Superfood is a marketing term for food with supposed health benefits. The term is not commonly used by experts, dietitians and nutrition scientists, many of whom dispute that particular foods have the health benefits claimed by their advocates.
Definition and use of the term
The term has no official definition by regulatory authorities in major consumer markets, such as the United States Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture or the European Food Safety Authority.
The oldest recorded use of the term "superfood" is a poem published in a Jamaican newspaper published during World War I. The term referred to wine, and its ability to enhance life as something "extra". The second use was in a Canadian newspaper in 1949, praising the completeness of a certain muffin's nutritional qualities.:68
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, "superfood" started to be used as a marketing tool for selling specific foods, dietary supplements, foods with selected food additives, or self-help books about fad diets, with the promise of some enhancement to health; such products were often sold at a higher price that similar food that were not marketed with the label.:71-71 According to Cancer Research UK, "the term 'superfood' is really just a marketing tool, with little scientific basis to it". According to Catherine Collins, chief dietitian at St George's Hospital in London, usage of the term can be harmful. Collins has stated that "[t]he term 'superfoods' is at best meaningless and at worst harmful. There are so many wrong ideas about superfoods that I don't know where best to begin to dismantle the whole concept."
"Superfruits" are a subset of "superfoods"; the term was first used in 2004. The designation of a fruit as a "superfruit" is entirely up to the product manufacturer, as the term is primarily used to create consumer demand.
As of 2007[update], the marketing of products as "superfoods" was prohibited in the European Union unless accompanied by a specific authorized health claim supported by credible scientific research. The ruling was a marketing guide issued to manufacturers to assure scientific proof or evidence why a food would be labeled as extra healthy or classified as a superfood.
The European Food Information Council stated that it was impractical for people to have a diet based only on "superfoods" when nutrients are provided readily from a diet based on a diversity of foods, especially a diet including fruits and vegetables.
Cancer Research UK notes that although superfoods are often promoted as having the ability to prevent or cure diseases, including cancer, they caution, "you shouldn't rely on so-called 'superfoods' to reduce the risk of cancer. They cannot substitute for a generally healthy and balanced diet".
The purported health benefits and effects of foods described as superfoods are often unsupported or disputed by scientific studies. For example, in one 2003 study done by the AMA, raw cocoa bean had positive effects on blood pressure and markers of heart health, while research done in 2009 indicated less certainty about the possible effects of cocoa on cardiovascular disease.
The Dutch food safety organization Voedingscentrum looked at the health claims that marketers use to sell goji berry, hemp seed, chia seed, and wheatgrass, noting that such claims are not scientifically proven. The organisation warned that people who are convinced of the benefits of superfoods and go to extremes, consuming large quantities of specific superfoods, may have an "impaired, one-sided diet".
Berries remain under preliminary research and it is not yet certain whether they provide health benefits. Specifically, blueberries, a popular superfood, are not especially nutrient dense (considered to be a superfood characteristic), having moderate content of only three essential nutrients: vitamin C (an antioxidant), vitamin K and manganese. Blueberries are commonly branded as having a high dose of antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins, for which antioxidant properties have been demonstrated only in vitro. However, this antioxidant effect is not conserved in the body after anthocyanin-rich plant foods are consumed. As interpreted by the Linus Pauling Institute and European Food Safety Authority, dietary anthocyanins and other flavonoids have little or no direct antioxidant value following digestion.
Economics and trends
In 2007, the superfoods category was forecast to become a billion dollar global industry by 2011, with several thousand new superfruit products expected to enter the marketplace. According to Datamonitor, superfruit product launches grew at a rate of 67% over 2007–2008, but underwent significant category erosion beginning in 2011 when introductions of food and non-food products featuring pomegranate, açaí or goji declined by 56% for the period 2011–2012 versus 2009–2010.
More than a dozen industry publications on functional foods and beverages have referred to various exotic or antioxidant species as superfruits with estimates for some 10,000 new product introductions in 2007–2008. Relatively rare fruits originating from Oceania (noni), China (goji, seabuckthorn), Southeast Asia (mangosteen) or tropical South America (açaí) unknown to American consumers were among the first wave of superfruits successfully used in product manufacturing from 2005 to 2010, but their popularity declined through 2013, being replaced in part by new entries from southern Africa (baobab) and northern Europe (forest berries). Consumer interest in new products using pomegranate remained consistent through 2013.
Mainstream consumers initially seemed to accept juices of fruits that would not be popular in fresh form, such as noni and pomegranate – two of the largest selling juices. Tahitian Noni began selling noni juice in 1996 and claimed billions of dollars in sales during their first 10 years of operation. Earlier reports showed pomegranate-based products grew nearly 400% over 2005–2007 from new launches, a gain exceeding all the previous 6 years. Similarly, XanGo, a multiple-fruit juice containing mangosteen juice, grew from $40 million in sales in 2002 to $200 million in 2005.
