Superfood or Superflop? Find out here.
Superfood smoothie powder, superfood bowls, superfood spice-mixes…the list of superfood items goes on and on. The hype surrounding these plant-based miracle wonders is ubiquitous. Most people who claim to be health conscious, undoubtedly have a little sachet of one of these powders in their kitchen. But what makes superfoods so special? What health benefits do they offer? Let’s get to the bottom of it.
Contents of this article:
- What are Superfoods?
- What makes Superfoods so special?
- Which Superfoods are there?
- How healthy are Superfoods really?
- Which alternatives are there?
- The most important Superfoods: an overview
- How can you integrate Superfoods into your daily life?
What are Superfoods?
Superfoods are plant-based foods that have an unusually high concentration of protein, micronutrients or secondary plant substances (e.g. antioxidants). Due to their special and valuable nutrient profile, superfoods are often said to possess health-promoting properties. This is true, many of the nutrients superfoods contain are essential for the functioning of our body, for our immune system and our general well-being. Their environmental impact should however, also be considered.
Have you heard of the ORAC-value before? This indicates whether and how well the ingredients of a food can neutralise free radicals. The higher the ORAC value, the better free radicals are repelled. Example: 100 g of potatoes have an ORAC value of 1,500, the same amount of Aronia berries have a value of 16,000. Welcome to the world of superfoods!
Herbs, types of kale, nuts, seeds, and special root crops belong to the family of superfoods in addition to fruit (especially berries). We’ve examined these foods exactly to help you understand which foods are good for you and which valuable nutrients they possess.
What makes Superfoods special?
Houston we have a problem! Did you know that fruit and vegetables aren’t as nutrient rich as they once were? If we take a closer look at factors like cultivation and supply chain, the reasons why become very apparent.
Let's use bananas as an example. Although you bought them at your local supermarket, chances are the bananas have a long journey behind them. If they originate from Brazil (a large banana exporter), they’ve already travelled 10,000 km. To bridge the trip between harvest and your purchase, the bananas needed to be harvested prematurely. That means that the final ripeness doesn't come from the nutrient rich banana tree, but through artificial chemicals.
The soil in which the bananas are cultivated is also likely to be exhausted and nutrient deficient. This is the struggle of monocultures, their effect on soil erosion, and their reliance on pesticides to achieve desired ripeness. Here we see the problem with conventionally grown bananas and how their nutrient profile is compromised.
But what does this have to do with superfoods? Simple, your banana has an ORAC-value of 795, ignoring all the aforementioned negative factors. But 100g of Aronia berries posses an ORAC-value 20x that of a banana. Simply put, superfoods provide you (even in small quantities) with more essential nutrients than conventional fruit.
Which Superfoods are there?
There are many. This article would read more like a novel if we listed all of them, that’s why we’re going to introduce you to our top 5.
Just 5? Yes in detail, but don’t worry we’ve added a comprehensive list for you as well.
Açaí berries are the fruit of the cabbage palm tree and predominantly found in the Amazon region. In addition to Açaí, the palm hearts are also edible. 50% of the Açaí berry is fat, rendering it quite the calorie-bomb. Nevertheless, it is also known to possess weight-loss-stimulating properties. They are also high in the secondary plant substance ‘anthocyane’, which lends the berry its deep violet colour and antioxidant properties. Açaí is also rich in Vitamins A, C and B as well as omega 3, omega 6 and omega 9 essential fatty acids.
Probably the most well-known of the superfoods. High in fibre, protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Chia can only be absorbed by the body if it has been grinded or chewed beforehand. Their swelling property (chia pudding anyone?) makes chia a fantastic and highly satiating food source.
Moringa is a tropical tree, found in the Himalayas. It boasts an impressive nutrient density with high amounts of Protein, Vitamins A, D, E and K as well as trace elements like calcium, zinc and omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids. It is also high in carotene, chlorophyll and zeaxanthin. Moringa powder, similar to matcha, tastes like fresh grass, hay or a slightly bitter herbal tea.
Spirulina is proof that superfoods aren’t just found on land. Extracted from algae, this blue-green superfood already impressed the Aztecs who ate it frequently to gain energy and strength. If we examine its nutrient profile, it becomes obvious why. 60% of spirulina is protein (twice as much as red meat) and contains 9 essential amino acids as well as 10/12 of non essential amino acids. In addition, it is high in Vitamin B, Potassium as well as copper, iron, manganese, iodine and omega 6 fatty acids.
What do you do if you have a scratchy throat? Probably eat some lozenges and drink some ginger tea! Your at-home remedy that can be really effective. Ginger is considered quite the super-root. This is attributed to its spicy components (gingerols and shogaols) and essential oils (zingiberene, curcumen and beta-eudesmol). Ginger is also packed with Vitamin C, iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, phosphorus and sodium. Ever heard of borneol and cineol? These substances promote digestion and stimulate circulation– a great way to kick start your day.
