Are Superfoods Really Super?

Did you know that avocado lovers are likely to be slim and healthy? And there is a research study to back that up, one that was published in Nutritional Journal a repository of research on food and nutrition (full text of the study can be found in PubMed). So what’s so special about avocado?

It has been claimed by the Superfood group to be one of them.

What is Superfood?

superfoodphoto: mike65444

The health food industry “owns” the word Superfood. It is used to describe foods that are low in calories, high in nutrients and has the capacity to fight medical conditions like cancer. These disease fighting capacities are due to different components of these kinds of foods. Superfoods are usually from the fruit and vegetable group, although some fish and other food not in the classification are included in the category.

Superfood though has no legal or scientific definition, yet. Although some are indisposed about the idea, many studies and research were conducted for each “Superfood” components. These studies (are not meant to glorify the term) have shed light about the components that each of these Superfood contains.

For a Superfood to become a part of the Superfood list it needs to achieve certain milestones in the criteria. It includes the Trolox Equivalence Antioxidant Capacity, ORAC Values, the pH Balance, the Nutrient Density and the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index System.

How foods can be classified as “Superfood”

Although no government body has put up this standard for identifying Superfood (since the label isn’t recognised yet by most Food, Drugs and Nutrition agencies over the world), the following things may be used to categorised healthy over unhealthy foods.

ORAC Values. ORAC stands of the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity Value. ORAC value is used by health and nutrition regulating agencies to test for the ability of substances to mollify free radicals. Once free-radicals are mollified, oxidative process will slow down and the damage that may cause diseases will be minimised. ORAC values on food represent their anti-oxidant capacity. Superfoods were known to have high anti-oxidatory capacity from its different components.

ORAC Values are developed by the National Institute of Health in the US. offers information on the ORAC values your food contains. However, ORAC values faced criticisms over the similarity of anti-oxidant capacity of foods tested in vitro over its in vivo or real effects on human. Although it is purported to be one of the most accurate tests for anti-oxidant components, US Agrarian Research Services was prompted to withdraw its ORAC table from its website.

Another push for ORAC to widely gain criticism is its misuse and abuse from most food products claiming high ORAC value. This issue prompted the US FDA to release this food labelling and nutrient content claims regulatory guidelines.

TEAC or the Trolox Equivalence Antioxidant Capacity is another way to assess antioxidant activity and capability of certain foods, especially those claiming to be on the Superfood list. This standard is used to measure the antioxidant capacity of foods, beverages and nutritional supplements.

pH Balance. When food is acidic, then it can be a sickness magnet. What the body needs is balance between acidity and alkalinity which the pH balance scale can give.

Nutrient Density. Nutrient density is the ratio of the foods nutrient to its calorie content. Most Superfoods have very little calorie content but very high nutrient density.

Aggregate Nutrient Density or ANDI. The ANDI measure of foods includes the vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, micronutrients and antioxidant components of food. ANDI system uses a rating scale for foods. This scale scores each food. Soda in the ANDI scale system gets one while Kale, a known Superfood, got 1000.

andiscoresphoto: austinnaturalhealth

What gives Superfood its superiority?

We’ve identified Superfoods, now what gives them these superiority over other foods? Are Superfoods a marketing hype or Superfoods really super?

Penny Kris Etherton, professor of nutrition in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State, says it can be both. “Nutritionists don’t have a definition for Superfoods,’ ” she notes. What might well deserve the label “super,” though, is “a food that has a high nutrient density, or contains bioactive components with proven health benefits.”

Each Superfood may contain different protective effects from specific agents. Professor Hang Xiao of the University of Massachusetts said that the first thing to see is to identify these specific agents and second, understand how it works.

“Epidemiological evidence has indicated that a diet abundant in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, and this effect has been attributed to bioactive components present in these foods,” associate professor Hang Xiao added. Read the article full article here, Putting Superfoods to the Test.

Now, based on Prof. Xiao’s statement, which of these super components gives Superfood its superiority? Let’s see some below.

