Why One Superfood Might Not Be So Super For You
You keep reading that kale is a “superfood” and feel pressure to add this nutrient-rich veggie to your shopping list. The only problem? You really dislike its taste and texture. You’re also not a fan of green tea. The brewed beverage is rich in antioxidants, but unfortunately, you’re highly sensitive to caffeine and feel jittery whenever you consume it.
As these examples show, even the foods richest in nutrients (so-called “superfoods”) won’t work for everyone, since we’re all so unique. Even identical twins respond differently to the same foods, according to a 2019 scientific nutrition research project.1 That’s why it’s best to eat to accommodate your own body and mind. Read on for reasons why superfoods should not be seen as one-size-fits-all.
When people with food allergies eat problematic foods, they can experience symptoms ranging from nausea, diarrhea, and hives to chest pain and the swelling of the airways to the lungs. To determine if you have food allergies, ask an allergist to perform a test. Then steer clear of these foods, even in small quantities. The most common culprits are shellfish, nuts, fish, eggs, peanuts, and milk—take note of the fact that nuts and salmon are widely considered superfoods.
Food intolerances are much more common than food allergies. When people with intolerances eat problematic foods, their bodies experience symptoms ranging from a stuffy nose to an upset stomach. Unlike with food allergies, the body might tolerate offending foods in smaller quantities. So, if you have lactose intolerance (the most common type), you could be symptom-free if you add milk to your coffee but not if you down several glasses of milk. Other common irritants are sulfites (often in red wine) and salicylates (in some produce plus nuts, coffee, juice, beer and wine).
To figure out if you have intolerances, keep a food diary tracking what you eat and if you experience any symptoms. Then look back to see if you can spot any patterns. With the help of a registered dietician or healthcare provider, embark on an elimination diet. This means that you’ll remove all potential problematic foods until you become symptom-free. Finally, you’ll reintroduce these foods one at a time to figure out exactly which ones, if any, are causing problems.
Health conditions and goals
Various health conditions will also impact how you eat. If you have celiac disease, you’ll need to avoid gluten (the protein found in wheat and some other grains). If you’ve been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, your doctor might encourage you to cut down on dairy (even though yogurt and kefir are considered “superfoods”). Or if you’re trying to shed a few pounds, you might wish to avoid an excess of fatty foods, even nutritious types like nuts and seeds. In addition, not all foods considered “healthy” are the right fit for your unique biology and gut microbiome and can cause issues such as bloating, skin irritations, and others. Testing can help you find out what foods are recommended for your body.
Personal tastes and reactions
Of course, you might also dislike or savor a particular “superfood.” Regardless of its health benefits, if you abhor kale, kale salad won’t be your regular lunch. Instead, center your diet around nutrient-rich foods you crave—even if they’re not widely regarded as “superfoods.” Think tomatoes, oranges, grapefruits, and trout, for instance. Similarly, if you experience uncomfortable symptoms, like severe bloating, after eating broccoli and cabbage, don’t force yourself to consume them.
Berry, S. et al. (2019). [Prediction of metabolic responses to food]. Current Developments in Nutrition. PubMed Central.
Siegner, C. (2019). [Different responses to foods in people]. fooddive.com
Caffeine Sensitivity. (n.d.). healthline.com
Hill, A. (2018). [List of different superfoods]. healthline.com
Food Allergy vs. Intolerance. (2022). health.clevelandclinic.org
Orenstein, B. (2022). [Certain foods to avoid for a specific issue]. everydayhealth.com