What is a Superfood, Really?

  • 3 min read

by Asa Siegel

Have you ever wondered, “What actually is a superfood?” The Oxford dictionary definition of superfood reads as follows:

"A nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being."

This definition gives us two distinct features of a superfood to work with: “nutrient-rich” and “especially beneficial for health and well-being”. This is a great start! 

Yet what does it mean to be “nutrient-rich” or “especially beneficial”? We need to get more specific...

A superfood’s nutrient content refers to the antioxidants and phytonutrients present in whole food form. As such, “nutrient-rich” is referring to specific types of nutrients.

Antioxidants and phytonutrients found in whole foods have been strongly linked to the reduced risk of numerous chronic diseases in a plethora of scientific studies. Additionally, there are numerous examples of cultures worldwide where dietary intake of increased quantities of antioxidants and phytonutrients from whole foods have corresponded with decreased presence of chronic illness.

With this understanding, a true superfood must possess these salutary antioxidants and phytonutrients... 

in a concentration or complexity that is greater than other foods from nature in their category. 

Nearly all fruits and vegetables confer benefits to our general well being when eaten regularly and should be the basis of our daily diet. Yet when we are declaring certain foods to be “super,” their beneficial properties need to reflect that lofty title. If this were not the case, then what would be the logic or reasoning behind distinguishing between “good” foods and “super” foods to begin with?

The majority of true superfoods have been widely utilized for generations by different cultures worldwide for their therapeutic, vitalizing and rejuvenating qualities; their benefits have been validated by practical application, time and time again.  Science continues to validate their efficacy through identifying the components of the whole food that are deemed to be the source of their beneficial activity.

On cue, let’s focus on the second part of the Oxford definition, a superfood is “especially beneficial for health and well-being”. The antioxidants and phytonutrients mentioned above are revered because of the benefits that they offer to us. Some of these primary benefits are as follows:

  • Combating the harmful effects of oxidation in the body caused by environmental and physical stresses and toxins in the body.

  • Reducing inflammation.

  • Balancing blood sugar, increasing oxygen flow and supporting immune system strength.

  • Protecting cell integrity and nourishing neurological and cognitive functions.

  • Detoxifying heavy metal content from the body.

  • Supporting lymphatic and endocrine systems, increasing oxygen flow and balancing hormones and adrenal levels.

  • Supporting sexual and reproductive system functions and vitality.

In select instances science has validated the components of certain superfoods in actually combatting disease:

  • Curcumin in turmeric has been proven to kill certain types of cancer cells.

  • Polysaccharides in medicinal mushrooms have been shown highly active against various flu strains.

Now, let's summarize with a clear and complete definition:

A superfood is an (organically grown) food in nature that:

  • Possesses a uniquely high concentration or complexityof salutary phytonutrients, antioxidants, etc. compared to other natural foods in its category.

    • E.g. maqui berries have up to five times the antioxidant activity than blueberries.

  • Confers therapeutic benefits to human beings' physiological well-being; these benefits must be validated by:

    • traditional cultural use and effectiveness for multiple generations and/or

      • E.g. medicinal mushrooms have been utilized as a core part of Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years to bolster the immune system and address a variety of ailments.

    • scientific or clinical validation of efficacy.

      • E.g. mangosteen and turmeric have been shown to reduce inflammation. Medicinal mushrooms have been shown to support balanced blood sugar levels.


We hope this clarity is helpful and supports you on your health journey!