What Are “Superfoods”? 

Superfoods are an increasingly popular concept within discussions and content about health and nutrition. They have many purported benefits, but what really are superfoods? 

Superfoods are nutrient-dense foods thought to provide a wide range of health benefits, beyond their core nutritional value. These foods tend to be packed with antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and other essential nutrients known to prevent chronic diseases and promote good health 1

Antioxidants are natural compounds that protect cells from damage and may minimize the risk of cancer and heart disease, among other diseases, by reducing oxidative stress on the body. Oxidative stress occurs in the presence of an excess of free radicals in the body and is associated with an array of human diseases 1. Blueberries are a superfood that is filled with antioxidants.  

Minerals are inorganic elements, that come from soil and water, such as calcium, potassium, or iron, which help the body perform at its highest level. Vitamins, in contrast, are made by plants or animals. Superfoods tend to be charged full of both minerals and vitamins. 

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body cannot digest. It is essential in that it helps decrease cholesterol levels, prevent heart disease, and control glucose in Type 2 diabetes. High-fiber foods such as kale promote healthy digestion and provide a sense of fullness. This can support weight loss efforts, among other benefits 2. Dark green leafy vegetables are an excellent source of a wide variety of nutrients, including folate, zinc, calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin C and fiber 3

Flavonoids, formerly called vitamin P, are found in plant-based superfoods and exert beneficial anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory properties. 

Finally, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, or “good fats”, are also amply found in superfoods. These help lower cholesterol and prevent stroke and heart disease 4. Certain foods like salmon are packed with such healthy fats 5.  

For those wondering whether superfoods are medically defined, and if so, what that definition is, the answer unfortunately is no. A “superfood” is not a scientifically recognized term, as there are no set criteria to determine what defines superfoods, according to the American Heart Association 6.  

However, a number of tips can help identify and better incorporate healthy, nutrient-packed foods into one’s diet, focusing on the current lay definition of superfoods. First, an easy visual tip is to try to have your plate be multicolored, from foods with rich color like kale, beets, and berries. Second, it can be beneficial to regularly add shredded greens to soups and stir fries, while replacing beef or poultry with salmon or tofu. Furthermore, having green tea or matcha tea, and consuming turmeric, cumin, oregano, ginger, clove, and cinnamon can be helpful because of their antioxidant content. When snacking, nuts, seeds, such as Brazil nuts and sunflower seeds, and dried fruit with no sugar or salt added are excellent choices 7

Obtaining nutrients from real foods is preferred over taking supplements, when possible. Many supplements contain ingredients that can have a strong biological effect on the body; they may also interact with certain medications 8. Taking supplements could thus result in vitamin or mineral toxicity or affect postsurgical recovery, among other consequences. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that combining or taking too many supplements can be hazardous. It is thus important to conservatively use only supplements that the Food and Drug Administration has approved. 

Finally, while superfoods are a valuable addition to a healthy diet, no one food can provide all needed nutrients. It is thus essential to eat a variety of whole foods and maintain a balanced diet at all times. 


1. What Are Superfoods? | Live Science. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/34693-superfoods.html. (Accessed: 10th May 2023) 

2. Miketinas, D. C. et al. Fiber Intake Predicts Weight Loss and Dietary Adherence in Adults Consuming Calorie-Restricted Diets: The POUNDS Lost (Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies) Study. J. Nutr. 149, 1742–1748 (2019).  doi: 10.1093/jn/nxz117. 

3. 16 Superfoods That Are Worthy of the Title. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/true-superfoods#TOC_TITLE_HDR_2. (Accessed: 10th May 2023) 

4. What Is a Superfood, Anyway? – Cleveland Clinic. Available at: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-is-a-superfood/. (Accessed: 10th May 2023) 

5. Heart Disease: Types, Prevention & Treatments | Live Science. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/34733-heart-disease-high-cholesterol-heart-surgery.html. (Accessed: 10th May 2023) 

6. American Heart Association | To be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en. (Accessed: 10th May 2023) 

7. Superfoods: Health benefits, uses, and risks. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/303079. (Accessed: 10th May 2023) 

8. Lobo, V., Patil, A., Phatak, A. & Chandra, N. Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacogn. Rev. 4, 118 (2010). doi: 10.4103/0973-7847.70902