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What are superfoods?

Watch dr. Piumetti give an introduction to superfoods, functional foods and related concepts
Superfoods, as a category, refer to a group of health foods with alleged health benefits remarkable nutritional content or with a long history of use by a specific population of an indigenous and almost always living in exotic countries. This term is not used by scientists but rather by the media and by marketing agencies. It has been quickly adopted into the general language. Furthermore, as of 2018, there is not an agreement of what a superfood is on what it must contain or on the level of scientific evidence that should back its health claims. It is not a surprise then that yogurt, quinoa, kale, and berries are all marketed as superfoods although for different reasons.
Yogurt contains probiotics as well as proteins and calcium. Quinoa is a gluten-free grain. It is rich in protein and contains molecules with a possible antioxidant effect. Berries too contain antioxidants as well as fibers and vitamins and the list could go on indefinitely. It should be noted here that even if we used the term marketed the regulations on the use of this term vary from country to country. For instance, the use of the term superfood in marketing or in packaging is prohibited in the European Union but it is unregulated in Australia and in the United States. Of course, newspapers, websites, blogs and magazines can use the term superfood guaranteeing its staying power in most countries.
Superfood, as of today, is an informal label. But there are other terms used by medical and scientific communities. Some examples are nutraceuticals functional foods, and medical foods. As some of these labels are not regulated there can be an overlap between categories, and boundaries are not always clear-cut. One of the greatest differences between these groups and superfoods is in the amount of processing and standardization they go through. As we said, superfoods are linked to concepts such as natural, traditional, exotic, or organic. They are often sold as fresh produce. On the other hand, nutraceuticals are defined as standardized nutrients purified to pharmaceutical grades.
The term nutraceutical is not regulated as such in most countries, Nutraceutical products are often marketed either as supplements or food additives. They will be discussed in more detail in an upcoming lecture. Functional foods are a different category. They include foods whose nutritional content has been enhanced to obtain a beneficial effect on health. These might include for instance breakfast cereals fortified with a vitamin such as Vitamin B1 that would not be naturally present in that product. It would also include food in which the content of a certain nutrient has merely been increased. For instance, figs and avocados contain magnesium but adding more magnesium to a fig and avocado milkshake would still make it a functional food.
Of course, all foods are functional, in that they contain nutrients and molecules that have one or more functions in our body. In this sense, functional foods are merely foods that have been designed to meet some specific nutritional aspect. In this lecture, we have briefly discussed the meaning of a few terms often linked to superfoods or to health food. Being aware of their differences and of what is regulated in our country and what isn’t, is an important step to be more aware of what you’re buying.

Superfood is a concept that is immediately understood:

it’s something more than a simple food – it’s something that claims it can make us healthier, more beautiful or maybe even happier. And superfoods now seem to be everywhere, from market stalls to the beauty aisle of supermarkets, from fresh fruits to supplements and dry extracts. Despite that, there is not a clear definition of what constitutes a superfood. In this video, we will start discussing what superfoods are, or are not.

Other concepts, such as functional foods or nutraceuticals, are often mixed with the term “superfoods”, – this video, and others in the course, will try to define these different terms to be able to discuss their properties clearly.

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Superfoods: Myths and Truths

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