What is a Superfood?

These days we’ve all heard of ‘superfoods’, but what are they, and do they really do what they say?

The simple answer is that there’s no official definition of a superfood, and the term is normally used to try and convince you that a food has special health-giving properties. But as we know, all natural food has health-giving properties, so why are some foods ‘super’?

Food As Medicine

To explain, let’s start from the viewpoint of ‘food as medicine‘. This simple idea says that not only is food our fuel, it is also a powerful medicine. If we eat the right foods, we can prevent or treat a wide range of illness and health conditions.

The ancient Greeks knew this, the ancient Chinese too. In fact, most cultures knew about the medicinal uses of foods, and plenty still do. Only in the ‘civilised’ modern West has this idea been largely forgotten, but it’s being revived now in the concept of ‘superfoods’.

So is it true that some foods are better than others? That some are normal but some are ‘super’? Well, maybe it is, but probably not in the way that superfood manufacturers are retailers are suggesting!

Different Strengths Of Foods

Think of it as a scale.

At one end of the scale are staple foods like rice and potatoes. These foods don’t taste strong, and don’t have a strong effect on the body. They are suitable for regular consumption, and are very well tolerated by most people.

At the other end are very potent substances that are normally very strong tasting and have very strong effects on the body. Most spices fall into this category. Take chilli peppers as an example – their strong effect on the body is obvious!

Foods in this category have traditionally been used by herbalists for their healing effects, but they need to be used carefully, and won’t suit everyone. They are certainly not suitable for large scale, every-day consumption in the same way as the staple foods.

At the very far end of the scale, beyond even the culinary herbs, are the slightly toxic substances whose effects on the body are very strong indeed. These may still be used by trained herbalists in very controlled doses in certain specific conditions.

But what lies in the middle of this scale?

We have a whole range of foods that are neither bland staples, nor strongly flavoured herbs and spices. In fact, most of our food fits somewhere between the 2 extremes. Pretty much all commonly eaten fruit, vegetables and meats lie in the middle of the scale.

In fact, all food has some therapeutic effect on the body. The ancient Chinese understood this better than anyone, and the system of Chinese Nutrition (or ‘Dietary Therapy’) applies the theories of Chinese medicine to understand the exact effects of foods on the body and mind in a very detailed and complex way.

So, Where Do Superfoods Fit In?

But what about superfoods? Well, picture the scale with bland staple foods at one end, everyday foods in the middle, and the full selection of medicinal and culinary herbs at the other end. I think superfoods are those that lie on the scale at the point where foods meet herbs.

They are not herbs because we eat them in larger quantities than herbs, and their taste is less potent. But at the same time, they are known for their strong healing effects, which may be greater or more wide-ranging than other foods.

Most of the dark or bright coloured vegetables lie in this area. Goji berries are often spoken about, but cherries, blackberries and blueberries are just as ‘super’. Broccoli is full of nutrients, including vitamin C and folate. Oily fish like salmon contain omega-3s, vitamins and minerals. Avocados are full of antioxidants, potassium, vitamins and good fats.

The list goes on…

Really, all natural foods are ‘superfoods’ – they all contain different nutrients, and the best way to eat is to have as wide a range as possible, rather than relying on a few specific foods. And don’t be tempted to spend a fortune on goji berries, maca, acai and the like, unless you have a good reason to. There’s nothing wrong with these foods, and they do have health benefits, but you can get the same effects by eating good honest local whole-foods.

So, in summary, eat a wide range of natural foods, with plenty of vegetables, especially bright or dark coloured ones, avoid refined foods and stick to wholegrains, just like your grandmother said! If you do this you can be sure your diet is basically sound, and you’ll be eating superfoods on a regular basis….


If you’re interested in superfoods, chances are you’re looking for ways to improve your health and well-being on all levels. So I think you’d enjoy my Radiant Health webinar, which is about exactly that subject… it’s free, and you can find it here

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