How healthy are Superfoods really?
This is closely connected with the conditions under which superfoods are cultivated and processed. Here again: the less environmentally invasive the final product is, the better. This correlates with the nutrient density, so they more natural its life cycle is, the healthier it is for you. Nevertheless, the nutritional and ecological influences surrounding superfoods receive criticism and put a slight damper on the hype.
Criticism 1: Superfoods are unhealthy
Say what? Well not all superfoods necessarily, but all exotic foods (which most superfoods are classified as), always come with a heightened risk of triggering allergies or other reactions. Nowadays, we have the luxury of being able to consume foods from around the world. But for us Europeans, exotic foods and the climate in which they are grown are still fairly foreign and some of us simply aren’t equipped to digest them well. Individuals who live in tropical regions are more accustomed to these foods, as well as the climate in which they are grown and their nutritional needs differ from ours.
The pesticide and chemical use in the cultivation of some superfoods can cause us to be prone to undesired reactions as well. Some studies have indicated that the parallel consumption of superfoods and medicine can cause unusual interactions. This especially applies to superfood capsules and extracts that are taken as supplements. The high concentration can cause reactions when combined with medication. It is advised therefore to consume them at different intervals, consult the prescription or maybe call your doctor.
Criticism 2: Superfoods are bad for the environment
Anyone who decides to integrate superfoods into their diet, regardless of whether they’re fresh, dried, powdered or pureed–should be aware of the environmental repercussions their cultivation has. The enormous transport routes have a dramatic carbon footprint. Furthermore, you should be aware of the discrepancies in quality and hygiene standards between the country in which superfoods are grown, and where they are consumed.
Which alternatives are there?
You might be thinking, ‘’uh oh, I’’m gonna do without my superfood powders from now on…’’ but don't worry! Some superfoods are grown on a different continent, miles away. But others are grown more or less very locally!
Next time you’re in an organic grocery store and want to get some chia seeds, maybe opt for linseeds instead! These are not only grown in regional areas, but actually beat Chia in nutrient profile as well! And the list goes on: instead of goji berries, try blackcurrants or sea buckthorn; instead of Açaí berries, go for blueberries, elderberries, blue grapes or red cabbage; you can replace quinoa with millet and oats and a good alternative to avocados are walnuts.
In addition to the ecological benefits of regional alternatives, currents, millet and the like provide the same nutrients that superfoods promise. These alternatives are not only healthier and more environmentally friendly, but also cheaper than many of their exotic counterparts.
The most important Superfoods: an overview
In the following table is an overview of local as well as local Superfoods. In spite of criticism, it's perfectly acceptable to include some Açaí
in your morning smoothie or add a powder.
Herbs (Dandelion, Stinging-Nettle, Goutweed, Parsley)
Algae (Spirulina & Chlorella)
Grasses (barley, moringa, spinach, salad, matcha, sprouts)
Nuts & Seeds
How can Superfoods be integrated in daily life?
Smoothie, porridge or a salad–there are a variety ways in which you can incorporate superfoods into your diet. Seeds, nuts and pulverised superfoods are a great add on to your morning porridge or cereal. This way, not only do you have a delicious breakfast, but it's also very nutritious. More tips on what a healthy breakfast looks like can be found here.
Or maybe you're in the mood for a chia-pudding? Then all you need is some chia seeds, your favourite milk and some nuts or berries as a topping. Put some asparagus, broccoli or beans in your lunch or dinner and voila! You've got a superfood-filled plate. Superfood powders are a great way to enhance your daily smoothie or smoothie bowls. Not only an infusion of nutrients, but also a rich source of flavour (e.g. Aronia powder) and fun colours (e.g. Spirulina)!
Your days are busy but you don't want to compromise on your nutrition? Good news: our products can be effortlessly integrated into even the busiest of days. And the best part? All of our meals are packed full of superfoods: spinach, beets, Açaí and turmeric can be found in all of our smoothies: Magic Mint, Raspberry Rise, Açaí Bloom and Mango Morning. Ginger, chickpeas, broccoli and co. can be found in these bowls: Asian Twist, Curry Up, Golden Curry and Peas & Love.
In conclusion, superfoods like berries, seeds and grains naturally possess an unusually dense nutrient profile. In combination with other foods, they can have a very positive influence in enabling a healthy and balanced diet. A helpful list of the other foods which you should include on your plate can be found in our article on a balanced diet. Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with the consumption of superfoods. But if you want to do yourself and the environment a favour, you should buy more of regionally grown superfoods and also check the respective superfood products with regard to cultivation (e.g. organic) and processing (e.g. natural).
Curious to find out more? Discover our articles on other interesting well-being topics:
- Healthy Dinner – What's Best for You and Your Body
- Gluten-Free Eating – More Than Just a Food Trend
- Vegan Meat Alternatives – Everything You Need to Know
- Food Waste – When Edible Food Lands in the Trash.
- Meal Prep – Cook Once, Enjoy Often!