Blueberries. Chia seeds. Kale. Acai. Welcome to this blog post about whether superfoods are a thing. (Spoiler: They’re not.)
But don’t toss the quinoa just yet.
According to the Harvard School of Health, “superfood” is nothing but a marketing term, conferring power and value – nutritional and moral – to a set of mainly leafy greens, with some proteins and dairy thrown in. Once a food assumes the superfood mantel, profits and sales skyrocket for that one item. It is not a regulated term, though it loosely follows this definition from Merriam-Webster: “a food (such as salmon, broccoli, or blueberries) that is rich in compounds (such as antioxidants, fiber, or fatty acids) considered beneficial to a person’s health.”
However, according to the anti-body-hate parenting organization More-Love.org, “food moralizing” – in which foods are placed in categories of “good” and “bad” – promotes eating disorders, body shame, classism and racism. Superfoods with their high status can be too pricey for many people, and the foods determined to be “healthy” are largely associated with whiteness, assigning low or no moral status to some traditional cultural foods, or a kind of supernatural power to others.
But actually, healthy eating is just about balance on your plate. As the Guardian reports, “The truth is that nutrition is fabulously complex, different for everybody and mostly mysterious. We know that if you eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables and do regular exercise, nothing is a superfood. And if you don’t, no superfood will save you.”
That said, here is a list of foods that you might want to regularly include on your plate.
You may be taken in by the promise of the superfood, but if you hate it, chances are it’ll go bad in your fridge. Fruits and vegetables are delicious – but not everyone likes the same ones. If you hate blueberries but love bananas, great. If kale tastes like a spinachy shower curtain to you, but you love crispy, roasted Brussels sprouts, fantastic. Striving to get a fruit or vegetable on your plate with each meal is a good general goal.
Whether you’re a vegetarian or not, protein (plant-based and otherwise) is an important source of energy for your body. They also help your body build muscle and generate hormones. So eggs, almonds, oats, broccoli, quinoa, lentils – all are examples of proteins well-suited to a balanced diet.
Carbohydrates are basically demonized in this era of keto and going back to Dr. Atkins, making potatoes, bread, white rice and snack foods villains of the supermarket. But your body needs carbohydrates to absorb nutrients and generate energy. Food restriction may lead to overeating or binge eating. If you want the chips, get the chips. Giving yourself what you crave – taking care of your needs – is also a healthy behavior.
Getting too hungry leads to less-great food choices. Keeping yourself hydrated, fed and nourished will sustain you at work and at home for longer periods of time. Listen to your body and give it what it needs. Ensure you have a well-stocked pantry of grab-and-go snacks for the moments when you’re on the run or you just can’t bring yourself to prepare a full meal (we’ve all been there). Nuts, fruits, power bars, whatever brings you satisfaction and even, dare we say, pleasure. Those are the real superfoods.