From Pomegranate to Probiotics Understanding ‘Superfood’ Claims
Food labels may include healthy-sounding buzzwords about potential benefits. Here's what you need to know to make sense of these claims.
Antioxidants are a subgroup of vitamins and other nutrients that are in most fruits, vegetables and herbs. They protect cells from illness and disease.
Adding pomegranate or cranberry to packaged foods is a popular way to associate them with antioxidant benefits. Breakfast cereal boxes tout their added vitamins and minerals, too. But nutritionists agree that processed foods, even those fortified with antioxidants and other nutrients, are no substitute for the more potent nourishment of fresh fruits or vegetables.
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria your body needs to stay healthy. These "good bacteria" fight off illness-causing bacteria in the gut, the body's largest immune organ. Probiotics have always been present in yogurt and some other dairy products. They are often referred to as "active cultures." While probiotics have positive health benefits for both adults and children, many of the products promoting probiotics also include excess amounts of sugar. Yogurts with less than 6 to 9 grams of sugar per serving are ideal.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that have been studied and linked to significant cardiovascular benefit. But there are two different sources of these fatty acids: those derived from plants like walnuts or flaxseed oil and those derived from fish sources like salmon, herring and sardines. The omega 3s derived from fish provide much greater cardiovascular benefit. When you see frozen waffles or buttery spreads advertising omega-3s, those are typically referring to the cheaper, less potent plant-based version.