Is ‘Superfood’ A Marketing Term?

The term ‘superfood’ has become a buzzword in the world of nutrition and, more notably, the marketing industry, in the last few years. A word with connotations of quick-fixes, impossibly high health standards, and “clean” eating.

Behind the allure of these so-called superfoods lies a complex web of marketing strategies, nutritional science, and consumer trends.

The promise of a superfood projects the idea that one can live a life of their choosing, no matter their habits, and counteract anything harmful by adding spirulina to a milkshake or goji berries atop a sundae. You may have heard the phrase ‘one meal won’t make you healthy’, well neither will one ingredient.

Consumers need to be mindful of the information they absorb, as it can be largely psychological. Fast and convenient foods are demonised by the media and centuries of diet culture, making them all the more appealing. How best to correct the habits instilled in us? Create the concept for various ‘superfoods’ that will help battle the problems produced. There’s no need to worry about your saturated fat intake if you include a ‘superfood’ every so often, right? 

Sadly not.

The Marketing of Superfoods:

“Superfood” is not a scientific classification in nutritional science and it has no legal definition. Rather, it is a marketing term used to describe foods that are rich in nutrients and believed to provide health benefits. This idea mostly capitalises on the appeal of exotic-sounding foods. They are typically nutrient-dense fruits and veg. This creates a market for products like acai, goji berries, and spirulina. 

These products are normally positioned as a fix to cure all your health problems if you eat them. Their ‘properties’ are usually highlighted. These tend to be specific nutrients, antioxidants, or other beneficial compounds found in them to make them sound more appealing. These elements will of course contribute to a healthy, well-balanaced, diet, but the claims promoted are often exaggerated, and will not pave the way to any magical transformations. 

Diversity matters

A huge pitfall of the superfood craze is the overwhelming tendency to focus on individual foods or ingredients, rather than encouraging overall diversity of the diet. A varied, balanced diet, filled with lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and plenty of fruit and veg should always be the priority. No single food can provide all the essential nutrients our bodies need for optimal health.

Putting superfoods on a pedestal perpetuates the notion that ‘good’ nutrition is overly complex, and is therefore inaccessible to a typical person, encouraging ridiculous trends, like superfoods, to muddy the waters and drive revenue by praying on those who know no better. 

The Science Behind Superfoods:

Superfoods of course contain valuable nutrients, but the extravagant health claims they come with are often not backed by evidence. Research on specific foods and their health benefits is an ongoing process, and conclusions should be drawn based on a comprehensive body of evidence rather than isolated studies.

Moreover, the impact of a particular nutrient or compound in isolation may differ from its effect when consumed as part of a whole food. For instance, antioxidants in fruits and vegetables may interact with other compounds to provide health benefits, such as increasing turmeric absorption by adding black pepper, which may not be replicated by taking antioxidant supplements.

Making Informed Choices:

Rather than getting caught up in the hype of superfoods, the focus should be on making informed dietary choices. These should be based on a variety of factors, including:

  • personal preferences
  • cultural influences
  • individual health goals

Adopting a holistic approach to nutrition is crucial. This involves incorporating a wide range of nutrient-dense foods that contribute to overall well-being.

To protect consumers, UK legislation has prohibited the use of ‘superfood’ on food packaging. This is unless there’s evidence to prove it can better one’s health. However, this does not stop the term from being used by the media. Consumers need to be aware of the information they’re consuming as well.

The bottom line is that while some foods might be more nutrient-dense than others, in the scheme of a well-rounded, varied diet, they’ll make no difference.

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Meghan Foulsham

Published by Meghan Foulsham

Meghan's fascination with metabolism and the effect of diet on the body covered in her BSc Biochemistry, paired with being a passionate mental health advocate, led her to a Master's degree in Eating Disorders and Clinical Nutrition. Using this, Meghan works with clients to help them reach their goals in the most sustainable way, without sacrificing or risking their mental health.

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