Superfoods - do they exist?

Most of us have probably heard the term ‘superfood’ at some point or another, but what does this actually mean. Are there such things as ‘superfoods’ or is this marketing spin?

Share your thoughts and shine some light on this enduring terminology to enter our MythDefied competition.


Yes. Bacon exists. :wink:


No. Each food has its own characteristics or nutritional value. Some have more of something than others, while others have something more of something else.

In reality, all foods (those which are healthy) would be classed as ‘superfoods’, which makes the term a bit of a misnomer.


The use of the term ‘superfood’ is part of a well known and common marketing methodology. It involves sticking a label, that you can make mean anything you like, on to some commodity that you then invest with enough magic to get people to pay extra for something ordinary. In this endeavour there is a coalition of primary producers, entrepreneurs, journalists and hangers-on who all see that they can make a buck.

The magic may use all or any of the following:

  • Introducing a new food that looks and sounds exotic, Goji berries from deepest Mongolia, Himalayan rock salt, Mariana Trench rabbit pellets …
  • Invest it with wondrous abilities and qualities, use obscure technical terms, invent them if necessary. Third generation, all natural, anti-oxidant, sphincter-repairing, quantum goodness.
  • Support these with testimonials (now young man show me your testimonials) and if possible university tests prove . That is some spin on some report that might possibly suggest health benefits. This works best with a person in a white coat, if female she must be pretty but wear glasses to show she is serious.

The area of food and health is very fertile ground for this scheme as we are bombarded with hopes and fears daily. We all have to eat and most have the idea that what you eat may affect your health. This concept has been enhanced to include not only being healthy but looking good. Instead of pointing out that eating well will take some effort and thought the entrepreneur does the reverse.

All you need to do is eat this superfood! No fuss, no muss, just hand over your money and we will have you looking good in no time.

The true absurdity of this quest is not just the dodgy candidates that are offered for this role at inflated prices but the fundamental impossibility of it. Healthy eating is not about picking the one food that makes you well. Unless you also eat a balanced diet no amount of super-food will make you pretty, energetic or virile. If you are eating a balanced diet you don’t need it.

Healthy living is about eating a sensible amount of a balanced mix of mainly fresh foods. But you can’t make a buck selling that.


I vote for @syncretic! You hit the nail on the head: Superfoods are just marketing as they should only contribute to a balanced-diet.

These are the only three healthy diet tips you need (unless you have a medical condition of course).

  • Eat mostly whole foods,
  • mostly plants,
  • and not too much of the less healthy stuff.

I did “Food As Medicine” Monash University - a free short course through Future Learn. It attracted a broad range of learners - those who did it for Professional Development, those with some background in health & nutrition and those passionate about food & diet, but carrying a lot of baggage from TV, internet etc.

The Monash definition of Super Food was “nutrient dense” from memory and low calorie. The lecturers danced a fine line with some learners being fiercely protective of their “Super foods”. The presenters had subtle messages where brown rice was compared with the latest fad - chia seed - brown rice being the more nutritious. We (5,000 of us) participated in research, one of which was nominating Super Foods. Surprise, surprise … the top of the list were the Oprah et al nominated foods currently in vogue, towards the middle were the true nutrient rich, and thankfully most people knew unhealthy rubbish, towards the bottom.

This marketing of overpriced, underwhelming foods gives people the impression that to eat healthy is too expensive. When the opposite is more true - fresh/frozen veg, plain meat & alternatives, milk etc avoiding processed foods, a diet recommended by the CSIRO, is much cheaper, even in remote areas. However my criticism of the CSIRO recipe books is they try to be too Ultra Foodie and don’t include simple cheap recipes, which you can achieve by following their guidelines.


Only in the minds of marketing departments, and the gullible.

hmm, nutrient dense I’d agree with, but low calorie is only really good if you are sedentary, however if you have a very active lifestyle you’ll waste away if you don’t consume enough kcal/kJ! After a 3hour bike ride ( >10000kJ expended ) I’m not searching out low kJ foods :wink:


I had a look at my lecture notes from 2 years ago (my jottings …) and I only have 2 mentions of Superfoods, one to mention the media hype with little substance and the other to say it is a myth that one food could bestow so many benefits in isolation. It was in one of the videos that I heard their ‘definition’ if I remembered it correctly. There was discussion around food and longevity with the Japanese island famous for its elderly residents eating a nutrient rich but calorie poor diet (lots of leafy greens that had trace elements, etc but you had to eat lots to get enough energy) and fish. But that might have been one of the other courses I did on obesity, age related diet, molecular mechanism of ageing, autism or liver disease.


Great answers everyone! @syncretic has this one pegged.

Here’s one ‘superfood’ we’ve looked at recently, apple cider vinegar:


“Superfood” is a marketing buzzword on the same level as “detox”.


5 posts were split to a new topic: CSIRO Healthy Eating discussion

Thank you for the evidence and the perspective, @zackarii. :slight_smile: It’s important to base our world views on facts

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QUT has found that Australians are spending millions on “designer” foods they believe will boost their health and make them live longer but actually have these food have limited nutritional value or have little evidence which support their claims.


To answer the question in the subject: no. Just eat a balanced diet.