Superfoods: Worth The Hype?

Superfoods: Worth The Hype?

Are so-called “superfoods” really worth all the hype? We dive into the research and see what science today has to say about their potential benefits.

The term “superfoods" has certainly been a buzzword lately. When we see foods with the superfood title, they usually come with a promise to deliver a miracle cure. Is there really a group of foods that deliver everything we need to be healthy? Or is it just all hype?

We dug through the research and had a look at what it means to be a superfood, their potential benefits, and if certain foods stand out above the rest. 

What Is a Superfood?

So what does it mean to be a superfood?

It depends on who you ask. Many nutritionists give superfood status to a range of everyday healthy foods, such as berries, fish, leafy greens, nuts, whole grains, and yogurt [1]. Though with a simple Google search you may see exotic foods with hard to pronounce names given superfood status.

Basically, the term “superfood” encompasses a whole range of good-for-you foods, from blueberries to bee pollen.

Are there really foods that reign supreme over others? Well, yes and no.

If you ask us here at Revibe, we believe the term “superfood” is often just a clever marketing trick. When we see the “superfood” badge given to a particular food, we’re supposed to think that that food holds the key to a healthy and long life.

While there isn’t just one food that is the be-all-end-all health elixir, there are certain foods that are more “super” than others. We’re sure you know that leafy greens hold more health-beneficial nutrients than a greasy burger.

As the superfood term is so ill-defined, it is difficult to categorise foods into “super” and “non-super”. As a rule of thumb, if it’s a food that offers a range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, you can assume it has “super” status. Remember that one type of food won’t give you everything you need. It is best to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet full of plant-based foods, fibre, lean protein, and healthy fats.

With that in mind, we do think there are a few foods that can be singled out for special recognition, if for no other reason than their uniqueness in offering a particular compound, range of nutrients, and supporting gut health. Here are a few of our favourites:

Wakame Seaweed

Wakame seaweed may sound exotic but we promise this food has been a key staple in Japanese diets for centuries. Especially in Okinawa, Japan where the population has been recognised for being one of the longest-living in the world.

Wakame seaweed is full of vitamins A, C, E, and K is an excellent source of iron and minerals such as iodine, manganese, folate, magnesium, and calcium [2].

It also has a gut-friendly compound called ‘Fucoidan’ (pronounced few-koy-dan). While research is still in the early stages, the potential of fucoidan is exciting. Scientists believe that fucoidan could combat inflammatory gut conditions like IBD, ulcerative colitis, and stomach ulcers.

This is thanks to fucoidan’s natural bacteria properties which helps keep our gut microbiomes happy and healthy [3]. It also can repair the permeable barrier which lines our gut [4].

Lab studies have also demonstrated that fucoidan extracts have potential in decreasing the ability of H. Pylori (the pathogen which causes stomach ulcers) to adhere to gastric epithelial cells – offering an alternative or supporting therapy other than antibiotics [5].

Bee Pollen

Bee pollen probably doesn’t immediately pop into your mind when you think of food. Though it is one you may want to consider. It has been found to contain around 250 substances including amino acids, fatty acids, RNA/DNA nucleic acids, macro- and micro-nutrients as well as polyphenols (mostly flavonoids) [6]. It is also a good source of protein and vitamin B12, which is especially needed if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Hemp

Hemp is a uniquely nutritious plant-food. The non-psychoactive relative of Cannabis Sativa, hemp seeds provide a range of fatty acids including omega-6, omega-3 [7]. Hemp also contains vitamins A, E, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and folate and is a good source of primarily gut-friendly insoluble fibre.

Lion’s Mane Mushroom

You may have guessed - this mushroom gets its name from its long, shaggy spines. Used throughout Asia, lion’s mane mushroom can either be consumed in supplement form or as is. High in antioxidants, lion’s mane mushroom can help fight both inflammation and oxidation in the body [8]. It may also be beneficial for people with IBD as it encourages the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Additionally, many people use it for its cognitive boosting or nootropic effects.  Research indicates that it upregulates a neuropeptide called Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) which is responsible for maintaining the nerve cells in our brain [9].

Bottom Line

Are superfoods worth the hype? Since there is no clear definition of what it means to be a superfood, it is up to us to navigate through the information out there and separate fact from fiction. It is good to remember that there will always be unintentional biases no matter the source and often scientific inquiries are built upon shifting sands.

For us, it’s all about sticking to the basics. Consuming a diet that is rich in healthy fats, gut-friendly fibre and plant-based foods, with good quality (grass-fed) animal products in moderation and limited processed foods. Remember that everyone is different and has their own unique microbiome. To find out what works best for you, simply try things out. From the basics to new and interesting foods like bee pollen and wakame seaweed. We’re sure you’ll quickly discover what is super for you.

Sources

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/10-superfoods-to-boost-a-healthy-diet-2018082914463

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jan/16/do-superfoods-really-exist-antioxidants

https://www.livestrong.com/article/499914-what-are-the-benefits-of-wakame-seaweed/

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/wakame#section3

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323400.php#potential-benefits

[1] 10 Superfoods To Boost A Healthy Diet. Harvard Health Blog. Katherine D. McManus, MS, RD, LDN.

[2] 8 Surprising Health Benefits of Wakame Seaweed. Healthline. Rachel Link, MS, RD.

[3] Shang QShan XCai CHao JLi GYu G. Dietary fucoidan modulates the gut microbiota in mice by increasing the abundance of Lactobacillus and Ruminococcaceae.

[4] Iraha, A., Chinen, H., Hokama, A., Yonashiro, T., Kinjo, T., Kishimoto, K., … Fujita, J. (2013). Fucoidan enhances intestinal barrier function by upregulating the expression of claudin-1. World journal of gastroenterology, 19(33), 5500–5507. doi:10.3748/wjg.v19.i33.5500

[5] Chua EG, Verbrugghe P, Perkins TT, Tay CY. Fucoidans Disrupt Adherence of Helicobacter pylori to AGS Cells In Vitro. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:120981. doi:10.1155/2015/120981

[6] Komosinska-Vassev K, Olczyk P, Kaźmierczak J, Mencner L, Olczyk K. Bee pollen: chemical composition and therapeutic application. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:297425. doi:10.1155/2015/297425

[7] Arno Hazekamp, Justin T. Fischedick, Mónica Llano Díez, Andrea Lubbe, Renee L. Ruhaak,

3.24 - Chemistry of Cannabis, Comprehensive Natural Products II, Elsevier, 2010, Pages 1033-1084, ISBN 9780080453828

[8] What Are The Benefits of Lion’s Mane Mushrooms? Medical News Today. Jayne Leonard, reviewed by Alan Carter, Pharm.D.

[9] Lai PL1, Naidu M, Sabaratnam V, Wong KH, David RP, Kuppusamy UR, Abdullah N, Malek SN. Neurotrophic properties of the Lion's mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia.  Int J Med Mushrooms. 2013;15(6):539-54. DOI: 10.1615/IntJMedMushr.v15.i6.30