Commentary: 'Superfruits' don't have superpowers

Just like fashion, foods have trends, especially when it comes to the promotion of good health.

This is strange because we usually think of food being just food, nothing too special. However, our society has recently been on a health watch, and foods high in antioxidants, vitamins, proteins and phytochemicals (also known as "superfoods") have been all the rage to the U.S. population. This is especially prevalent as the New Year commences; many people make resolutions to get on a health kick.

One type of food that has the "super" seal is exotic fruit. According to the January 2013 issue of Time, odd-looking fruits with unheard-of names are the hottest food this year. For example, the pitaya fruit from Latin America was featured because it is high in fiber and antioxidants, helping reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.

Other emerging fruits include golden berry, baobab fruit and mangosteen. These fruits contain all sorts of nutritional benefits that somehow supernaturally transform our bodies. Although we all would like to believe in this supernatural transformation, it is not the case. "Superfruits" and "superfoods" are misleading to the public because they may not be as healthy as they seem.

A reason these fruits may not be as healthy is simply too much hype. The term "superfruit" is just used to label these natural products. According to Tufts University nutrition professor Jeffrey Blumberg, marketers, not the FDA, established the label "superfruit." Also, most of these exotic fruits are imported from other countries, which means they are expensive and high quality, and when people usually hear this, they automatically think it is worth consuming. On the contrary, marketers of these fruits use labels to make a profit.

Also, "superfruits" contain little to no additional health benefits compared with commonly eaten fruits. Blumberg stated that marketers trick the public into thinking these foods provide additional health benefits, such as more fiber, vitamins and antioxidants, which is not entirely true. Research has shown that these exotic fruits are just as healthy and contain the same nutrients as the everyday apple or banana.

Some "superfruits" may have additional benefits to specific areas in the body. For instance, lingonberry contains a photochemical called arbutin to fight urinary-tract infections. This is helpful, but it won't hurt sticking to pomegranates or cranberries, both of which help this problem and are easier to purchase.

Furthermore, just eating "superfruits" is not going to give you all the nutrition you need. Our society today is so wrapped up around the idea of quick-and-easy results and all-in-one products that it's no wonder many people are willing to buy "superfruits," thinking they will get everything eating one kind of food. Contrary to what most of the public thinks, "superfruits" are not the only component in keeping healthy; exercise, variety in diet, and other factors also contribute to the wellbeing of our bodies. We need balance.

Lastly, the entire "superfruit" frenzy is just another trend in today's culture. This is seen with celebrities and their current diet strategies, including exotic fruit. One example of a trending "superfruit" was the acai berry around 2009. This fruit and its products used by celebrities, such as Oprah Winfrey and Rachel Ray, are known for helping weight loss and providing the largest amount of antioxidants.

However, David Schardt of the Center for Science in Public Interest supports that this is probably not true. Acai berry has been exceedingly popular because the public sees this Amazonian fruit as more appealing than the strawberries we see everyday. These trends blind the public from thinking about what they are actually eating and how it will affect their bodies.

The way I see it, our society is so focused on trends and products to stay fit and healthy. We often go after quick fixes like "superfruits" to essentially provide what our bodies need but we shouldn't go about life in this way. Instead, we should have balance and variety with our food. So, why not think of every fruit we eat as a powerhouse of certain nutrients rather than thinking one is better than the other?

TERISHA GAMBOA is a graduating senior in the public health policy program at UC Irvine.

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