There has been a lot of talk lately of so-called super fruits that have powers beyond the nutritional value of regular fruits and vegetables. But who determines that an acai berry is a super fruit but other more common fruits are not? Does it all just come down to marketing? What are the qualifications for being deemed a super fruit?
The word superfruit was coined in 2005 as a marketing term use in the food and beverage sector. Since then, the term has crept up with increasing frequency to describe fruits that are high in anti-oxidants, high in nutritional value and somewhat exotic to consumers. The concept of superfruits is often used to help market certain juices and drinks that contain combinations of expensive or highly nutritious fruits.
Although many of the fruits that are now considered ‘super’ are in fact packed with health benefits and deliciousness, it’s important to remember that there are no actual scientific guidelines for determining what constitutes a superfruit. This means that any old marketing team can start to call an ordinary fruit ‘super’ in the hopes of upping its consumer appeal, especially if the fruit is rare to North America.
Some of the most popular superfruits today are acai berries, goji berries, blueberries, and pomegranates. Are they really all that special? Check out the descriptions of their benefits listed below and decide for yourself!
This fruit definitely has the hype required of any true superfruit, but does it live up to the expectations? Native to Central and South America, the berry has an exotic quality to North American consumers. This small, round, deep violet berry has recently been marketed as a dietary supplement and has been said to increase energy, help with digestion, detoxify and benefit the skin and heart. One of it’s biggest appeals is the claim that it can aid in weight loss, but there are no scientific studies to back any of this.
This fruit does have a mid to high level of antioxidants, but that’s about the same amount found in black cherries and cranberries. A diet rich in antioxidants may help prevent certain diseases and can contribute to a healthy lifestyle, which (when combined with exercise) can help manage weight.
Rich in fiber, vitamins C, E, K & B6, selenium, and manganese, the blueberry is beneficial to the immune system. There are also claims that the antioxidants found in these tiny blue berries can aid in cancer prevention, improve cardio vascular health, and stave off Alzheimer’s. The blueberry is grown in North America, so it does not have that exotic allure we have come to associate with superfruits.
However, the blueberry does have one very important upper hand when it comes to comparing superfruits—unlike many other fruits marketed as ‘super’, blueberries have actual scientific studies supporting their health benefits. They are one of the fruits with the highest antioxidant activity and a chemical isolated from the blueberry may delay the spread of hepatitis C among infected individuals. Call it what you like, but the blueberry is a scientifically proven super food. And it’s delicious.
On the opposite end of the exoticism spectrum is the goji berry, found growing in China, Mongolia and the Himalayas in Tibet. Although they look similar to raisins, these fruits are tangy and full of antioxidants, including beta-carotene and zeazanthin, which can protect the eyes. It is also believed that these berries can benefit the liver, fertility, leg strength, the immune system and circulation.
Many of these claims have not been scientifically proven, but Chinese herbalists have been swearing by goji berries for over 6000 years. There was also a study conducted in 1994 that showed 79 people with cancer responded better to treatments when they added goji berry to their diet. It was published in the Chinese Journal of Oncology. There is limited but optimistic evidence that goji may slow the spread of cancerous cells, reduce blood glucose, and lower cholesterol.
This moderately sized red-skinned fruit is native to the Middle East and India, so it does hold some exotic novelty in North America. High in vitamins B5 & K, selenium, and potassium, the pomegranate has been largely marketed due to its high antioxidant activity. This fruit is said to aid in heart health, vision and brain function. Along with the blueberry, it is one of the few fruits which potentially prevent Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
There have been some laboratory studies to examine the health properties of the pomegranate, but proof of their antioxidant value in humans has not yet been found. In other preliminary research, pomegranates were found to reduce heart disease risk factors, reduce blood pressure and potentially fight against dental plaque. There are also emerging claims that pomegranate seed oil may be effective against the spread of breast cancer cells. Many studies are currently in progress to find conclusive proof of the pomegranates superfruit abilities.
Each of these fruits does bring something positive to the table when it comes to your health, but the term ‘superfruit’ is simply the commercialization of health benefits and exoticism and should be taken with a grain of salt.