Delicious Living Blog

Superfood: Legitimate term or marketing hype?

A reader recently complained about our use of the term "superfood." Is "superfood" a legitimate term or marketing hype? The answer may be both. But in the natural products industry, where marketing and scientific research are so often intertwined, terminology like "superfood" becomes tricky territory.

As an editor, it’s sometimes difficult to know when you’ve crossed a line with words. Take “natural.” I may know what I mean by using it, but in fact the term is practically meaningless from overuse, not to mention broad interpretation (arguably, in some cases misinterpretation) under FDA standards. Delicious Living bears responsibility to its readers to use accurate terms to explain the choices in our publication. So, when we use general terms like “healthy,” we have to ask, in the context used: Is it a buzzword or a legitimate descriptor? Is it clear what we mean by _____________?

Not long ago, a reader complained about Delicious Living’s use of “superfood.” Yes, we admit we’ve used this one a lot lately under the premise that certain foods have nutritional profiles that outshine others (see The Nutrient-Dense Diet). That’s not new thinking; but it is newly popular terminology that has spread like wildfire among marketing departments. No official standards exist for the term “superfood” or “superfruit,” which are deeply intertwined with “antioxidant” and associated ORAC value scores. In fact, the EU has banned the use of “superfood” in product claims since 2007. The US currently has no regulations.

Medicine.net defines superfoods as: “Foods with alleged healing or health-promoting capabilities. Medicinal or nutritionally high-powered foods have been part and parcel of the natural products industry for a long time and, through emerging scientific research and particularly through growing public interest, they have reached the mainstream.” The rise of superfood acai was explored in the article Strange Fruit in the May 30th issue of The New Yorker. It’s a fascinating story that unfolds much like that of other foods in the natural space: an exotic product becomes a marketing phenomenon, which prompts scientific study to support the marketing phenomenon.

Science and marketing are strange bedfellows, but bedfellows nonetheless in the natural products industry. The Delicious Living editors and I, along with our medical editor Robert Rountree, MD, work hard to create content that is as scientifically sound and as free of jargon as possible. Should we ban “superfood” from our vocabulary? I’m not so sure. But to the best of our abilities we will not let the term be used as a crutch—an adjective to prop up a food or product without due cause.

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