What Are Superfoods?

Along with an increased general interest in health in recent years, so too came the term "superfoods". Kale, quinoa, goji berries - the list of foods that have gained the title, and the hype that goes with it, seems endless. So, it might surprise you to hear that there is actually no such thing as a "superfood". Yes, you read that correctly. In this article, we explore these so-called "superfoods" and where exactly their ‘superpowers’ came from.

Key Takeaways

  • The term “superfood” was originally created by food companies as a method of marketing foods that confer certain health benefits. There is no scientific or regulated definition for a “superfood”
  • Foods are typically classed as ‘superfoods’ if they contain high amounts of certain nutrients. There are plenty of nutritious foods that are cheap and easy to find that we can include in our daily diets to reap the benefits of these “super” nutrients
  • The term “superfood” is also used by some supplement brands. Choose your supplements based on their quality and the likelihood of the ingredients to fulfill your needs, rather than “super” claims

What Are Superfoods?

The term “superfood” was originally created by food companies as a method of marketing foods that confer certain health benefits. This makes sense when research suggests that more than half of US shoppers are willing to pay more for foods they perceive as healthy. (Source)

However, there is no scientific or regulated definition for a “superfood”.

In fact, in 2007 the EU took steps to ban the term and ruled that “superfood” could not appear on food labels unless it was accompanied by a specific authorized health claim that explained to consumers why the product is good for their health.

Generally, a food is deemed a “superfood” if it offers high levels of desirable nutrients, is linked to the prevention of a disease, or is believed to offer health benefits, though the lack of explicit criteria means any food can be given “super” status without support from scientific research.

While some foods are higher in certain nutrients and have health benefits beyond basic nutrition, the term “superfood” is essentially a marketing tool.

Moreover, it can distract us from the fact that it is the quality of our overall diet and not individual foods or nutrients that is of the most importance when it comes to our health.

Superfoods on white table

What Puts The “Super” In A “Superfood”?

Typically, “superfoods” are rich in particular nutrients such as:

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Antioxidants 
  • Flavonoids
  • Omega-3 fatty acids 

Vitamins & Minerals

Vitamins and minerals are organic substances present in natural foodstuffs. Our bodies need these nutrients in small amounts to work properly and stay healthy.

Having too little of any particular vitamin or mineral may increase the risk of developing certain health issues.

We need to get most of our vitamins and minerals from the food we eat because our bodies either do not produce them at all, or produce very little.


Antioxidants are substances that may prevent or slow some types of cell damage by neutralizing unstable molecules. These molecules are called free radicals and our bodies produce them as a byproduct of turning food into energy or as a reaction to environmental pressures such as exercise, exposure to cigarette smoke, air pollution, or sunlight. (Source)

Free radicals aren’t all bad – they play an important role in many biological processes including cell division and defending against infection. But when too many free radicals build up in our bodies, they can cause damage to cells, which may contribute to certain conditions like cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. (Source)


Flavonoids are phytochemical compounds found in fruits, vegetables, grains, stems, leaves, flowers, tea, and wine.

Although it is not yet fully understood how exactly flavonoids work in the body, they have been shown to possess a number of health benefits, including anticancer, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties, as well as neuroprotective and cardio-protective effects. (Source)

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential to a number of functions in the body.

While the human body can make most of the types of fats it needs itself from scratch, this isn’t the case for omega-3 fatty acids. These are essential fats, meaning the body can’t make them but instead must get them from food.

Omega-3 fatty acids are an integral part of every cell membrane in the body. They contribute to the hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction, and relaxation of artery walls and inflammation and are also involved in regulating genetic function.

Likely because of these actions, omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, and could potentially play a protective role in the case of cancer and other conditions. (Source)

Healthy food in rustic tray

What Are Common “Superfoods”?

Now that we know ‘superfood’ is fundamentally just a term coined by marketing teams, it’s not surprising that many foods gaining “super” status tend to also be the foods with the most expensive price tags.

They’re also often foods relatively new to the Western market, making them exotic and exciting.

This can increase hype around them as stand-out foods and contribute to creating a perception of them having potential “magical” benefits – think quinoa, chia seeds, acai berries, spirulina. Many people may also struggle to find ways to include these in their diet as they are unfamiliar.

Being that any food with high nutritional value that is linked to certain health benefits or disease prevention can be “super”, there are a lot of more accessible, commonly-known, and less expensive foods that can also be deemed “superfoods”.

