Spend more than a minute online, and you’re sure to see a superfood claim. Goji berries, kale, avocado, or the latest, pineapple, are touted as the cure to all your problems. It sounds wonderful- just think, you can undo the damage of a poor
diet or sedentary lifestyle by eating just one magical food!
Unfortunately, as is often the case with such things, this claim is too good to be true. Nutrition is a complicated process. The body has hundreds of active processes at any given time, each requiring a specific balance of vitamins, minerals, and other biological compounds. The same goes for protein, carbohydrates, and fats, which the body uses for many purposes including energy and building new tissue.
That isn’t to say that these foods are not good for you. Most of these superstars have been highlighted for a reason- they tend to offer a particularly good blend of nutrients. But the bottom line is that every food has a different nutrient profile that will satisfy a portion of the body’s needs, but cannot meet them all. Diversity is key. As the American Heart Association points out, a single “superfood” here and there will not negate a poor overall diet.
Let’s look at an example. A one-cup serving of leafy green kale will provide approximately a full day’s worth of vitamin K. Great, right? Well, yes, sort of. But remember that the body utilizes 13 different vitamins and minerals. Where can you get the other from? Here’s where diversity comes in. Maybe kale doesn’t provide much vitamin C- but an orange does. Or if you want to cash in on the benefits of antioxidants, you might turn to a handful of fresh berries instead.
So, it becomes clear that the key to a healthy diet is including a wide variety of foods. Perhaps this news is a bit of a let down- after all, isn’t it easier to remember just one food instead of many?! The good news is that while nutrition is complicated, your diet doesn’t have to be. When you eat a variety of foods, it’s safe to say you are getting the majority of the nutrients your body needs without having to count calories or study nutrient profiles. Your body is really good at knowing what it needs and utilizing the highest potential of the foods you consume.
Of course, maybe you want to gain a deeper understanding, or target your diet for a particular goal such as a marathon or managing an illness. Perhaps you’d like to explore the benefits of eating organic. Just turn to a dietetic professional, such as a registered dietitian, and they will help you navigate the literature and gossip about nutrition. With their help, you can figure out how to consume a balanced diet full of beneficial nutrients and compounds. And there’s no need to miss the taste of junk food- health food with no flavor is another myth! There are thousands of recipes at our fingertips that prepare nutrient-dense food in delightful and delicious ways. And of course, who doesn’t enjoy a cookie as a treat now and then?!
So go ahead and enjoy your superfoods- just be sure to mix them up! As the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics encourages, you can incorporate a variety of healthy foods, such as whole grains, lean meats and fish, dark leafy vegetables and fresh fruits. Use these items in place of saturated foods or heavily salted processed foods. Remember that foods aren’t good or bad, per se. They just have different nutrient profiles.
Find an interesting new recipe and have at it. Or try out those weird tubers you’re always wondering about in the grocery store. You won’t regret it!
Sarah Martin, BSC DEP Class of 2019
“Basic Report: 11233, Kale, raw.” Food Composition Databases Show Foods — Kale, raw, USDA, May 2016, ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/2983?fgcd=&manu=&lfacet=&format=&count=&max=50&offset=&sort=default&order=asc&qlookup=kale&ds=&qt=&qp=&qa=&qn=&q=&ing=.
“Eating Right Isn’t Complicated.” http://www.eatright.org, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 7 Jan. 2016, www.eatright.org/resource/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate/eating-right-isnt-complicated.
What’s so super about superfoods?, American Heart Association, www.heart.org/HEARTORG/ HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/HealthyDietGoals/Whats-so-super-about-superfoods_UCM_457937_Article.jsp#.Wd4KnEuGO3B.