The wellness industry is one of the biggest, fastest growing markets in the country. This is great for the seeker of optimum health, but it’s a double-edged sword—among some of the most nutritious foods and supplements are mediocre ones that had a great PR team. We’ve all likely also encountered superfoods that are good for you, just not for the reason you think. Here are a few popular superfoods, and what they actually mean for your health.
Collagen is a healthy source of protein, plus it’s easily digestible. However, the jury is out on whether consuming collagen supplements actually helps your body produce collagen. Spoiler: it doesn’t. Finding a straight answer here is tricky, as many studies on collagen are funded by the companies that produce collagen supplements, which can indicate bias.
In short, our body uses amino acids to synthesize our own collagen, particularly the amino acids proline, lysine, and glycine. Consuming hydrolyzed collagen (also called collagen peptides) can help boost our body’s collagen production, but only because the body is converting that collagen into the required amino acids anyway. Our take? Collagen is a great source of protein, but when it comes to skin, bone, and joint health, there are easier, better ways to boost collagen synthesis. One of the simplest is committing to a healthy diet that’s low in sugar and refined carbs, both of which can damage existing collagen.
If you’ve dabbled in herbal medicine (or ever set foot in a Whole Foods), you’ve likely heard of adaptogens. For the uninitiated, adaptogens are a classification of foods that are big in herbal medicine for “adapting” to what your body needs at that moment. With nomenclature like this, they’re often touted as being able to address a myriad of health issues with minimal effort on the part of the consumer.
While many may classify adaptogens as a buzzy marketing term, a 2010 study found that adaptogens do decrease fatigue, mental burnout, and stress, and help to sharpen focus and attention. So while they should not be treated as a magical cure-all, adaptogens do have scientific backing when it comes to improving neurological and physical health. Popular adaptogens include ashwagandha, maca, ginseng, and various types of mushrooms like chaga, reishi, and cordyceps. As with all herbs and supplements, it’s best to check with your doctor before incorporating adaptogens into your diet.
“Antioxidant” may well be the buzziest of buzzwords. In many ways, they’re a marketer’s dream. Many healthy foods naturally contain a moderate to high level of antioxidants, so it’s easy to label a product as “high in antioxidants” as a selling point when it may or may not be particularly good for you to begin with. That hard kombucha you’re drinking? Maybe not the best source.
With that said, antioxidants are incredibly important to our health—they boost cell health, help prevent serious disease, and aid in longevity. The caveat is that they’re not a standalone magic bullet, and antioxidant supplements aren’t going to have the same effect as a diet consisting of whole foods rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and naturally occurring antioxidants. If you’re looking for an antioxidant boost, your best bet is to first dial in your diet, and then supplement with antioxidants that have various additional health benefits, such as anti-inflammatory properties.