If you were to rummage around the kitchen of any Byrdie editor, you'd undoubtedly find an array of health elixirs, powders, and snacks. Even our desks at the office are peppered with chia-packed nutrition bars, maca, and a rainbow of supplements and vitamins, so that we're properly armed whenever a craving or fatigue strikes. Needless to say, we're huge proponents of anything that keeps our bodies balanced and humming efficiently, and we're always down to try the latest health craze.
That being said, we take this all with a grain of (pink Himalayan) salt, knowing that many nutrition fads ultimately have little substance—a notion backed up by a predictable but frustrating cycle of studies that offer conflicting info. But given that there are still many amazingly beneficial foods and supplements that we stand by after years of use, new headlines claiming that the term "superfood" is a myth altogether are definitely disheartening. Have we been wrong this whole time?
The answer is yes and no. "Superfoods are marketing gimmicks," Duane Mellor, a nutrition scientist told New Scientist earlier this week—a fact that as we mentioned earlier, we certainly won't deny. You know the drill: An exotic, previously untapped fruit or seed sweeps headlines, claiming to do everything from torching fat to giving you the best skin and hair of your life… only to have 95% of those claims debunked days later. While the FDA can technically put the kibosh on specific outlandish claims when it pertains to direct marketing, they don't specifically regulate the term "superfood." (The EU actually does, and a food has to be backed up by extensive research in order to use that terminology on the label.) This isn't even to mention that the age of the internet has made it possible for virtually anyone to publish health claims as fact online—leaving consumers themselves to separate fact from BS.
That being said, there are still so many highly nutritious foods that really are deserving of the label, which is why it's a bummer that the term has been cheapened so much over the past few years by those that aren't. Standbys like kale, chia seeds, and wheatgrass really do have great benefits when it comes to vitamin and antioxidant content. "Some things marketed as superfoods are nutritionally superior to other, similar foods, [but] many more are not," says the New Scientist article. The takeaway: Do your research and look for legitimate studies from universities and medical journals to determine whether a food is legit or not—or better yet, consult with a nutritionist if you're looking for some further guidance.
And in the end, remember that health is a very personal thing—only you can know which foods and supplements really make you feel your best.
Shop some of our personal favorites below—which are scientist-approved.
Hormones out of whack? You may want to consider adding a scoop of this powdered Peruvian root to your morning smoothie. Studies show that in addition to increasing libido and boosting fertility, maca has great potential as an adaptogen—an herb that has a balancing effect on the body, especially when it comes to stress. We also find that it gives us a non-caffeinated boost—and the butterscotch flavor is downright delicious.
Sourced from Africa, South Asia, and South America, experts tout the moringa plant as "the miracle tree." When matched gram for gram with kale, its leaves have twice the protein, 97 times the vitamin B2, and six times the iron—and that's just the tip of the iceberg for its nutritional specs. Plus, scientists are working to promote moringa as a staple food in developing countries, since it's cheap and widely available.
This fermented food blend was formulated to benefit the body from the inside out, owing in large part to its high content of probiotics. (We know that good gut bacteria can do so much for our bodies, from aiding digestive function to giving us glowing skin.)
Check out more health foods that really are worth the hype.