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Superfoods are loosely defined as foods that have some sort of health benefit beyond their nutritional content, preferably backed up by science and research.
A few foods have enough research to qualify for health claims. For example, oats count as a superfood because they have a good nutritional profile and contain a fiber called beta-glucan that has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels if they're elevated.
Extra virgin olive oil is also a well-known superfood because it can also improve your cholesterol levels.
Unfortunately, there is no legal or official definition for "superfood" and since the idea of a food being super is so enticing, it's not all that uncommon for a food to be called a superfood when it really isn't (or, at least, it isn't as super as you think it is). Here's a look at five superfoods that aren't all that super.
Coconut oil is touted to have all kinds of health benefits due to medium chain saturated fatty acids. Common claims include protection against Alzheimer's and cardiovascular disease.
Although popular, coconut oil doesn't live up to its hype. Scientific research doesn't back up most claims. In fact, consuming coconut oil may raise total cholesterol, so there doesn't appear to be any good reason to consume it in place of other saturated fats.
Almond milk provides the same benefits as whole nuts.
Almonds, like other nuts, are high in protein, antioxidants, fiber, and minerals. Almond milk is made from blanched skinless almonds and a lot of the nutrition is lost is lost during processing.
Most brands of commercial almond milk have calcium and vitamin D added, so that's good. But all in all, aside from personal preference, unless you prefer a vegan diet, have lactose intolerance, or have another specific health reason for choosing almond milk, there's really no reason to believe almond milk is better for you than low- or non-fat milk.
Honey can help cure hayfever and plant allergies. It's also a better type of sugar.
It's well established that eating too much sugar in any form isn't good for your diet. That includes natural sources like honey, maple syrup, agave, or any type of natural sweetener.
Randomized studies haven't found the claims about allergies and hayfever to be true.
The main active ingredient in wheatgrass is chlorophyll, which gives it the bright green color. Wheatgrass is sometimes promoted as having anti-cancer activity.
Research studies are preliminary and no human studies have found that consuming wheatgrass will prevent or help treat cancer.
Sea salt has extra health benefits due to having extra minerals.
Salt is salt is salt. It's half sodium and half chloride. In reality, sea salt is the same as regular refined table salt and you are not going to change your overall mineral intake by eating sea salt.
In fact, if you have been told to limit sodium, you have to limit sea salt too.
Exotic fruit is more nutritious than the typical fruit you see in the grocery store.
Goji berries, acai, mangosteen, and other unknown superfruits and berries often do have loads of nutrients and antioxidants. If you love them, by all means, enjoy them, but don't make them your go-to just because you think they're healthier.
The most important thing is that you are eating your fruits and veggies and the typical options in your grocery store count too. They provide plenty of health benefits.
When you also consider the extra expense of processing and shipping exotic fruit to the United States and the heavier price tag for them at the store, they may not be worth it.
Typical whole foods, although they're untrendy and sometimes do weird things to your body, are the ones you should focus on eating as part of a balanced diet. Remember that there's no need to dwell on whether or not each food you buy is a superfood or simply nutritious. Get a good mix of colorful fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds, whole grains (that aren't overly processed), legumes, lean protein sources such as fish and seafood, and non-fat or low-fat dairy (or other calcium sources) and you'll get all the nutrients and health benefits you need.
Bar-Sela G, Cohen M, Ben-Arye E, Epelbaum R. "The Medical Use of Wheatgrass: Review of the Gap Between Basic and Clinical Applications." Mini Rev Med Chem. 2015;15(12):1002-10.
Eyres L, Eyres MF, Chisholm A, Brown RC. "Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans." Nutr Rev. 2016 Apr;74(4):267-80.
Varteresian T, Lavretsky H . "Natural products and supplements for geriatric depression and cognitive disorders: an evaluation of the research." Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2014 Aug;16(8):456.