Photo: Half Chinese/Flickr
Americans love fads.That’s why there’s a new designated “superfood” popping up each season which supposedly has some incredible properties.
What exactly is a superfood?
Naked Health defines it as, “any edible natural item (plant or animal) that contains exceptionally high levels of a certain nutrient that supposedly carries specific health benefits for preventing or fighting disease.”
These foods are certain to have some benefits, but it’s how they’re marketed that makes them rise to the top of the heap. A nice, healthy apple doesn’t have the same ring to it as an anti-oxidant rich acai berry.
Recently people have been clamoring for more Acai, the dietary supplement that supposedly helps speed-up weight loss, decrease the risk of heart disease, increase energy, and cure a host of other ailments and diseases.
But like many other 'magical' dietary supplements, the Acai berry appeared on the market virtually out of nowhere and seems too good to be true.
Very little research exists on the berry's long-term effects and its commercial use isn't even regulated by the FDA. However, marketing giants like Starbucks and Coca-Cola play up the exotic novelty of this special fruit in their various cure-all health drink lines.
Agave nectar -- yes, it comes from the same plant that's used in the making of tequila -- is essentially a natural sweetener that's gotten hyped up by the health food world. The low-glycemic sweetener won't cause a sharp rise in blood sugar, which is what makes it better than regular sugar.
Agave's rise started in the mid-2000s, and now it has made its way into the mainstream. It can be found in tea, energy drinks, health drinks, nutrition bars, and a whole lot more.
It has plenty of critics, who say that some of the commercially sold agave out there contains a ton of fructose, which nullifies any advantage it may have over sugar.
Almonds, the most nutritionally dense nut around, have recently come back in vogue as a 'superfood' and are said to prevent heart disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
Almond 'alternatives' have been practically forced down American's throats as products such as Almond Milk and Almond Butter have voraciously hit supermarket shelves. Companies like Silk cater to customers who may have allergies to dairy-based products, for example, but still crave a healthy, nutrient-rich alternative.
This pointy spear may look aggressive, but studies say that asparagus is a nutritional powerhouse. It is said to strengthen bones, reduce the risk of heart disease, and (bonus!) ease the effects of hangovers.
If marketing strategists have their way, asparagus-lovers will soon be able to buy this veggie at fast-food chains across the nation. Mark Bucher, founder of The Burger Joint, has started an initiative to replace the greasy french fry with healthy, grilled Parmesan asparagus spears.
Cheeseburger with a side of asparagus, anyone?
Barley's main benefit is that it's nutrient dense. It's stuffed full of fibre, manganese, tryptophan, and more.
It has been deemed an 'intestinal powerhouse,' feeding friendly bacteria into the digestive tract and decreasing the risk of colon cancer. Plus, brands like Quaker promote their barley products as a way to reduce your cholesterol.
Barley happens to be a more difficult food to market to consumers, mostly because it's perceived as common and boring compared to exotic fruits and berries.
While the blueberry has pretty much always reined as the berry of choice in households across America, this little blue fruit has recently been receiving more attention than ever. Blueberries are said to boost memory capability, prevent heart disease, and provide an excellent source of anti-oxidants.
Food and beverage providers have taken stock in the berry craze and are embracing the hip, healthy qualities of the blueberry in a plethora of products from Sea Dog's blueberry beer to Ben and Jerry's new blueberry Greek frozen yogurt, and even Pringles blueberry potato chips. Many strategists are using this superfood to make potential unhealthy products seem healthier.
Coconut has been hyped as the newest source of energy on the market and is said to boost the metabolism, prevent diabetes, aid digestion, and ward off viruses.
In recent years, coconut water has taken over the shelves of almost every supermarket in America and is marketed as the 'alternative' sports drink.
Unlike its more processed counterparts, like Gatorade and Powerade, strategists promote coconut water's fresh, natural qualities such as being low in calories and fat free.
Cranberries are best known for preventing urinary track infections, but they are also said to protect against heart disease, gum disease, stomach ulcers, and cancer.
While cranberry sales tend to skyrocket around holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, health-food stores and supermarkets alike tend to stock a variety of cranberry products year-round.
Consuming a moderate dosage of fish oil is said to decrease the risk of heart disease, increase immunity, help prevent Alzheimer's disease, reduce inflammation or swelling, aid in weight loss, and brighten the skin.