One strategy used by manufacturers has been to employ superfruits to enhance the flavor of food products, attempting to mask tastes or provide impressions of novelty and health. Five thousand new products were introduced in 2005 on berries alone, while the superfruit category was one of the top 10 global trends in consumer products in 2008. By 2013, however, innovation in superfruit products appeared to be generally declining, with fewer new introductions to the category. Over the years 2011 to 2015, however, the number of food or beverage products containing the words, "superfood", "superfruit" or "supergrain", had doubled.
- "The science behind superfoods: are they really super?". European Food Information Council. November 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
- Fitzgerald M (2014). "It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's Superfood!". Diet Cults: The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of US. Pegasus Books. ISBN 978-1-60598-560-2.
- di Noia, Jennifer (2014-06-05). "Defining Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables: A Nutrient Density Approach". Preventing Chronic Disease. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (USA). 11. doi:10.5888/pcd11.130390. ISSN 1545-1151. Retrieved 2014-06-11.
- "Nutrition facts profile for blueberries per 100 g, USDA Nutrient Tables, SR-21". Conde Nast. 2014. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
- Brown, Amy (2010). Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation. p. 331. ISBN 978-0-538-73498-1.
- "How 'Superfoods' Like Bulletproof Coffee Get Popular (Hint: It's Not Nutritional Science)". Healthline. January 2015. Retrieved 10 Mar 2015.
- "'Superfoods' and cancer". Cancer Research UK. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- Hill, Amelia (2007-05-13). "Forget superfoods, you can't beat an apple a day". The Observer.
- Srinivasan S (6 March 2008). "Superfruits - Bespoke for Functionality or Fad?". Frost & Sullivan Market Insight. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
- Sohn, Emily (10 March 2008). "Superfruits, super powers?". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 23 June 2009.
- "Amazon superfruits set to boom". Functional Ingredients. William Reed Business Media Ltd. 30 November 2006. Archived from the original on 10 May 2010. Retrieved 23 June 2009.
- Crawford, Karl; Julian Mellentin (2008). Successful Superfruit Strategy: How To Build a Superfruit Business. Cambridge, England: Woodhead Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84569-540-8.[page needed]
- Starling, Shane (14 May 2008). "Superfruit success not grown on trees, say authors". William Reed Business Media Ltd. Retrieved 22 June 2009.
- "Superfood 'ban' comes into effect". BBC News. 2007-06-28.
- Taubert, D.; Berkels, R.; Roesen, R.; Klaus, W. (2003). "Chocolate and blood pressure in elderly individuals with isolated systolic hypertension". JAMA: the Journal of the American Medical Association. 290 (8): 1029–30. doi:10.1001/jama.290.8.1029. PMID 12941673.
- Galleano, M.; Oteiza, P. I.; Fraga, C. G. (2009). "Cocoa, chocolate, and cardiovascular disease". Journal of cardiovascular pharmacology. 54 (6): 483–90. doi:10.1097/FJC.0b013e3181b76787. PMC . PMID 19701098.
- Levinovitz, Alan (22 April 2015). "The First Superfood". Slate. Retrieved 23 April 2015.
- Jeroen Schutijser (6 March 2014). "Superfoods bestaan helemaal niet (in Dutch)". Nederlandse Omroep Stichting.
- Seeram, N. P. (2008). "Berry fruits: Compositional elements, biochemical activities, and the impact of their intake on human health, performance, and disease". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 56 (3): 627–9. doi:10.1021/jf071988k. PMID 18211023.
- "Flavonoids". Micronutrient Information Center. Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR. 2016. Retrieved 8 November 2016.
- Lotito SB; Frei B (2006). "Consumption of flavonoid-rich foods and increased plasma antioxidant capacity in humans: cause, consequence, or epiphenomenon?". Free Radic. Biol. Med. 41 (12): 1727–46. doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2006.04.033. PMID 17157175.
- Williams RJ; Spencer JP; Rice-Evans C (April 2004). "Flavonoids: antioxidants or signalling molecules?". Free Radical Biology & Medicine. 36 (7): 838–49. doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2004.01.001. PMID 15019969.
- McNally, Alex (10 August 2007). "Superfoods market set to double by 2011". William Reed Business Media Ltd. Retrieved 22 June 2009.
- Schardt, David (November 2006). "Super Fruit: Squeezing cold cash out of three 'hot' juices" (PDF). Nutrition Action Healthletter. Center for Science in the Public Interest: 9–11. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 July 2009. Retrieved 23 June 2009.
- Runestad, Todd (1 October 2007). "Functional ingredients market overview". Functional Ingredients. William Reed Business Media Ltd. Archived from the original on 5 December 2010. Retrieved 22 June 2009.
- Halliday, Jess (23 October 2007). "Superfruit flavours get ever more exotic". William Reed Business Media Ltd. Retrieved 22 June 2009.
- Fletcher, Anthony (31 March 2006). "Super fruits set to dominate flavour market". William Reed Business Media Ltd. Retrieved 22 June 2009.
- "Fresh, super and organic top trends for 2008". William Reed Business Media Ltd. 28 November 2007. Retrieved 22 June 2009.
- Rebekah Schouten (13 May 2016). "The top three trending superfoods". Food Business News, Sosland Publishing Co. Retrieved 2 April 2017.
- The dictionary definition of superfood at Wiktionary