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Superfoods: Nutrition superstars or brilliant marketing?

  • legumes
  • The term superfoods has become synonymous with ultra-healthy, nutrient-packed, plant-based foods and supplements. They are advertised as having exceptional powers for fighting or preventing common health conditions, like cancer or diabetes, and promoting everything from energy and vitality to hormonal balance. New superfoods are constantly being introduced, adding to the saturated health-food marketplace and contributing to consumer confusion. Many patients ask us, "What are superfoods?" and "Do we need to eat these unusual foods in order to be healthy?"

    Many superfoods are simply colorful, phytonutrient rich fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts, seeds or legumes from around the globe. Superfoods, just like regular plant foods, provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and immune supportive nutrients.

    While "Superfoods" are often marketed as a panacea or magical elixir that can improve upon or enhance one’s ability to prevent or reduce cancer, the scientific evidence is sparse. It's important to note that current studies are preliminary. They are conducted on cells or animals in the lab, not humans. Even though they may not always live up to their hype, superfoods can be a part of a well-balanced diet and offer new and interesting options for delicious plant-based meals.

    Here are ideas for how to include superfoods in your everyday diet:

    • Drink green tea once or twice a day
    • Add goji, acai, sea buckthorn, currant or other berries to oatmeal, cereal, salads, baking or smoothies.
    • Add chia, hemp or ground flax seeds to salads, smoothies, baked goods, hot or cold cereals.
    • Include seaweed in soups or as a snack paired with avocado.
    • Drink Kefir or Kombucha for a fun treat.
    • Add cacao powder to smoothies, waffle or pancake mix, oats, muffins, breads, desserts or other baking for chocolate flavor without added sugars.
    • Swap brown rice with teff in stir-fry, bowls or side dishes

    What we do know: a balanced diet plentiful in plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains, along with healthy fats, and lean proteins like fish, peas, lentils and other lean proteins, in combination with regular physical activity and weight management, may help reduce the risk for developing certain cancers and may help promote survivorship.

    To learn more about superfoods and cancer, listen to this Dana-Farber Podcast featuring nutritionist, Stacy Kennedy.