Superfoods: Health Benefits, Uses, and Risks

by | Nutrition

Mar 10, 2022

The term ‘superfoods’ has gained popularity in recent times. One sees the term for the first couple of times and is forced to ask: What are superfoods? Well, the answer to that question isn’t exactly defined. 

Wikipedia defines the term superfood as; “a marketing term for food claimed to confer health benefits resulting from an exceptional nutrient density.”

That is to say that superfoods are foods that are dense with nutrients and able to meet the body’s metabolic needs while supplying only a few calories: this isn’t exactly a professional opinion, as many dieticians and nutritionists do not like to use the term superfood. 

Even though there is no standard criterion a food has to pass before it is classified as a superfood, there are a few things foods that are called superfoods have in common. These are the things or attributes that make superfoods so super, and some include: 

Few Calories

Foods that come under the term “Superfoods” are usually meals with low calories. A food is considered a low-calorie food if it contains fewer calories in comparison to other foods. 

Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH says: “A low-calorie diet is typically between 1,000 to 1,500 calories.”

A calorie is a unit of energy. It gives a clue about the energy stored in certain foods; these foods provide our bodies with energy. 

A low-calorie food contains less energy; this means we will most likely use up the energy present in these foods, without the need for our body to store some. It is the storage of unused calories that causes the build-up of fat in our bodies.

Superfoods are low-calorie foods.

Vitamins

Superfoods are believed to contain a good number of vitamins. Vitamins are one of the six classes of food and can be subdivided into soluble and insoluble vitamins. 

Vitamins are named using letters of the alphabet: Vitamin A – K. There are thirteen recognized vitamins.

Humans depend on vitamins because we can’t make our own—and when we manage to do so, we make too little to meet our body’s needs. We rely on plants and animals for vitamins. 

Rich vitamin content is one of the things that make superfoods super.

Antioxidants

One of the things that make superfoods super is the antioxidant content of superfoods. 

Consider our body cells to be vast machines. The body works like complex machinery. As the machines function, they can be prone to damage by heating, friction, etc. 

These components can damage the machine, and that is why scientists and engineers develop a means to solve the problem. For overheating, scientists cool down machines using large fans. And to combat friction, they use oils. 

The body does something alike. To prevent the damage of the cells in our body by free radicals (consider free radicals to be heat and friction in relation to machines), the body makes use of antioxidants.

Antioxidants scavenge for and destroy the free radicals in our bodies. Rich antioxidant content makes superfoods special.

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Fiber

Many superfoods contain fiber. Fiber is a type of sugar that cannot be broken down completely by the digestive system of humans. Dietary fibers have a vast chemical composition. 

There are two types of fiber: 

  • Soluble fiber
  • Insoluble fiber 

Fibers have a number of uses in the body, one of which includes feeding the bacteria in our large intestine and improving the health of our GIT. 

Fatty Acids

Another thing that makes many superfoods super is that they contain fatty acids. Fatty acids, like glucose, are a source of energy for the body. In fact, they are an alternative source of energy. When the body is down on glucose, it turns to fat and starts to use fat to cover up its energy needs. 

Having listed what makes superfoods super, let’s have a look at the health benefits and uses of superfoods. The health benefits of superfoods are conferred by the nutrients present in these foods—the things listed above. I am guessing you can already suggest a few. 

Weight Check

One of the repercussions of bad dieting is excessive weight gain. Weight comes from food. Good food means good weight, and bad food means bad weight. 

Since superfoods contain low calories, they offer us some form of protection against excessive weight gain. With superfoods, we are only getting a few calories, calories we will most likely use up during the course of our day-to-day activities.  

No excessive weight gain means slimmer chances of getting obese, of putting our hearts in danger. One can use superfoods to check their weight. 

If you feel you have too many calories, then you can opt-in for a change of diet and take to eating superfoods. 

Improved Immunity

I mentioned earlier that superfoods contain a lot of vitamins. Vitamins help the body’s cells fight off diseases and prevent some deficiency problems. 

For example, Vitamin C will prevent a person from coming down with a severe vitamin c deficiency called scurvy, which presents symptoms like dry hair and skin, gum problems, etc.

With the right amount of vitamins, your immune system will be boosted, and you will be able to fend off diseases. 

Protection from Free Radicals:

Earlier, I mentioned that free radicals are able to cause damage to our cells, leading to conditions such as cancer. Cancer starts to develop when free radicals damage our cells so much they start to mutate and then become cancerous. 

The antioxidants contained in superfoods over protection against this. Antioxidants scavenge for dangerous free radicals within the body and damage them, meaning that these free radicals would have been removed before getting the chance to cause any harm. 

Heart Health

One of the major causes of heart disease is unhealthy fat. When unhealthy fat builds up in the walls of blood vessels, it causes some obstruction which overloads the heart and can subsequently lead to its damage. 

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Superfoods offer the body a healthy option for fat. 

Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fatty acids that, rather than cause body damage, can do the body a whole lot of good. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory; that is to say that they can reduce inflammations. 

A group of fatty acids, called HDL or good fatty acids, improve circulation and reduce the risk of atherosclerotic diseases. [3.] These fatty acids are found in many superfoods and are just great for you. 

Digestive Health

The fiber content of many superfoods makes them good for the large intestine. Fiber can improve bowel movements and can make your tummy feel better. 

Before going on to talk about some risks of superfoods, I will like you to know that consuming superfoods is a great idea even for older adults. Listed here are a few superfoods (5) adults can consume health benefits: 

1. BlueBerries

Blueberries make a great superfood for adults because they contain phytochemicals and are rich in antioxidants. Remember that antioxidants play a part in reducing the risk of cancer. Since the risk of cancer increases with age, it is a great idea for adults to have a pump of antioxidants stored in blueberries. 

2. Leafy Vegetables

Leafy vegetables are a great source of vitamins, and the bodies of adults need a lot of vitamins. They also contain minerals like folate, magnesium, etc. Leafy vegetables help fend off diseases, as mentioned earlier. Leafy vegetables can also provide some protection against cancer and other heart diseases.  

3. Salmon

Salmon is known to be high in omega-3 fatty acids. As mentioned earlier, Omega -3 fatty acids are great for the heart and offer some anti-inflammatory properties to the body. 

Salmon is rich such of protein and can help with sustaining muscle mass. A lot of muscle mass is lost during older adulthood. 

4. Eggs

Eggs are a great source of animal protein. Egg yolk is rich in selenium, vitamin D, Vitamin B, and choline. Vitamin D is important for maintaining bone integrity, which seems to dwindle a bit as one age. You need to maintain strong bones? Get Vitamin D. 

Choline is great for the nervous system. It is a neurotransmitter and plays a role in influencing our mood. 

5. Nuts

Nuts make a great superfood, and adults are encouraged to include some in their meals. As mentioned earlier, many nuts contain Omega-3 fatty acid, which is great for health.

Are There Any Risks of Superfoods?

Well, yes, there are. Many of these risks do not arise from the foods themselves but from how we approach them. Some of the risks of superfoods are: 

  1. Neglect: many people consider superfoods as magic foods and tend to ignore the fact that our bodies need all nutrients. A balanced diet cannot be overemphasized. A risk the idea of superfoods poses is the risk of making people neglect their actual dietary needs.
  2. A mangled idea about health: consuming superfoods can make people feel like they are healthy even when they are not. They may be denying their body very important nutrients but not know or have a clue about it.

Read: 10 Healthy Delicious Superfoods You Will Surely Love

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

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