Rather than looking at very specific foods or nutrients, let’s take a look at broader groups of foods that are likely to be easily found in your local supermarket and don’t make eating healthily seem so daunting or out of reach.

1. Dark Green Leafy Vegetables

Dark green leafy vegetables, commonly abbreviated to DGLVs, are high in dietary fiber and essential amino acids, and packed with a number of beneficial nutrients including calcium, folate, zinc, iron, magnesium, vitamin A, and phytochemicals such as vitamin C, carotenoids and lutein.

Examples of common DGLVs include:

A nutritious diet high in DGLVs has been linked with a reduction in the risk of chronic illnesses including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. (Source) (Source)

And due to their high levels of anti-inflammatory carotenoids, they may also protect against certain types of cancer. (Source)

Include more DGLVs in your diet by throwing them into salads or adding them to stir-fries, soups, curries, or even a green smoothie.

2. Berries

Aside from being naturally sweet and delicious, berries are extremely nutrient dense.

They’re high in fiber and contain prebiotics, a form of dietary fiber that feeds the beneficial bacteria in our gut. They also provide potassium, magnesium, and vitamins C and K and they’re high in antioxidants. 

Some common berries:

  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries 
  • Blackberries

The high antioxidant content of berries may help in the prevention of inflammation disorders and cardiovascular disease and may have protective effects in lowering the risk of certain cancers. (Source)

Research also suggests that berries can also be an effective addition to existing treatments for a variety of gastrointestinal and immune-related illnesses. (Source)

Higher intake of flavonoids, particularly from berries, appears to reduce rates of cognitive decline in older adults. (Source)

Berries are extremely versatile – eat them on their own as a snack, use them as a topping for your cereal, oats, or yogurt, or add them to a salad or a smoothie.

When berries are not in season, it is just as healthy to buy them frozen. 

whole eggs

3. Eggs

Although eggs have been a cause of debate amongst health professionals in the past due to their high cholesterol content, their nutritional benefits cannot be denied.

And research shows no significant associations between moderate egg consumption and cholesterol levels, mortality, or cardiovascular disease. (Source) (Source)

Eggs provide high-quality protein, with all nine essential amino acids. They’re rich in a variety of nutrients including B vitamins, choline, selenium, vitamin A, iron, phosphorus, and antioxidants which are known to protect vision and eye health. (Source)

As well as being nutritional powerhouses, eggs are super easy to include in your diet.

Simply boil, fry, scramble, or poach them, or enjoy them in omelets, frittatas, shakshuka, salads, and sandwiches.

4. Oily Fish

Oily fish is highly nutritious – a great source of protein and packed with omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, potassium, and selenium.

Examples of oily fish include:

  • Salmon
  • Fresh tuna steak
  • Mackerel
  • Anchovies
  • Sardines

Oily fish is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats are crucial for brain growth and development in early life, and research suggests they may have a protective effect against depression. (Source)

Research shows a connection between omega-3s and reduced inflammation. (Source)

A reduction in long-term inflammation can contribute to a reduced risk of chronic illness, including heart disease and cancer. (Source)

You can buy fish fresh, smoked, or frozen. Grilled or barbequed fish can be delicious with a salad, as can tinned anchovies or sardines.

Why not try baking fresh salmon or having it in a pasta dish? Or go for smoked salmon – common in breakfast dishes or for lunch in a bagel with cream cheese.

However, it is recommended to limit your oily fish intake to 2-3 servings per week to avoid any potential negative effects from contaminants such as heavy metals.

5. Legumes

Legumes, also commonly called pulses, are a class of plant foods. Many people are surprised to learn just how nutritious legumes are.

They are naturally low in fat and contain fiber, protein, B vitamins, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and phosphorus.

Some common legumes:

  • Chickpeas
  • Green peas
  • Black beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils

The phytochemicals, saponins, and tannins found in pulses possess antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic effects, indicating that pulses may have significant anti-cancer effects.

Along with being associated with reduced risk of several chronic diseases, regular consumption of pulses has also been seen to positively affect several cardiovascular disease risk factors, including inflammation, and maintain healthy blood glucose levels, making them particularly beneficial to people with diabetes. (Source)

Include more legumes in your diet by adding them to soups, casseroles, chillis, salads, or making a spread such as hummus.

Nuts And Seeds

6. Nuts And Seeds

Tiny but mighty, nuts and seeds deliver a nutritional punch.

