The term “superfoods” is one that is often overused and misunderstood. Although there is no scientific definition to qualify a superfood, in the nutrition world, it signifies a single food that’s jam-packed with good-for-you nutrients that help keep your body healthy. There are many, many foods that are super, but as the saying goes, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans stresses variety. Since no single food can provide every single nutrient your body needs in the exact amount needed, your best bet is to eat a whole bunch of healthy fare, all of which balance each other out. That’s also why you may have heard the phrase “eat the rainbow”—the more colors are on your plate, the wider variety of nutrients you’re eating.
Some foods, however, although touted as superfoods, are overhyped (and overpriced!). There are other foods (or combinations of foods) that can provide you with similar nutrients that are just as healthy. Find out which not-so-superfoods you can cross off your grocery list—and what to add instead.
- Goji Berries – These small berries have been marketed to treat inflammation, fight cancer, and improve vision and fertility. Studies done on rabbits and rats have shown some promise in heart health and insulin resistance, but that’s a long way off from having the same effect on humans—or touting the food as a superfood. The actual berry is not rich in one particular vitamin or mineral, though it does contain natural plant chemicals beta-carotene and zeaxanthin, both antioxidants in the carotenoid family.
- Wheatgrass – Many people take a shot of this sprouted grain daily, or purchase high priced-juices or smoothies containing it. Wheatgrass contains a plant compound called apigenin, thought to work similar to an antioxidant in preventing damage to the body’s cells. Wheatgrass does contain a variety of nutrients, including vitamins A, C, E, calcium, iron, and magnesium. It’s also brimming with 70 percent chlorophyll, which is significantly higher than many other green leafy vegetables. However, despite some claims, studies have not found any nutritional value to consuming chlorophyll, and there are no human studies showing that it has any health benefits.
- Acai Berries – Acai has been touted to have all sorts of benefits, including curing allergies, boosting energy, improving sleep, and aiding weight loss. Once again, though, there are no human studies to prove these claims. There was one study conducted at the University of Florida where the antioxidant compounds in acai were shown to help fight leukemia cells—but it was done in a test tube, not on humans.Acai does have an interesting nutrition profile with 50 percent of its calories coming from omega-9 fats, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. These berries also have fiber, vitamin A, iron, and calcium, and several plant chemicals including anthocyanins, which are potent antioxidants. However, a study published in theJournal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that acai juice contained fewer anthocyanins than red wine and pomegranate juice.There’s a huge variety of foods that contain anthocyanins, including blackberries, blueberries, cherries, red grapes, cranberries, and red currants, that are more worth your time.
- Kombucha – This black tea is fermented with the help of yeast, bacteria, and sugar. And it’s health claims include detoxification, increasing energy, improving digestion, enhancing the immune system, and PMS relief. But there are no human studies to support any of these claims. Further, the vinegary flavored tea (which you either love or hate) tends to have a good amount of added sugar. There have also been contamination issues with fungus and bacteria, which is potentially dangerous for those with weakened immune systems, like the very old, very young, pregnant, and nursing mothers. There are all types of teas you can enjoy that have been shown to have health claims (yes, they’re back up with science!). Tea contains phytochemicals called flavonoids, shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease. To get more good-for-you bacteria, enjoy kefir, kimchi, or sauerkraut.
- Chia Seeds – This edible, nutty-flavored seed comes from a desert plant grown in Mexico. The theory behind its weight loss claim is that it provides a satiety value, making you feel full and hopefully causing you to eat less. However, one short 2009 study published inNutrition Research found no such luck when participants ate chia over a 12-week period—in fact, there were no changes in appetite or weight loss.So what about the omega-3s? If you think you’re getting a ton of this essential fat, think again. Chia contains the ALA type of omega-3 fat, which needs to be converted to more potent forms called DHA and EPA in order to benefit heart health. Although reports claim that milled chia can convert from ALA to DHA and EPA more efficiently, more research needs to be done.You’re better off choosing nuts like almonds, peanuts, cashews, and pistachios, which are filled with protein and healthy fat and can help curb hunger. For an omega-3 fix, choose fatty fish like tuna, salmon, and sardines, which contain high amounts of DHA and EPA—the more potent form of omega-3 fats.