What is a Superfood ?
In the quest for healthy eating one word comes up again and again. This word has become synonymous with abundance of health. Often times, this word is associated with foods that grow in remote regions of the world. People seek out these foods and try to consume them daily, paying little mind to the trouble they have to go through to get their hands on them. The word I speak of is: ‘Superfood’. Many people look for these foods in health food stores, fancy grocery stores and of course, online. Foods such as Goji Berry, Spirulina, Chlorella, Wheatgrass, Camu camu, Lucuma, Maca, Raw Cacao, Chia Seeds and Quinoa have made the list over and over. Other than an exotic name, what makes a food super? According to Google the definition of a superfood is: a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being. Interestingly enough, that definition seems to describe many ubiquitous foods, not just the exotic foods listed above.
This left me wondering, why are people looking to far away lands for healthy foods when we have plenty of Superfoods growing all around us. Foods such as blueberries, salmon, beans, nuts, eggs, kale, spinach, avocados, apples, garlic, pomegranates, and even red wine can be considered superfoods. All of these foods contain large amounts of nutrients which are considered beneficial to our health. So why buy Goji Berries when you can more easily find (and often afford) Blueberries? I believe several reasons are at play:
- People are generally looking for a quick fix. They hear about some exotic new fruit and assume that it must be the answer to their health concerns. People have made millions of dollars by ‘discovering’ a fruit in the rainforest, creating a ‘study’ to prove it’s efficacy, and then selling it in the marketplace to people looking for a quick way to health! Problem is, these studies are generally skewed to make it look like the results are promising, however, all too often this is very misleading.
- The second reason (I believe) we are drawn to these exotic superfoods is location. We look around us and see that people are generally unhealthy, we are bombarded with commercials for junky fast food and faster junk food. Most people live in cities, surrounded by buildings and very small plats of green land. We assume that truly healthy food can’t come from anywhere near these cities. We look at photos of the tropics where the land is less tampered with and the people all look happy (at least in photos) and we think, I want to be there! I want to feel as happy as they look, I want to experience the land they live on and the food they eat. We associate these places with clean living (and vacation) so therefore if the natives are eating ‘x’ food, it must be good for you.
- Third reason is media. We eat these foods because the tv and radio ads tell us to. For example, we hear commercials about how the Okinawan’s, on average, live to be a healthy 100 years old. We want that too. The commercials tell us it’s their diet, so the first thing we do, is try to emulate it. Not with whole foods per say, but with a capsule that, in theory, contains all the necessary foods in a healthy Okinawan Diet. We look for a superfood food/ pill that the media says will get us to 100 years old, or will help us drop weight, avoid cancer, fix our aching joints or cure whatever ails us.
- The last reason I want to mention, is the most frustrating of all for me. Actually, I am guessing it is frustrating for many people. We don’t like to think that the answer to good health is right under our noses. It’s hard to accept that we have the tools we need for good health all around us. This is not to say that there aren’t plenty of great foods outside of a 100 mile radius of our home, what I am saying is, we could live a long healthy life simply by eating local ‘superfoods’ rather than outsourcing our foods from a mountaintop on a very remote island.
What are these superfoods? Are there really foods around us that can rival foods like Goji Berries and Camu Camu. YES! These foods can be found at your local farmers markets, they can be grown in your backyard, you can even buy them at the supermarket!
- Green Leafy Vegetables- These are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals. They have been shown to protect against many illnesses, including, cardiovascular disease, memory and vision loss and arthritis. Green leafy vegetables can even keep you looking younger!
- Blueberries- They might be small in size, but these berries pack in the antioxidants. Blueberries have been shown to be beneficial for our nervous systems and brain health. Blueberries protect us from oxidative stress, this doesn’t simply affect our heart health but it affects our entire body, from our muscles to our skin, from our bones to our organs, blueberries are definitely a super food!
- Sweet Potato- These orange (or purple) potatoes contain large amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C and beta carotene. They have been shown to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities. When eating a sweet potato, fat should be added, this allows the full effects of the beta carotene.
- Broccoli- Rich in vitamin K, vitamin C, chromium and folate. Cooked Broccoli has been shown to lower cholesterol levels and can help our body to detoxify.
- Apples- An apple a day is said to keep the doctor away. While apples contain vitamins, fiber and other phytonutrients, one of the biggest benefits of apples is the affect they have on our intestinal bacterial. Apples have been shown to increase beneficial bacteria in our large intestine. Our gut flora (bacteria) has a huge impact on everything that happens in our body, from food digestion to our thoughts, keeping the bacteria in proper balance is crucial to a happy healthy life!
- Grass Fed Beef- Many people think of superfoods as a plant. However, grass-fed beef contains considerably more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than it’s grain fed counterpart. Beef is rich in B12, this vitamin cannot be found in any plant sources. Vegetarians should be sure to supplement with B12.
- Eggs- Eggs have been touted as natures perfect food for quite some time. Eggs are considered one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. They have been shown to raise good (HDL) cholesterol and they contain choline, a very important nutrient used to build cell membranes. The antioxidants found in eggs can counteract eye degeneration.
I hope what you take away from this VERY limited list of foods, is that superfoods aren’t only found growing in tropical climates, and they aren’t always hard to come by. With a little effort, you can even grow many of these foods in your own yard (or in pots if you don’t have a yard). Before you give up on eating superfoods because your local grocery store doesn’t carry Maca, pick up a pint of blueberries, a bunch of kale or a dozen eggs, you will find many of the same health benefits eating local foods as you find on that tropical island!