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Superfoods Uncovered: Who is Behind this Nutritional Catchphrase?

You’ve seen the term on blogs, on websites and in the news. Health Magazine used it in America’s Healthiest Superfoods for Women, and it has been used by Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Oz, on WebMD, in Better Homes & Gardens and by a host of nutritionists. The term is superfoods, and if it conjures images of fruits and veggies in capes and spandex tights fighting nutritional evil, you’re not far off.

Of course, we love foods that offer efficient, high-potency nutrition. But we wanted to know: who is behind this powerful, high-octane, health-affirming term?

Foods That Will Change Your Life

We tracked the buzzword to its point of origin and found Steven Pratt MD, best-selling author, ocular surgeon, and healthcare, nutrition and lifestyle specialist. In his groundbreaking 2004 book, SuperFoods Rx: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life, Dr. Pratt stated that he had uncovered the key nutrient-rich foods that play a significant role in achieving optimal health. It became the Superfoods List, a touchstone for healthy eating, disease prevention, and longevity, and included foods such as wild salmon, tomatoes, walnuts, turkey, and blueberries.

Pratt had been researching longevity-enhancing nutrients. In 2004, scientists were just beginning to understand the field of nutrigenomics, that is, how food can control genes. He back-tracked from nutrients to the foods that contained them, seeking only those with tremendous amounts of polyphenols, a substance with antioxidant characteristics.

Foods like blueberries, particularly wild blueberries, fit the bill. They were chosen for their incredibly high levels of antioxidant phytonutrients, which have been proven to help prevent and, in some cases, reverse the well-known effects of aging, including cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, hypertension and certain cancers. Blueberries’ position on the Superfoods list began to turn people’s attention from the more traditional healthy fruits toward this mega-healthy fruit. The Superfoods buzz was on.

It’s been six years since SuperFoods Rx (which Pratt followed with SuperHealth: 6 Simple Steps, 6 Easy Weeks, 1 Longer, Healthier Life) and the foods on Pratt’s list continue to be acknowledged as having a high impact on health. It’s no surprise that fruits and vegetables figure prominently – Pratt has referred to the produce and frozen foods section of the supermarket “the best pharmacy in the world.” But fruits and vegetables are complemented by foods like honey, cinnamon, garlic, and dark chocolate. Now, a half-ounce of dark chocolate per day is a common recommendation for a healthy diet.

Superfood Synergy

Superfoods represent whole foods that are simple on the surface, but internally complex and packed with nutrients. They also represent foods that work together to up the ante on health through synergy: According to Pratt, food synergy refers to the interaction of two or more nutrients and other healthful substances in foods that work together to achieve an effect that each is individually unable to match, and it is critical to health. That’s why he is a proponent of bathing healthy meals in berries, combining wild blueberries with low fat yogurt, or adding walnuts to an avocado salad. When you do, the nutrition intensity skyrockets.

The taste skyrockets as well. Superfoods are not just purveyors of high health and low calories. It was important to Pratt that they also be tasty. He wanted his list to sound appetizing – and it does! Just reading the Superfoods List is a reminder of how delicious healthy eating can be!

Read an interview with Superfoods Guru Dr. Steven Pratt.

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