Are "Superfoods" Worth the Hype?
Are some fruits and vegetable really far superior to the rest? The answer depends on who you ask. Marion Nestle, the author of What to Eat and a professor of nutrition at New York University, told the Washington Post that she doesn’t believe in superfoods. On her blog, Nestle criticized the Monavie brand that was selling acai juice for $40 a bottle in 2009. “The bottom line: all juices have antioxidants and most are a lot cheaper than MonaVie,” wrote Nestle.
Registered dietician Andy Bellatti agrees that the superfoods label is all about marketing.
“The field of nutrition is primed for these gimmicks because manufacturers know there are a lot of people looking for silver bullets,” says Bellatti. “The term ‘superfood’ as we know it today is silly because it is basically code for ‘grown 15,000 miles away in a remote mountain range and sold at a premium.’ As far as I am concerned, all whole, minimally processed, plant-based foods are superfoods. Are goji berries healthy? Sure. So is an orange.”
A recent article in Slate documented how, in the early 20th century, the United Fruit Co. transformed the banana into a weight-loss promoting superfruit through incessant marketing. The bananas and milk diet might have gone the way of flapper fashion, but is that fad diet really so different than drinking a daily goji berry smoothie?
Like the “natural” label, the superfoods designation is unregulated, meaning the label can be attached to just about any product. There is no official or legal definition of superfoods. In 2007, the European Union (EU) banned the use of superfood on product labels for precisely this reason. Now, foods can only be marketed as superfoods there if sellers can provide a specific, authorized health claim that explains to consumers exactly how the product can benefit their health.
In the U.S., where the label remains unregulated, food marketers’ efforts to stay ahead of the curve verge on comical. In anticipation that kale chips would jump the shark, one snack food company recently released a new line of chips made from purple corn, which they claimed had more “antioxidant power than blueberries, acai berries, and pomegranate juice.” And while this may be true, it might not mean what some consumers think it does.
Most experts support the idea that fruits and vegetables - super or not - are what constitutes a healthy diet. "If you genuinely enjoy mangosteen, by all means eat some,"says Bellatti. "But don't fool yourself into thinking that a mangosteen is superior to a blackberry or a pear."