The term “superfood” is a marketing term, not a medical term. It generally refers to nutrient-rich foods that can be beneficial for health. Since they are typically foods that contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, they can be beneficial for weight loss as part of a healthy diet.
Since “superfood” is not a medical term, there are no standard criteria or legal definitions to classify foods in this category. The food industry mainly uses the term to influence food trends and sell products.
While the foods that people refer to as superfoods are usually nutritious, it is important to understand that no single food contains the key to good health or weight loss. Instead, people can try including nutritious foods in a healthy eating plan, combined with regular exercise.
Read on to learn more about “superfoods,” their potential benefits, and how to include them in your diet.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) notes that there is no official definition of the term superfood. However, many of the foods that people can classify as superfoods typically contain high levels of the following nutrients and ingredients:
- Vitamins are substances that the body needs to function normally. These include vitamins A, C, E, K and B such as thiamine, niacin, riboflavin and cobalamin.
- Minerals These include health-related elements such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc.
- Antioxidants are compounds that help protect against free radical damage, substances that play a role in the development of chronic or persistent diseases. Examples are vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium.
- Fiber is the indigestible part of carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It helps with cholesterol management, intestinal regulation and promotes a feeling of fullness.
- Healthy fats are beneficial for a number of body functions such as hormone regulation and heart health. Healthy fats are omega-3 fats and monounsaturated fats.
- Phytonutrients are substances that are present in plants. They are the pigments that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors.
According to the ADA, superfoods are beneficial for overall health and can help prevent disease. While eating a particular superfood on its own won’t make a person healthier, it does benefit when the foods are included in a balanced diet, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
To explain how to eat for a healthy weight, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list foods to include in the diet. Most of these foods are likely to be classified as superfoods because they are high in nutrients.
For example, the list includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, eggs, dairy products, and fish.
In addition to these superfoods, the CDC recommends including poultry and lean meat in your diet while avoiding foods high in salt, sugar, and saturated fat.
Sometimes when people try to cut calories in order to lose weight, after a while they may give up their efforts because they feel hungry and deprived. The CDC suggests that the key to maintaining weight management is to eat nutrient-dense foods that promote fullness while also being low in calories. This can lead to slow, steady weight loss.
A study from 2014 reflects the advice of the CDC. It should be noted that eating nutritious foods that satisfy the appetite is an important strategy in helping people stick to a long-term weight management diet plan.
In other words, rather than trying to stick to a strict diet for a period of time, optimal weight loss will likely involve lifestyle adjustments to accommodate long-term changes in daily eating and exercise habits.
The ADA lists these common superfoods:
Fruits are usually rich in nutrients. Berries like blueberries are rich in vitamins K and C, as well as potassium, manganese, and fiber. Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and grapefruits contain potassium, folic acid, vitamin C, and fiber.
As with fruits, vegetables are usually very nutritious. Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and cabbage are the source of vitamins A, C, E and K in addition to calcium, iron and potassium. Sweet potatoes contain fiber, potassium and vitamins A and C.
Beans such as navy, pinto or kidney beans are sources of magnesium, potassium and fiber. They also provide as much protein as meat, but unlike meat, they don’t contain saturated fat.
Omega-3 fatty acid fish
Fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, tuna, trout, and herring. This type of fat can lower your risk of heart disease and inflammation.
Whole grain products include brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, and whole grain barley. These foods contain fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, chromium, folic acid and iron.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts contain fiber and magnesium. Some types of nuts and seeds, such as walnuts and flaxseed, are sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Milk and yogurt
Dairy products contain calcium and vitamin D. A 2016 study found that yogurt has unique properties that can help control appetite. The authors add that yogurt can increase body fat loss, decrease food intake, and increase feelings of fullness.
Here are some tips for including superfoods in a diet:
- Eat nuts or fruit for a snack: Instead of eating chips or candy, eat some raw nuts or a piece of fruit, like an apple, banana, or orange.
- Eat superfoods for dessert: At the end of a meal, instead of a sugary dessert, eat a dish with berries or chopped melon. Or try something more complex like a parfait made with layers of yogurt, flaxseed, and berries.
- Use beans as a meat substitute: Instead of having meat at every lunch and dinner, use beans as your main course.
- Look for Mediterranean diet recipes: Common superfoods are staple foods in the Mediterranean diet that research has shown is linked to obesity prevention. A person may want to review a Mediterranean Diet cookbook for ideas for planning meals.
- Supplements are an option: Various vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fats, which contain many “superfoods”, are available in the form of dietary supplements.
“Superfoods” may not only help with weight management, but also promote general health. For example:
- fruits and vegetables: Research shows that fruits and vegetables can help protect against chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
- Fiber: A 2020 study found that fiber not only gives you a feeling of fullness, it can also reduce chronic inflammation.
- Antioxidant foods: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics notes that foods high in antioxidants help protect against heart disease and certain types of cancer.
- Omega-3 fatty foods: These foods provide energy and perform many functions in the heart, lungs, immune system, and hormone-producing glands, reports the National Institute of Health (NIH).
A diet high in “superfoods” is unlikely to cause harmful side effects.
However, this doesn’t necessarily apply to taking superfood supplements. Taking supplements is unlikely to provide the same benefits as eating. For example, while antioxidant foods can help prevent disease, evidence suggests that antioxidant supplements do not.
Another risk when taking supplements are the inactive ingredients. Some people may have an allergy or sensitivity to them.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that combining or ingesting too many supplements can be dangerous. It is advisable to only use supplements that have been approved by the FDA.
Some tips for using nutritional supplements safely include:
- Be wary of bold health claims made on a dietary supplement.
- Note that “natural” doesn’t always mean safe.
- Use reliable sources of information such as the NIH and FDA.
- When using nutritional supplements, the FDA recommends choosing high quality products that have been third-party tested.
Individuals should check with a health care provider first before starting any supplement use.
The CDC offers the following tips for weight loss:
- to have breakfest: Eating in the morning can help avoid overeating later in the day.
- Get regular exercise: People who have lost weight and cannot return usually exercise regularly. The 2015-2020 American Diet Guidelines recommend that adults receive 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
- Monitor the weight: Individuals may want to check their weight regularly. If you pay close attention, a person can adjust their diet as needed.
- Get support: A supportive network of family and friends provides encouragement and motivation.
Click here to learn more about weight loss tips.
While “superfood” is not a medical term, it generally describes nutrient-rich foods that can provide health benefits. Including it as part of a healthy diet can help people manage their weight.
It is important to note that food cannot make people lose weight. Instead, people should include “superfoods” as part of a healthy diet and combine these foods with exercise to manage weight.