Nuts and seeds are rich in fiber, plant protein, monounsaturated fats, omega-3s, magnesium, and antioxidants.

Examples of nuts and seeds:

  • Almonds: rich in calcium and vitamin E
  • Walnuts: high in folate, vitamin E, and alpha-linoleic acid (ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid)
  • Cashews: a good source of iron, zinc, and vitamin B6
  • Sunflower seeds: high in vitamin E, manganese, and selenium
  • Chia seeds: good source of omega-3s and contain B vitamins, calcium, and iron
  • Flaxseeds: good source of omega-3s and high in copper and thiamine

Research suggests that eating nuts may reduce inflammation and promote healthy aging. (Source)

While seeds have been linked to having a protective effect against cardiovascular disease. (Source)

To increase your intake of nuts and seeds, sprinkle them on cereal, yogurt, or salads, or add them to sauces, veggies, and rice.

Eat nut butter, or if you’re feeling adventurous, try your hand at making a cashew or pine nut pesto.

7. Fermented Foods

Fermented foods contain high levels of probiotic bacteria. Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that naturally live in our gut, and having a gut with more of these friendly bacteria is linked with better digestion and overall health. (Source

Although we naturally have probiotics living in our digestive system, consuming probiotic foods is a great way to further increase the number of these beneficial bacteria in our gut.

Sources of fermented foods:

  • Probiotic yoghurt
  • Kombucha
  • Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Tempeh

If we have more harmful bacteria present in our digestive tract than beneficial bacteria this results in an imbalance called dysbiosis.

Dysbiosis can lead to digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) and has also been linked to diabetes, coeliac disease, arthritis, obesity, and atopic eczema. Consuming probiotic products has been seen to increase the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut, restoring balance. (Source)

Research shows that probiotics may play a role in alleviating traveler’s diarrhea, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. (Source)

There is also research to suggest that probiotics can improve overall gut bacteria, immune system health, bowel movements, and vaginal health. (Source)

Up your intake of fermented foods by eating probiotic yogurt as a snack or with oats or cereal, swap out a soda for some kombucha, include kefir in your smoothie or salad dressing, add kimchi to salads, wraps, sandwiches, and stir-fries, or replace meat or tofu in a recipe with tempeh.

cruciferous vegetables

8. Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables are an excellent source of fiber, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, folate, magnesium, potassium, vitamins C, E, and K, and phytochemicals including indoles, thiocyanates, and nitriles. 

This group of veggies includes:

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Radish

While evidence regarding the effects of cruciferous vegetables on human health varies in quality,  these vegetables have been linked to a reduced risk of all-cause mortality, certain cancers, and depression. (Source)

And consuming cruciferous vegetables is encouraged as part of a healthy diet.

Cruciferous vegetables can be roasted, steamed, or stir-fried. Cooking them with herbs, seasonings, and healthy oils can add flavor. They’re also great in soups, casseroles, and pasta dishes, and are usually easy to find frozen. 

9. Potatoes

Potatoes are high in potassium, magnesium, iron, copper, and manganese. They’re also particularly high in vitamin C and are a good source of most B vitamins. (Source)

Many compounds in potatoes contribute to antioxidant activity and potato skins provide substantial dietary fiber.

When potatoes cool after being cooked, a type of resistant starch forms. This resistant starch is prebiotic, meaning it can’t be broken down by digestive enzymes so it travels all the way to the large intestine where it feeds our gut microbiome. Here it imparts several benefits for the gut microbiome and our overall metabolic health.

The resistant starch found in potatoes has positive effects on human health. Not only does it improve intestinal function by acting as a prebiotic, but it may also improve insulin sensitivity and reduce cholesterol levels. (Source)

Potatoes and potato components have been shown to have a positive impact on blood pressure, cholesterol, and inflammation. (Source)

Potatoes are extremely versatile. Have them boiled, mashed, or roasted as a side or include them in casseroles, curries, soups, and salads.

10. Seaweed

The term seaweed refers to a group of highly nutritious sea vegetables, generally high in vitamin K, folate, and iodine, and is a significant source of fiber.

Seaweed contains many antioxidants in the form of certain vitamins (A, C, and E) and protective pigments. (Source)

Common edible seaweeds include:

  • Nori
  • Kombu
  • Wakame
  • Ogonori (or sea moss)
  • Blue-green algae, such as spirulina and chlorella

Aside from being an excellent source of nutrients and antioxidants, the high iodine content of seaweed supports the healthy function of the thyroid.