Omega-3. Omega-3 is one of the most marketed super content in the world. Although it can be taken from plants, most omega-3 source is from marine life, fish included. Among its contemporaries, omega-3 garnered many studies in its wake.

“There’s good evidence that people who eat more fish have a lower risk of dying from heart disease,” says Dr. Mozaffarian, a nutrition expert from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Resveratrol. Resveratrol is a Polyphenol and is a known anti-oxidant. It is found in the skin of red grapes, berries and in peanuts. In another study conducted by the Harvard Medical School researchers, it has been found that the production of SIRT1, serum that blocks diseases and speeds up mitochondria, can be stimulated by the resveratrol.

Polyphenols. Polyphenols fights oxidative stress which may promote aging, cardiovascular diseases and neurodegenerative diseases. It’s present in dark berries, vegetables like artichokes and spinach. INRA together with the AFSSA, the University of Alberta, the University of Barcelona, IARC and In Siliflo developed a phenol explorer database which may help you look for the Polyphenols content of the food you eat. Access it here, Phenol Explorer.

Tomatoes are filled with lycopene, a very beneficial super component.

Lycopene. Lycopene is the compound that can be found in tomatoes, watermelon, guava, grapefruit and sweet red peppers and other fruits. It has positive effects on heart disease and macular degenerative disease. It is linked to lower stroke risk, reduce prostate cancer risk, and boost heart health.

Catechins. Green eta and apple contains catechins. Catechins are said to reduce body fat and cardiovascular risks.

Carotenoids. Carotenoids are organic pigment that is responsible for some fruits and vegetables skin colour. It helps fight diseases and can reduce free radicals. Carotenoids may help lower risk of cataract extraction (A prospective study of carotenoid intake and risk of cataract extraction in US men), fight metabolic syndrome(Metabolic syndrome and serum carotenoids: findings of a cross-sectional study in Queensland, Australia), may protect against cancer (Circulating Carotenoids and Risk of Breast Cancer: Pooled Analysis of Eight Prospective Studies).


Flavonoids. Flavonoids, found in berries, tea and red wine, neutralise overly reactive oxygen containing molecules and it prevents cell damage. Once ingested Flavonoids may help in raising of the glutathione level in the body and helps disrupts microorganisms such as bad bacteria and virus. Habitual intake of Flavonoids may protect men from Parkinson’s disease (Habitual intake of dietary flavonoids and risk of Parkinson disease) and reduce risk of type 2 diabetes (Intakes of Anthocyanins and Flavones Are Associated with Biomarkers of Insulin Resistance and Inflammation in Women).

Anthocyanins. Anthocyanins can act as anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anticancer compound. It reduces myocardial infarction, help against obesity and cancer.

Soluble fibres. Found in oatmeal at most, soluble fibre slows down digestion and increases insulin sensitivity. It lowers bad cholesterol.

Although it didn’t encompassed all known Superfood components that made it super, these beneficial compounds are mostly found in various Superfood lists. Often, Superfoods may also contain one or more of the aforementioned components.

Here’s a quick list of known superfoods (or see Huffington Posts 50 of the Healthiest Foods):

  1. Salmon and other fish

    Blueberry has low calorie count, contains virtually no fat and contains high anti-oxidant value.
  2. Quinoa
  3. Oatmeal
  4. Blueberries
  5. Dark chocolate
  6. Krill
  7. Chia
  8. Avocado
  9. Tea
  10. Some herbs and spices
  11. Tomato
  12. Carrots
  13. Kale
  14. Spinach
  15. Broccoli
  16. Nuts
  17. Ginger
  18. Pomegranate
  19. Soybeans        

As a precaution though, experts alway reiterate that Superfoods shouldn’t just be the sole focus of your diet. Rather, there should be variety and balance since too much of anything can be not so good – like too much asparagus can lead to gout. Overall, eating too many Superfoods may lead to anti-oxidant overdose.

So are Superfoods really super? We say YES!

Disclaimer: This is for information purposes only and does not replace any advice from medical professionals.

featured image: Daniele Zedda
tomatoes: gregor_y
blueberry: geishaboy500


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