The word “superfood” gets thrown around quite a bit these days. Turn on the latest episode of Dr. Oz and he’s likely talking about these latest trending so called foodstuffs that you’re probably familiar with… chlorella, spirulina, mangosteen, acai, turmeric and many more.
Why I Don’t Like Many So Called Superfoods
While some of these foods do have great potential qualities many haven’t been around long enough to obtain both scientific studies or even ancedotal evidence that consuming higher isolated amounts can be safe. Being that they are often times botanical in nature I would highly recommend exercising caution when using and make sure you know your source.
Most of these claimed superfoods are:
- Highly processed and/or isolated ingredients of botanicals not heavily tested
- Plant based (botanicals) that can have some serious side effects.
- Not nutrient dense in terms of their “completeness” of certain micro/marcro nutrients
Let’s look at what the current definition is:
a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being. (Oxford)
According to this definition many REAL foods could then be considered superfoods, right? I’m going to argue that many of these REAL foods that I will be talking about here are far more superior than many of the isolated foods listed above.
Let’s take a look of what some of these are:
Eggs – One of natures most perfect, nutrient dense foods, eggs provide a wide array of macro and micro nutrients that are largely situated in the yolk. In their non-commerically raised form (hens on pasture) they have a near equal omega 3 fatty acid to omega 6 fatty acid ratio which can help in combating bodily inflammation caused by everyday stressors. As I’ve written about here in the past pasture raised eggs are an extremely healthy addition to any diet and contrary to popular belief (with studies to back me) do not cause high cholesterol, heart disease or obesity and in fact can improve cholesterol (1). I generally consume 1-3 whole pastured raised eggs daily for this reason… plus, they’re just too good.
Fermented Foods – Extremely beneficial for overall gut and immune health fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kvass and kimchi are an easy addition to any diet. Loaded with healthy microflora such as lactobacillus or bifidobacterium (probiotics) fermented foods act as a catalyst in the digestive process by helping with the assimilation of micro and macro nutrients within the body, leading to increased overall health. Being that the fermentation process essentially pre-digests nutrients, these foods are often easier for even the most digestive intolerant individual.
For more info and resources on fermented foods:
Bone Broth – Typically a combination of bones and a mixture of meats that nobody wants to use in their everyday eating (think knuckle bones and chicken feet), bone broth is by far one of the healthiest, most nutrient dense foods one can consume. Extremely high in essential minerals like calcium and magnesium in an easily digested form as well as natural gelatin for gut healing bone broth is great for those looking to decrease gut inflammation and increase nutrient absorption. Possibly one of the best things about broth is the ease of making and the versatility of using. For an easy recipe on my version of chicken stock:
Organ Meats - Much like bone broth, organ meats until more recently had become a forgotten food being left off the dinner table for the far less nutritious and protein centric muscle meats. Up until the early 1900′s, organ meats were actually the most prized part of any meal with many cultures including some type at nearly every dish! Loaded with heart healthy fats, a huge array of vitamins and minerals, organ meats outrank some of the more known fruits and vegetables in terms of their nutrient density. Unfortunately with the low fat propaganda of the mid 1970′s – 2000′s many grew up without consuming or knowing how to prepare these highly nutritious foods. Thankfully many higher end restaurants are preserving these traditional dishes (pates, charcuterie etc) which is trickling down into the everyday chefs (me) kitchen. Shoot for a few ounces a couple times per week for the greatest benefits. Like everything else choose the highest quality options you can find.
For more resources on quality organ meats:
Traditional, Grass Fed and Pastured Meats
US Wellness Meats Traditional, Grass Fed and Pastured Meats
Grass Fed, Full Fat Dairy, preferably raw - While many claim lactose intolerance as the reason for not consuming dairy, my personal experience as well as that of many of my clients and patients I’ve worked with over the years shows it to be likely more an issue of dairy pasteurization and/or homogenization (dispersing fat molecules). These processes create an end product that is harder for the body to recognize therefore putting a burden on the digestive process. When switching to a full fat, grass fed and preferably raw diary source many of these intolerance claims fall by the wayside. Grass fed dairy includes many beneficial nutrients including vitamins A, D, K2, conjugated linoleic acid and in their fermented state beneficial micro organisms like lactobacilius and other beneficial enzymes.
For more information on where to find quality local dairy visit RealMilk.com
Leafy Green/Dark Vegetables - This one is likely more in line with many of the superfood lists you have seen in the past and include the usual suspects such as kale, mustards, spinach, collards and swiss chard, to name a few. They are loaded with a stunning array of nutrients as well as cancer fighting antioxidants. Including them at least once daily could greatly increase overall health.
Traditional Fats – While fats have gone through ups and downs in popularity they’ve always played a integral role in our biochemistry. Important to every cell in the body quality fats do everything from regulate and perpetuate electrical signals to protecting the immune and digestive systems. Unfortunately there has been plenty of confusion surrounding which are best to eat on a regular basis. Most focus on and consume too much mono and/or polyunsaturated fats (typically in the form of olive oil and nuts and seeds and highly processed commercial vegetable oils) with little emphasis on healthy saturated fats from animal meats and coconut/palm. Included in any healthy diet and forming the base of fat consumption should be the more traditional animals fats like grass fed butter, lard from pasture pigs, ghee (clarified butter) and coconut/palm oils.
Each highlighted fat below is a source that I both trust and use pesonal and for clients/patients.
In summary, superfoods are not some whacky far fetched isolated nutrients that you’ve never seen or heard of but instead are easily available everyday items that can be found at your local farmers market. Don’t buy into the hype of understudied potentially dangerous one hit supplement wonders. Stick to a diet with a wide array of these common nutrient dense traditional foods and your health will benefit greatly.