself if the label ‘superfood’ is really a useful indicator of dietary value, or just another nutritional buzzword.


How do we define a superfood?

Many sources would indicate that there is no real or concise definition of a superfood. Most lists of superfoods are subject to deliberation since there is no minimum requirement to be a superfood. However, this is what we do know – superfoods are foods packed with higher than average concentrations of healthy nutrients. Consuming nutrient dense foods is directly associated with increased energy levels and benefits to your immune system, in addition to improvements in your skin, hair and physical/mental abilities.


Is the research out there accurate?

Many so-called superfoods are attributed with having miraculous properties. Although these claims are regularly exaggerated or misdirected, research on such foods is constantly evolving. It’s important to maintain a healthy scepticism, as results vary widely in differing circumstances and what may be true for a certain test group is not necessarily true across the board. We often find contradictory results in different studies on the same foods. Sometimes the results of studies can be fundamentally skewed, since they do not take into account all the possible reasons for their findings - as the following example clearly illustrates.

Consuming olive oil, fresh salads and fruits has been connected to having younger looking skin with fewer wrinkles. This was based on an observational study conducted in Australia. In this case, the researchers simply focused on the food habits of the group of people they were observing. They noticed that in their test group, people who had less wrinkles on their face had certain foods in common which they consumed. Thus the obvious and direct inference was that these foods, in this case –olive oil, salads and fruits, have caused the younger looking skin.

What this study failed to take into account is that people who consume such foods regularly tend to be more affluent, less likely to have outdoor jobs, less likely to smoke and generally have better social support systems. Thus this study attributes certain benefits to foods that may or may not be entirely accurate by overlooking the crucial interlocking social, political and cultural influences.


So how do we find an accurate study?

This leaves us in a difficult position - how do we know what the benefits of certain foods truly are? The only way to determine that would be to observe people who were born around the same time, lead similar lives, have similar environmental and cultural influences and eat similar foods for a significant period of time, and then repeat the process a number of times to be sure.

How would such a massive study be possible? Ancient cultures have been contributing invaluable information based on observations and experimentation over thousands of years. We can learn a lot from people who have superior immunity, longer lifespans, balanced and harmonious mental states and greater overall vitality.

We are fortunate to be able to tap into this treasure trove of experience collected and fine-tuned over hundreds of generations. Part 2 of this series delves deeper into specific lessons from ancient cultures that have used what nature has provided us to maintain health and wellbeing.

Read more: All About Superfoods - Part 2 

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