I’m guilty of falling into the superfood trap. Every morning, I used to wake up and have a glass of spirulina water, having read about how amazing it was for your health. It tasted horrible, like a mouthful of murky lake water, but I believed I was doing it for the greater good of my health. Little did I know, the same benefits could be found in apples and oranges that both taste great and don’t burn a hole in my wallet.
There is no regulated or official definition for superfoods. It’s generally used to describe a food that contains high levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are beneficial to health such as acai berries, goji berries, and spirulina.
The superfoods trend is only set to rise, as we continue to chase all four corners of the globe in search for the next superfood promising to revitalize us, and our health, in ways that nothing closer to home can. The market is set to grow from 152.71 billion dollars to 214.95 billion by 2027.
Unfortunately, these foods are nothing more than a successful marketing ploy. Superfoods result in super sales for the multi-billion dollar industry, but rarely into superior health benefits over more simple fruits.
I’m not saying these foods aren’t good for you, it’s just that exotic superfoods like goji berries, acai, spirulina, and even avocados usually aren’t worth the hype, or the price tag.
They also come with a hefty environmental cost, especially compared to locally grown produce, which now more than ever is something we need to be aware of 1.
You’re better off going local and picking fruits like apples, peaches, grapes, oranges. They are widely produced in the US and some are the cheapest fruits you can buy. Locally produced fruit, available in your local supermarkets, have their own incredible benefits, worthy of their own superfood status.
Take the humble apple as our first example. It may not have the bright, novel appeal of a more exotic fruit, but that’s no reason not to add it to your basket. Grown all over the US, apples are a cheap and locally sourced option for a nutrient-rich produce.
In a review titled ‘An Apple a Day to Prevent Cancer Formation’, researchers from Taipei Medical University in Taiwan discuss how the polyphenols found in apples can reduce the risk of developing cancer. The regular consumption of apples has been linked to a reduced risk of lung and colon cancer, the third- and fourth-most-common cancers in the U.S, respectively 2 3 4.
Another study found LDL cholesterol levels significantly lowered with the consumption of 75g dried apples a day. Dried plums were also beneficial, as both have powerful antioxidant and antiinflammatory properties 5
Grapes, which can be enjoyed as fruit, raisins, and juice, are another cheap and abundant fruit here in the US. They are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular and cancer. One study found that drinking 100mL of red grape juice each day for 14 days significantly reduces LDL and oxidized LDL. Both of these are major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The participants also had fewer markers of inflammation, and increased antioxidant defenses 6
Grapes are high in polyphenols. There are several different classes of polyphenols in grapes, including anthocyanins, flavanols, flavonols and resveratrol. Anthocyanins are the pigments that give grapes their beautiful purple color, and have strong antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. Studies have shown they can improve visual and neurological health 7. Because of the polyphenols, grapes have cardioprotective, anticancer, anti-inflammation, and anti-aging properties 8.
Oranges have long been used as traditional medicinal herbs in several Asian countries including China, Japan, and Korea. Traditionally, they’ve been used to treat ailments such as constipation, indigestion, coughs, colds, hypertension, anxiety, skin inflammation, and muscle pain 10
Oranges are well known for their high vitamin C content, a powerful antioxidant that’s vital for protecting our cells and building our immune system defenses. Whenever I was ill when I was younger, my mom stocked up on oranges and fed them to me like they were going out of fashion.
Oranges, and other citrus fruits, are a rich reservoir of nutrients and bioactive compounds, such as flavonoids, carotenoids, and essential oils. Like our apples and grapes, they too have powerful antioxidative, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory effects as well as cardiovascular protective and neuroprotective effects. In lab experiments, extracts from oranges have been shown to halt the growth of cancer cells 10.
They are also an excellent source of dietary fiber, potassium, folate, calcium, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6 and more. Dietary fiber is key to human health, it helps to keep us full after eating and promotes good gut health. Most Americans aren’t getting nearly enough of it 11.
You don’t have to spend a fortune to reap the health benefits of amazing fruits.
Next time you’re shopping, go for the local apples, oranges, and grapes. These are the real superfoods, both for the environment and for us. They’re delicious and won’t cost you the earth.
You don’t have to give up avocado toast or ditch the acai bowls, just know that these aren’t necessary to provide your body with the nutrients it needs, or to be protected against chronic disease.
And remember, no single fruit can offer you all the nutrients and energy you need, so focus on including a variety of locally grown produce into your diet to maximize the health benefits.
6. Castilla, P. et al. Concentrated red grape juice exerts antioxidant, hypolipidemic, and antiinflammatory effects in both hemodialysis patients and healthy subjects. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 84, 252–262 (2006).
7. Khoo, H. E., Azlan, A., Tang, S. T. & Lim, S. M. Anthocyanidins and anthocyanins: colored pigments as food, pharmaceutical ingredients, and the potential health benefits. Food Nutr. Res. 61, 1361779 (2017).