5 Superfoods That Aren't Actually All That Super

Acai bowl with fruits and seeds
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Superfoods are loosely defined as foods that have some sort of health benefit beyond their nutritional content, preferably backed up by science and research.

A few foods have enough research to qualify for health claims. For example, oats count as a superfood because they have a good nutritional profile and contain a fiber called beta-glucan that has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels if they're elevated. Extra virgin olive oil is also a well-known superfood because it can also improve your cholesterol levels.

Unfortunately, there is no official definition for "superfood," and more importantly, "superfood" isn't a government recognized description for food labels. For marketing purposes, it's not all that uncommon for a food to be called a superfood when it really isn't (or, at least, it isn't as super as you think it is) because the idea of a food being super is so enticing. Here's a look at five superfoods that aren't all that super.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

The Claim

Coconut oil is touted to have all kinds of health benefits due to medium-chain saturated fatty acids. Common claims include protection against Alzheimer's and cardiovascular disease.

The Truth

Although popular, coconut oil doesn't live up to its hype. There is insufficient evidence to support claims regarding protection against Alzheimer's and cardiovascular disease. In fact, consuming coconut oil may raise your bad cholesterol (LDL) and good cholesterol (HDL), though to a lesser extent than other saturated fats like butter.

In a 2020 study conducted by the American Heart Association (AHA), a collection of 16 studies were reviewed. When compared to olive, soybean, and canola oil, coconut oil significantly increased bad cholesterol by about 9%.  Olive oil, which is high in monounsaturated fats, is still the better choice.

Almond Milk

almond milk
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

The Claim

Almond milk provides the same benefits as whole nuts or soy milk.

The Truth

Almonds, like other nuts, are high in protein, antioxidants, fiber, and minerals. Almond milk is made from blanched skinless almonds and a lot of the nutrition is lost during processing.

Most brands of commercial almond milk have calcium, vitamin D, and other vitamins and minerals to fortify this plant-based milk, so that's good. But all in all, aside from personal preference and low protein, unless you prefer a vegan diet, have lactose intolerance, or have another specific health reason for choosing almond milk, there's really no reason to believe almond milk is better for you than low- or non-fat milk or fortified soy milk.

Honey

Honey
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

The Claim

Honey can help cure hay fever and plant allergies. It's also a better type of sugar.

The Truth

Eating too much sugar can lead to excessive calories and then weight gain. That includes natural sources like honey, maple syrup, agave, or any type of natural sweetener. The body processes these sugars all the same.

Research on the effectiveness of honey to treat symptoms of allergies and hay fever is mixed and more rigorous studies are still needed. Though rare, if you're allergic to pollen, honey could actually cause an allergic reaction because the honey will have traces of pollen that came from bees.

Wheatgrass

The Claim

The main active ingredient in wheatgrass is chlorophyll, which gives it a bright green color. Wheatgrass is sometimes promoted as having anti-cancer activity.

The Truth

Preliminary research studies suggest anti-cancer activity in wheatgrass, but no human studies have found that consuming wheatgrass will prevent or help treat cancer. In a 2020 study involving colon cancer patients who were on chemotherapy, a wheatgrass juice supplement reduced damage to the arteries and veins, while reducing inflammation.

Sea Salt

The Claim

Sea salt has extra health benefits due to having extra minerals.

The Truth

Salt is salt. It's half sodium and half chloride. In reality, sea salt is the same as regular refined table salt, and you are not going to change your overall mineral intake by eating sea salt. In fact, if you have been told to limit sodium, you have to limit sea salt, too.

Exotic Superfoods

Goji berries
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

The Claim

Exotic fruit is more nutritious than the typical fruit you see in the grocery store.

The Truth

Goji berries, açaí, mangosteen, durian, and other unknown superfruits and berries often do have loads of nutrients and antioxidants. If you love them, by all means, enjoy them, but don't make them your go-to just because you think they're healthier.

The most important thing is that you are eating fruits and veggies in all the colors of the rainbow. Typical options in your grocery store provide plenty of health benefits. When you also consider the extra expense of processing and shipping exotic fruit to the United States and the heavier price tag for them at the store, they may not be worth it.

A Word From Verywell

Typical whole foods, although they're untrendy and sometimes do weird things to your body, are the ones you should focus on eating as part of a balanced diet. Remember that there's no need to dwell on whether or not each food you buy is a superfood so long as it's nutritious.

Get a good mix of colorful fruits and veggies, nuts, seeds, whole grains (that aren't overly processed), legumes, lean protein sources such as fish and seafood, and non-fat or low-fat dairy (or other calcium sources), and you'll get all the nutrients and health benefits you need.

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