Yoga and Nutrition
« On milk, bodies, and bones | Main | New research on obesity and breast cancer »
Friday
Sep122014

Superfoods and Everyday Heroes

I’d like to retire the word “superfood.”

I don’t think a select few vegetables and fruits are the end-all and be-all. This isn’t to say kale and blueberries aren’t healthful and delicious. But choosing a variety of whole plant foods as part of a balanced diet is what’s key. Are goji berries better than apples? Are chia seeds better than pumpkin seeds? Not necessarily.

Our bodies work best when we support them with a heterogeneous array of foods. We need a wide variety of nutrients for optimal physiologic function. I would argue that we are better off eating many different foods that naturally contain different nutrients than focusing on a handful of foods that are extremely high in select nutrients.

Interestingly, even within a particular group of foods, there are variations in nutrients and phytochemicals (many of which I’m convinced we are still in the very early stages of understanding). Take green vegetables. Spinach, kale, bok choy, collards, chard, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts have similarities, but they’re not nutritional clones. Bok choy, for instance is a great source of bioavailable calcium, whereas the calcium in spinach is less abundant and less absorbable.

Getting too much of certain compounds can be just as harmful as not getting enough. This usually isn’t a concern unless an individual is taking vitamin or mineral supplement pills, but it is certainly possible. In a case that received wide attention earlier this year, a woman described how juicing large quantities of raw kale, flax, and certain other “superfoods” contributed to a thyroid imbalance. This may be an extreme example, but it makes a point: More isn’t always better.

Furthermore, if any given food contains a certain contaminant, either natural or synthetic, our bodies can eliminate that uninvited guest more easily if we’re eating that food twice a week versus twice a day.

It’s also best for the environment if we embrace diversity in our diets. Consider the acai berry, native to Brazil, and lately hailed as superfood. Since the demand for this fruit has skyrocketed, traditional harvesting techniques are no longer sufficient to meet market needs. This may result in clear-cutting of rich, biodiverse swathes of rainforest to make room for a single crop that is currently more financially profitable. One Brazilian agronomist calls this a “form of green deforestation.” We simply don’t know the ultimate expense.

Nutrition aside, choosing lots of different foods is just plain more enjoyable than focusing on only the rock stars. The same way I wouldn’t want to live in a world with only superheroes, I wouldn’t want to live in a world with only “superfoods.” How sad, to never experience the crunch of Romaine lettuce on a sandwich, the sweetness of fresh oranges and green grapes, or the tang of a Vidalia onion! I’ve never heard these referred to as superfoods, but they certainly add joy to my diet.

Ironman and Superman are sexy. But I’d rather have dinner with with my best friend, walk along the beach with my mom, and snuggle on the couch with my cat than with any superhero.

Let’s agree that ALL vegetables and fruits are heros: valuable, scrumptious, and yes, super.

 

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.