Insights & Actions for Healthy Living
Are Super Foods Really Super? How Do I Know Which Are?

Are Super Foods Really Super? How Do I Know Which Are?

We are bombarded from all sides about what we should and shouldn’t be eating.

Eating this food will cure that disease! Stop eating this if you want to live forever!

It seems like the claims many so-called experts toss out may give us exactly the result we are looking for only to find out that it was too good to be true.

How do we really know if a food is super or a new product the cure? We have to trust our judgement and hold our money tight before we make any sudden moves toward the next best thing.

We should also learn about the foundation these claims are based upon so that we know through science that foods are nutritious and beneficial to our health.

Giving Super Food a Place at Our Table

As a dietitian, I am always curious about which foods are going to be this year’s superfood. I personally enjoy eating a wide variety of foods fresh and frozen with the least amount of processing (by this I mean added ingredients) as possible.

My radar also goes up because I am aware of the nutrient content of foods and the chemical makeup of the food we all eat and how it can contribute or detract from our overall health.

I may be more skeptical than others because of my nutrition knowledge.

That being said, I eat most of the foods touted as super just because I enjoy them and they are already part of my menus. In fact, I grow some previously touted super foods in my garden because I like them such as blueberries.

Super Food Criteria

When considering whether a particular super food will make it to my table to try it for myself, I carefully consider these criteria.

  • One of the first important tests a super food must pass to get to the table is whether the food is available to me where I live and shop for food or do I have to become Sherlock Holmes to get a hold of it.
  • The next criteria is whether or not it costs a fortune or if it is a reasonable value based on comparable foods such as other produce. If the true health benefits aren’t proven by research why would I pay an arm and a leg for one serving of a super food?
  • Another criteria for me is whether others in my family will eat this special super food if I buy and prepare it. After all, my time and money will be wasted if no one will eat it. Does it taste good?
  • Yet another important consideration is how I will prepare this super food. Is it easy to use? Can I cook with it and incorporate it into what I usually make for meals? Will it store well or spoil quickly before I can get it to the plate?
  • The scientist in me would also like to know if this super food has any proven health benefits as claimed, is it backed by any data and will it be harmful to me or my family based on our personal health conditions. An example would be kale for those taking blood thinners. Just because it is a on a super food list, does that make it healthy to eat unlimited quantities when in fact the vitamin K content could interfere with anti-coagulant medication?

Latest Super Foods

The latest super food list that has been reported to provide health benefits and has recently been promoted to seniors as part of AARP is as follows:

  • Freekah – young roasted green wheat, high in protein and fiber, cooks quicker than rice and substitutes for quinoa, artisanal; use in soup, salad, breakfast, side dish
  • Kalettes – new hybrid of kale and Brussel sprouts, flavor sweet and nutty; use raw or cooked
  • Chia seeds – tiny black seed, source of healthy fat and fiber, antioxidants; use raw, in juice, sprinkled on food or cooked into recipe
  • Hemp milk – obtained from soaking hemp seeds in water, Omega 3 Fatty Acid source; nutty flavor
  • Matcha – green powder of green tea leaves; used to increase metabolism, expensive; used in tea, ice cream and food flavoring
  • Adzuki beans – good source of protein and fiber, nutty taste; bean paste used in many dishes, beans used in soups and side dishes, eaten sprouted
  • Beets – source of vitamins and minerals, properties may help reduce blood pressure, flavonoid compounds to help in several health conditions
  • Cherries – fruit that helps with pain and inflammation such as gout; tart cherries have anthocyanins
  • Avocado – source of monounsaturated healthy fat, anti-inflammatory properties; many food uses
  • Fermented foods such as kimchee, sauerkraut and miso – probiotic properties that helps with gastrointestinal health

Should We Be Eating Super Foods?

Looking through my list, I am not sure how many of these latest super foods will meet my criteria. Many are touted as health cures without a great deal of evidence.

When untrained people push these superfoods as cure-alls, it makes me wonder.

Some of these super foods I eat occasionally but could include more often into my menus such as beets, cherries, avocado and sauerkraut. They are all readily available at reasonable prices.

I love fresh cherries and will eat them in season. Cherry juices are more and more available so I could indulge more with that source of cherries since I don’t have to wait for them to be in season.

We eat guacamole and I love avocado on my sandwich but don’t eat either daily or even weekly. I could increase the amount of times I serve that throughout the week.

Sauerkraut is a traditional food for my family and we eat it as part of a traditional family meal but probably not once a month. I suppose I could increase the number of times I include it on the menu.

I love beets in all forms, pickled, sliced, in a salad, or in a sweet Harvard sauce. Do I eat them every day or even every week? No again. I could include a form of them every week at dinner.

I have not really seen freekah, matcha, hemp milk, adzuki beans or kalettes at my supermarket yet. How about you? Perhaps they are coming or hiding or simply not available due to demand.

Chia seeds are on the store shelf and I know many people add them to foods. I haven’t gotten into using them only because I am not yet sure how I would incorporate them into the food I currently prepare or if my family would be accepting. This is definitely something to consider adding to my recipes.

Choosing Your Super Foods

The biggest drawback is knowing how often I need to eat them. How much is enough to see a benefit? What if I add each of these ten items to a week’s menus roughly once a week? Will that give me the beneficial health effects I seek? More than likely to see an actual change in health outcomes these foods would need to be eaten more than once a day every day for a long time. Can any of us achieve that?

I would be happy enough knowing that I served healthy foods, fresh foods and a great variety of different foods to myself and my family because we enjoy eating them. By incorporating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains into my menus I know I will be getting optimal nutrition every day.

I will eat super foods because I find them super and they fit into my lifestyle. I don’t have to search the city, state or globe to get fresh, wholesome foods for my family. I just have to be a wise consumer who learns all I can about the food I buy to be sure it is healthy and nutrient rich.

Eating a particular food every day, every meal just because someone says it is super likely won’t keep me healthy. I need to eat right as a whole, exercise, reduce stress, drink plenty of water, sleep well, and maintain a healthy weight in order to keep my “whole” healthy. My body is complex and needs a complex approach to health not just one super food.

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