When it comes to food, some ingredients are more potent and powerful than others. "Superfood" is a popular and useful marketing term applied to food items with exceptional nutrient diversity. While you should always be wary of the hype and unrealistic health claims, the rich nutritional profile of many superfood products can lead to a range of health benefits. From ancient grains and exotic fruits to cacao and hemp, let's review the history of superfoods and review some of the most beneficial foods on the planet.
The History of Superfoods
"Superfood" is a fairly new term, originating in the early 20th century as part of a marketing strategy for bananas. The popularity of the term soared when bananas were endorsed in medical journals, and it was even used in 1949 to describe the nutritional qualities of a muffin. This term became more popular during the latter half of the 20th century as the world developed a growing appetite for rich and nutritious food ingredients. Over the last few decades, "superfood" has been used to describe a large range of fruits, vegetables, grains, supplements, and more.
Despite recent popularity, the concept of superfoods has a very ancient origin. Many of the products sold today as superfoods have been around for centuries, with certain foods, herbs, and remedies widely recognised as the original medicine. For example, cacao is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world and has long been prescribed for therapeutic purposes. While fairly new to the western world, quinoa is an ancient grain-like seed that was used by the Incas for energy and nutrition. In fact, most popular modern superfoods come with a long history of nutritional and medical use in far-flung parts of the world.
What Exactly Is a Superfood?
"Superfood" is a fairly vague term that can be contentious due to misuse and obfuscation. In fact, the marketing of products as superfoods was prohibited in the European Union in 2007 unless accompanied by a specifically authorised health claim. To be fair, it's not the word itself that is problematic, but many of the dubious claims that seem to surround it. A superfood is simply a highly functional food, which means it provides nutritional benefits capable of promoting good health. When combined with positive exercise and lifestyle habits, healthy food intake can help promote better biological function and reduce the risk of disease.
A superfood is nothing more or less than food with extra-high nutritional value. While not all people benefit from all food at all times, adding some of these foods to your diet can be a great way to supercharge your health and well-being. Superfoods are useless in isolation and should always be accompanied by a balanced diet and exercise plan. Like always, variety is the spice of life, so combine supplements and staples with fresh seasonal food from your local area.
Let's take a look at ten of the best superfoods on the planet:
As the real genesis of plant life, this amazing superfood has been around since the very beginning. Bee pollen is undeniably the most important food on this list because, without it, many of our food crops would cease to exist. Raw food in its most complete form, bee pollen has an incredible nutritional profile that includes 18 vitamins, 60 minerals, 11 enzymes, and a complex mixture of amino acids, among countless other nutrients.
Hemp continues to get lots of love as a superfood, with its rich profile of vitamins, minerals, and protein, offering nutritional goodness without mind-altering effects. Hemp seeds are widely available in whole or powdered form and contain all nine essential amino acids along with beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and fibre. Among other things, hemp seeds have a range of neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects and may help to regulate the immune system.
Described by some as the ultimate superfood, cacao is chocolate in its rawest and most nutritious form. Sold as dried seeds or powder, the nutritious heart of chocolate is packed with magnesium, full of antioxidants, and brimming with calcium, zinc, copper, and selenium. Cacao compares well with more hyped superfood products and contains more antioxidants than blueberries, goji berries, prunes, and pomegranates.
These versatile and rather delicious black or white seeds can be eaten raw, added to smoothies, or combined with other ingredients in a range of dishes. Chia seeds are a relatively new superfood on the market, and they look like they're here to stay. These seeds have a huge omega-3 fatty acid composition at 18%, which makes them a great tool for heart health and brain function. Chia is also a great source of high-quality protein, minerals, and antioxidants.
This blue-green algae is a great dietary supplement with a range of inflammation-fighting and immune system regulation properties. With an ultra-high protein content and an excellent range of vitamins and minerals, spirulina is a useful supplement for people who want a little something extra. Spirulina is fantastic for improving gut health and useful for people who want maximum nutritional value with minimum calorie intake.
This superfood product hit the shelves in the '90s and is a huge favourite among smoothie lovers. Wheatgrass contains high amounts of iron, calcium, magnesium, and protein and has 17 amino acids and a great vitamin profile. Wheatgrass is often sold as a detoxification product because it can help to rid the body of impurities by supporting healthy liver function. This ultra-green superfood also helps with digestion, metabolism, and energy regulation.
Maca root is a nutty and highly nutritious superfood that originates from the rugged Andes mountains. Part of the mustard plant family, maca is also sold as maca-maca, maino, and ayak willku, among other names. Maca root is an ancient staple across much of Peru and is taken traditionally to increase energy levels, aid fertility, assist bone healing, and improve memory. Despite its ancient origins, this plant has become a modern favourite for people dealing with anxiety, depression, and stress.
Acai berries are very much in trend, with their rich mixture of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that entice health lovers across the globe. While they are not magical like some people suggest, acai berries can be used to promote weight loss and aid digestive system function. If you're looking for an alternative to acai berries, blueberries, blackberries, and cranberries can be a fantastic addition to most diets.
The United Nations declared 2013 as "International Year of Quinoa." This flowering plant is loved for its edible and highly nutritious seeds. Quinoa is a healthy source of carbohydrates with an impressive mix of vitamins, protein, and minerals such as copper and manganese. In fact, quinoa is the only carbohydrate-rich food with all nine essential amino acids, which makes it a great side dish and healthy alternative to things like pasta, rice, and potatoes.
Also known as wolfberries, goji berries look like pink raisins and have a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine. Like most other dark-coloured berries, goji berries contain high levels of antioxidants, which help to protect the body from free radicals. Goji berries also contain 11 essential amino acids, carotenoids, lycopene, and as much vitamin C as fresh lemons. Like most superfoods, the rich nutritional profile of goji berries can help to regulate biological functions and boost energy levels.
Superfoods seem to get equal amounts of love and hate from health enthusiasts and sceptics around the world. If truth be told, the foods listed above and those like them are sometimes hyped by the health industry in a way that's unhelpful and unnecessary. Make no mistake, however, not all foods are equal when it comes to their nutritional profile and associated health benefits. If you're looking for the most efficient and effective way to complement or boost a balanced diet, superfoods are simply the clever choice.