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“Superfood” is a marketing term, generally applied to expensive ingredients or foods that are not common in the Western diet, like chia seeds or acai berries. Typical claims for “superfoods” include rapid weight loss and the prevention or cure of disease. The term makes a lot of experts in nutrition crazy, because it encourages magical thinking about food and lopsided or wasteful food choices. The very idea is frequently debunked, although the value of some of the foods claimed to be super is still perfectly good.

Many of the foods that show up with this label have a good place in a healthful diet — they often contain vitamins or fiber (or both), for example, and are low in total calories. This doesn’t give them super powers, but you are certainly free to enjoy them as part of your diet. Marketing claims may encourage people to eat large amounts of specific “superfoods” (relative to their total intake), and that’s not a great idea with any food — a healthful diet should have a balance of nutrient sources, and a good way to achieve that is with variety.

If you are depending on “superfoods” to have a direct, predictable effect on your weight or on an illness, you should avoid them. While a healthful, balanced diet can improve health and help maintain a healthy weight, that can be achieved with plain old traditional, inexpensive fruits, vegetables, beans, meats, and whole grains.

If you learn about a “superfood” that sounds delicious, though, feel free to eat it. Combine “superfoods” with other ingredients. Enjoy them. Blueberries usually show up as a superfood at one point or another, for example, and they are delicious and nutritious. Other foods, like kale or crimini mushrooms, may be something you’ve never tried, and could be a fun experiment or turn into a new favorite.

It’s OK to use the “superfood” concept for your own purposes. If you’re new to mindful eating, you’re learning more about the nutritional value of different foods. There’s a lot to learn, and on the way, you will find that some foods are more versatile or enjoyable than others. (I recently had an experience with sweet potatoes that can best be described as “Where have you been all my life!”) Figure out your own “superfoods” — small snacks that really hit the spot, options that break out of the standard meat + potatoes or bag-o’-snacks template, and new ways to enjoy what you eat while getting the nutrition you need.

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