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The Rise in Popularity of So-Called "Superfoods"



How are superfoods different from regular foods?

Superfoods, unlike regular foods, are “foods whose nutritional composition is ideal for strengthening and promoting the proper functioning of the human body,” [1]. Their nutritional value is so high due to “a high concentration of nutrients and, on the other hand, great biological value due to satisfactory bioavailability and bioactivity within the body due to a variety of bioactive ingredients they contain,” [1]. All these ingredients combined can lead to a stronger immune system, as well as increased vitality. Lee Holmes’ cookbook Supercharged Food - Eat Yourself Beautiful explains how regularly incorporating superfoods into your diet can also promise “well-being, youthfulness, vitality and self-transformation,” [2].


Superfoods are becoming more popular due to their antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are responsible for protecting your cells from something called “free radicals,” which develop when you are exposed to smoke or radiation. These free radicals will lead to certain heart diseases and cancer, among other diseases. Some of the most important foods that have these antioxidants include “kefir, maca plant, acai berries, goji berries, hippophaes, maize, blueberries, royal jelly, spirulina, ginger, donkey milk and pomegranate,” [1]. Some of these superfoods will be talked about in more detail within this article.


What are some superfoods that are gaining popularity?

There are many superfoods that you are probably eating and don’t even know about! Some common superfoods may already be a part of your diet; so, first, we’ll discuss some common superfood seeds, including: “flax, chia, hulled, sunflower, and two types of processed hemp seeds,” which may be less common within a regular diet [3].


Flax seeds (also called Linum usitatissimum) have high omega-3 fatty acids, which is a type of nutrient that aids your immune system, heart, and blood vessels. Chia seeds also have a high level of omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seed oil can, in fact, have “anti-inflammatory effects which reduced the severity of rheumatoid arthritis,” and chia seeds/oil “improve systemic glucose and insulin tolerance in rats” when tested on rats [3]. Whereas flax and chia seeds have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, hemp (also called Cannabis sativa) has high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, a type of fat that can protect from heart disease. Hemp seeds also have “good sources of protein, dietary fiber and omega-3 fatty acids,” [3]. Sunflowers also contain high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. Sunflower seeds also contain “nutrients, minerals, antioxidants and vitamins, and […] [have] roles in antioxidant, antimicrobial, antidiabetic, antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory and wound-healing effects,” [3].


Now, let’s get into the more popular examples of superfoods. The first one is tea, which most have probably heard of considering “it’s the second most popular drink worldwide after water,” [1]. There are three different types of teas that are superfoods, which include fermented green tea, oolong tea, and fermented black tea. Fermented green tea is made by “drying and processing with steam of the fresh leaves of the plant,” [1]. Oolong tea is made when “its leaves plants undergo a moderate fermentation prior to drying,” [1]. Fermented black tea has to go through “extensive fermentation prior to drying and vaporisation,” [1]. All different types have different effects, but tea, in general, is shown to reduce the risk of cancer, provide cardio protection, improve memory and learning skills, and reduce the risk of arthritis [1].


Blueberry is another superfood that is extremely common. Blueberries contain a plethora of carbs, vitamins, proteins, and fatty acids. Some of them include fibers, starch, glucose, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, glycine (which promotes good sleep), lysine (which helps to make proteins), omega-3 fatty acids, and omega-6 fatty acids. It’s definitely a mouthful, and these are only some of the nutrients in blueberries. Some of the health benefits that result from eating blueberries are the prevention of cancer, urinary tract infection prevention, and an increase in cerebral function. Blueberries, at the right quantity, can provide so many health benefits. Studies have also shown that eating “150 g of blueberries per week may contribute to reduction in blood pressure levels, and a number of other studies have shown a potential effect on the prevention of various types of cancer, such as colon cancer, due to the presence of phenolic compounds, tannins, flavones and generally antioxidant ingredients,” [1].


Açaí berries are becoming more popular and are found in the forms of açaí juice and açaí smoothie bowls. These berries can also be eaten raw or dried. Açaí contains certain vitamins and fatty acids that contribute to health benefits such as a healthy immune system, anti-inflammatory benefits, and protection against cancer cells. This is due to the high content levels of antioxidants in these berries, as well as vitamins and fatty acids.


Pomegranate is another fruit that is considered a superfood. Pomegranates have a high level of “bioactive substances, including phenolic compounds, polyphenols, ellagitannins and vitamins,” [1]. Drinking pomegranate juice can result in “improved arterial blood pressure, reduced triglyceride levels, and increased HDL cholesterol,” [1]. Pomegranate seeds also contain a specific acid called punicic acid, which contributes to reducing the risk of a person getting a cardiovascular disease. Pomegranates, overall, can increase antioxidant activity, prevent hypertension, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and improve endothelial function.


The last on our list of superfoods is ginger or ginger root. Ginger contains vitamins, potassium, zinc, and other compounds. The health benefits that can be seen as a result of eating ginger root include the prevention of cardiovascular disease, an improvement in digestion, and anti-inflammatory actions.


Why are superfoods growing in popularity?

Recently, pandemics and new diseases have arisen, meaning that we must do our best to keep our immune systems strong and healthy. Besides, who doesn’t want to be healthier?


We are currently entering an age where people are going outside of the norm when it comes to food in order to find what is actually good for the body rather than what is advertised in the “market,” a term “coined by Fischler to describe what he saw as an emergent trend in modern society,” [2]. Superfoods are now being advertised for their anti-aging properties, nutritional value, and disease-preventing abilities. The rise in people wanting to eat healthier has also contributed to the rise of the “worried well,” who are worried about being well [2]. There is a certain anxiety that comes with being healthy, and it can contribute to “fears of fat, sugar and sodium, along with obsessions about exercising, aging, and mortality,” [2]. We want to eat healthier, and social pressures can lead us to have certain anxieties when it comes to food. On top of being healthy, there is also the trend of thinness being associated with beauty. There is a numerous amount of people that are trying new diets and ways to lose weight. Superfoods are a way of gaining the essential nutrients the body needs, while also eating less. For example, one hundred grams of blueberries is a snack that is packed with nutrients, proteins, etc. With anti-aging also on the rise, as discussed in the beginning of this article, there is a higher demand for superfoods.


Although these superfoods do not serve as a cure for dieting, aging, or health, they are still good ways to get essential vitamins that you may not find in other foods and supplements. The next time you’re grocery shopping, take a look at some of the superfoods mentioned in this article, or elsewhere on the web, and try it out!


References:

1. Proestos, C. (2018, December 24). Superfoods: Recent data on their role in the Prevention of Diseases. Current Research in Nutrition and Food Science Journal. http://www.foodandnutritionjournal.org/volume6number3/superfoodsrecent-data-on-their-rolein-the-prevention-of-diseases/.


2. MacGregor, C., Petersen, A., & Parker, C. (2018). Promoting a healthier, younger you: The media marketing of anti-ageing superfoods. Journal of Consumer Culture, 21(2), 164–179. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469540518773825.


3. Barsby, J. P., Cowley, J. M., Leemaqz, S. Y., Grieger, J. A., McKeating, D. R., Perkins, A. V., Bastian, S. E. P., Burton, R. A., & Bianco-Miotto, T. (2021, November 26). Nutritional properties of selected superfood extracts and their potential health benefits. PeerJ. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8628624/.



 

Contributors:

Author: Kayjah Taylor

Editor: Lauryn Agron

Health scientist: Rayven Hall



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