Some research also suggests seaweed may help prevent cardiovascular disease, as well as prevent and manage high blood sugar. (Source)(Source)

Seaweed can be used in many dishes, including sushi rolls, soups and stews, salads, supplements, and smoothies.

10% OFF with code:

What About “Superfood” Supplements?

As much as there is no such thing as a “superfood”, a “superfood” supplement is even more contrived.

Eating whole foods is always the best way to get your daily dose of nutrients because all of the components in whole foods work together in the most efficient way possible to provide their benefits.

Taking the elements in “superfoods” that make them “super” and putting them in a supplement, reduces their effectiveness.

So-called “superfood” supplements may contain many of the beneficial compounds found in highly nutritious foods, but they simply can’t provide the same effects.

Let’s take a look at research into antioxidant supplements.

While research has shown that people who eat more vegetables and fruit have a lower risk of developing several diseases, it is not clear whether this is due to the antioxidants in fruit and veg or to other components of these foods, other dietary factors, or lifestyle choices.

Scientific research involving more than 100,000 people combined testing whether antioxidant supplements can help prevent chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer, found that in most instances, antioxidant supplements did not reduce the risks of developing these diseases. (Source)

One possible reason why antioxidant supplements have not shown disease reduction is that antioxidants tend to work best in combination with other nutrients, plant chemicals, and even other antioxidants, as they do in whole foods.

They may still confer health benefits in supplement form, but not to the same extent as is seen with whole foods.

The Role Of Supplements

While nothing can trump the benefits that come with eating highly nutritious whole foods, dietary supplements can be helpful for filling any nutritional gaps, or further supplementing a healthy diet.

It is important to choose a high-quality supplement, however.

Human Tonik’s Supergreen Tonik and Red Tonik contain compounds from nutrient-dense plants such as spirulina, kale, barley grass, chlorella, dandelion, garlic, beetroot, raspberry, blueberry, and turmeric.

The use of these ingredients, amongst others, provides Human Tonik’s powders with their extensive nutrient profile.

Because the Human Tonik supplements come in powder form, rather than a multivitamin capsule or tablet, they can provide a much larger dose of nutrients.

This also allows them to provide a more comprehensive formula giving them a better micronutrient profile, and the powder makes the nutrients highly absorbable.

Human Tonik powders are fully transparent with their ingredients and dosages, never relying on proprietary blends, and are third-party tested, making them a safe and high-quality option for those looking for a nutritional supplement.  

10% OFF with code:

In Summary

“Superfood” is a term that was originally created by food companies as a method of marketing foods that have been shown to confer certain health benefits.

There are no scientific criteria to deem a food “super”. This classification is generally given to foods that have high nutritional value or are believed to offer health benefits.

Being a marketing invention, “superfoods” are often the most expensive foods on the shelves and can contribute to the belief that eating healthily is expensive and inaccessible.

Typically, “superfoods” are rich in particular nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, flavonoids, and omega-3 fatty acids. These are all healthful nutrients that do provide health benefits and should be included in our diets in substantial amounts. 

Common foods that contain these nutrients in high amounts include:

  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Berries
  • Eggs 
  • Oily fish
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fermented foods
  • Cruciferous vegetables
  • Potatoes
  • Seaweed

Although it is always best to aim to get our nutrients from whole foods, sometimes a dietary supplement may be necessary.

However, be aware “superfood” supplements are just as unfounded as “superfoods”.

Don’t fall for common marketing ploys – judge your supplement choice on the quality of the specific supplement and its ability to provide the benefits you’re looking for.

While some foods are higher in certain nutrients and have health benefits beyond basic nutrition, the term “superfood” is a marketing tool. What’s more, it can distract us from the fact that the quality of our overall diet and not individual foods or nutrients are the most important for our health.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Check out why customers love us on @humantonik

Share your #humantonik moments

Humantonik Instagram
Humantonik Instagram
Humantonik Instagram
Humantonik Instagram
Humantonik Instagram
Humantonik Instagram
Humantonik Instagram
Humantonik Instagramk

Money-back guarantee!Experience the difference or it's on us

Try our Tonik's for up to 365 days and see how you feel. If you don't love your results, we'll get your money back. ( See our full shipping and returns policy )

We rarely get refund requests, so out of curiosity we will probably just ask why ;)

1 year money-back guarantee