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The Problem with Superfoods

The term ‘superfood’ is a marketing term, not a scientific one. And therein lies the issue.


You might be a little confused about the title of this article. After all, ‘superfoods’ are usually hailed as uniquely positive and healthy foods (I mean, they are quite literally touted as foods that are super). This is particularly the case on social media, where brands and influencers often use this term when promoting specific foods or food products. Where there is social media hype, there’s often also some red flags. And when it comes to superfoods, I think this rings true.


Foods typically thought of as superfoods.

What is a ‘Superfood’?

Merriam-Webster defines a superfood as ‘a food (such as salmon, broccoli, or blueberries) that is rich in compounds (such as antioxidants, fiber, or fatty acids) considered beneficial to a person's health’. Because this definition is open to interpretation, it's unclear how foods can be classified as superfoods or not in an objective, unbiased manner.

For example, nutrition scientists may have an idea of which foods could be considered superfoods under this definition, but someone who thinks that a diet of only raw fruits and vegetables is optimal for health would likely only deem these foods as superfoods. However, the carnivore bro who eats nothing but steak would likely say that beef is a superfood, owing to its nutrient density. And who’s to say that any of these individuals are wrong? The subjectivity inherent to the definition means that any food can be deemed a superfood provided it's rich (whatever 'rich' means) in whatever compounds an individual perceives as beneficial to health.

AI-generated man confused about which of these foods are 'superfoods'.

AI-generated man confused about which of these foods are 'superfoods'.

The Problem with Superfoods

Viewing foods as superfoods gives them an unwarranted halo effect. While I agree that it is a good idea to eat healthily, the marketing around superfoods often suggests that simply adding them to your diet will markedly improve health. This is misguided; most health benefits from diet are driven by the healthfulness of the overall dietary pattern, not whether you eat superfoods or not. In other words, if you eat a packet of crisps, a couple of cookies, and drink a bottle of Coke, no amount of broccoli is going to negate the fact that you have just eaten a pretty unhealthy meal.

There are other potential problems with superfoods. For example, their health halo allows brands to charge premium prices for products containing so-called superfoods, such as green powders and shakes. These products often promise better health, but rarely do the companies provide any legitimate scientific evidence to support these claims, particularly at the doses sold.

Thumbnail for older article on what makes a food healthy or unhealthy.

Check out an older article of ours, where we discussed what makes a food healthy or unhealthy.


The term ‘superfood’ is unscientific, unnecessary for describing healthy foods and, in my opinion, unhelpful. Indeed, the lack of an objective definition undermines meaningful discussion about their health benefits. In other words, if we can’t agree on what a superfood is, how can we even begin to discuss their health benefits?

My advice: focus on maintaining a balanced and varied diet rather than fixating on specific 'superfoods' as the key to better health.

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Thanks so much for reading! I hope you have a lovely weekend.

Patrick Elliott, BSc, MPH

Health and Nutrition Science Communication Officer at Training121

Twitter/X: @PatrickElliott0

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