Experts say that because Americans generally don't have a fish-heavy diet, supplements are needed to obtain the adequate amount of fish oil.
Companies such as Nature Made tend to use words like 'pure' and 'natural' when trying to attract their customer base. They rely heavily on doctor recommendations and customer testimony to help promote their product.
Stars like Oprah and Madonna have sworn by the Chinese Goji berry. It's been said to increase sex drive, reduce signs of ageing, and even prevent cancer.
But like the Acai berry, marketing giants rely on the berry's exotic origin and longstanding reputation in East Asian countries to gain popularity with Western customers. Its unusual name and dazzling colour help to differentiate this trendy berry from the pack and entice health-crazed consumers to give it a try.
While research detailing the exact nutritional benefits of the Goji berry is still somewhat vague, experts agree that at $17.00 a pound there are alternative berries that provide similar nutrients at just a fraction of the cost.
Ginger is an antioxidant that is said to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. It's also supposed to be good for stomach, and can be used to reduce nausea.
It caught on more in the Western world as Asian cuisines increased in popularity, since it's commonly paired up with foods like sushi.
In the West, ginger ale -- once an extremely popular soft drink in the U.S. -- has long been used as a home remedy to soothe stomach problems. Many ginger ale brands live on, like Seagram's, Vernors and Canada Dry.
For people looking to burn belly fat and lose weight fast, drinking green tea is the supposed solution. It also is said to reduce the risk of heart disease, improve mental focus, and prevent signs of ageing.
Marketing strategists have looked toward college students and young professionals to really get the green tea craze rolling. By throwing around words like 'organic' and 'coffee-alternative,' companies like Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, and Panera have had youngsters around the country lining up to purchase this new, hip beverage.
First-time tea customers are said to be attracted by the choice of having it served hot or over ice, and that the light green colour is soothing and appetizing.
Kale is in the same family as broccoli, brussels sprouts and cabbage. It's packed with nutrients just like its cousins, but it got a big marketing break when people started making chips out of it. Kale took off when the chips (and other Kale products) got major distribution through stores like Whole Foods.
Kale got a ton of free press when it made national headlines because of a spat between a Vermont artist and fast food chain Chick-fil-A. The argument was over marketing taglines: 'Eat More Kale' was too much like Chick-fil-A's 'Eat Mor Chikin,' said the chain.
Quinoa has been dubbed a 'supergrain' by some food gurus out there because it contains a ton of protein. It's all about an amino acid called lysine, which makes quinoa have the same amount of protein as a glass of milk, according to the World Health organisation.
Traditionally found in South America, it has recently made its way into the North American marketing frenzy. It has been so successful that it has become near-unaffordable for locals in Bolivia, where it has been a staple for years.
For centuries, people from Japan and Korea have munched away on the nutrient packed, cancer-preventing vegetable of the sea, seaweed. It is said to be an excellent source of vitamins and minerals and people who eat a seaweed rich diet are said to have lower risk of obesity, diabetes, depression, and cardiovascular disease.
While Westerners remained sceptical of its rather slimy texture and bland taste for many years, marketing strategists play up the only real things seaweed had going for it: its impressive nutritional qualities and its status as a staple in Asian countries.
Wheatgrass is a beauty queen's favourite 'superfood' since its high levels of vitamin E, phosphorous, and chlorophyll are said to freshen breath, postpone the graying of hair, prevent tooth decay, brighten skin, and detox the body of harmful minerals.
However, its bitter, grassy taste is far from a crowd pleaser and strategists have had a difficult time marketing this health food to mass audiences. The most profitable (and tasty) way to sell wheatgrass is in drink form, often blended with other high-powered veggies.
Yuzu, the Japanese grapefruit, is said to replenish skin cells and give skin a fresher, younger look. Its high dosage of Vitamin C, like many other citrus fruits, strengthens the immune system and it provides the body with an excellent source of anti-oxidants.
Yuzu has been marketed to Americans in a variety of forms and is most frequently seen in cocktails, salad dressings, desserts, and energy drinks. Companies like Yuzu Passion use words like 'rare' and 'unique' when promoting their product and try to entice customers with labels that reflect the fruit's natural, medicinal properties.
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