Written by RanDee Anshutz, University of Delaware Dietetic Intern
If you’ve picked up a magazine, newspaper, or turned on the TV lately you’ve probably heard about a super food—that magical food which we should eat for brain power, ultimate health, or other claims. The arguments are so persuasive that we find ourselves left with two choices:
1. Go out and purchase a life time supply of blueberries (or Acai, or Broccoli, etc.) or…
2. Sit confused, pondering the truth about super foods, and wondering/worrying that we may be missing out if we don’t purchase that stockpile of the magic bullet.
Well worry and wonder no more! If you’ve stocked up, fine—don’t throw away your supply (but you may want to move some of it to the freezer for later use), and if you’re the pondering type look no further for the answers.
The solution to the mystery of whether super foods exist is: No. And Yes.
No, we haven’t reached the age (yet) where much like the Jetson’s we can push a button that says “dinner” and a pill will pop out that meets all of our needs. We are complex creatures and the process of nourishing our bodies is the same—complex. We require many nutrients, from Macro (think big) nutrients like carbohydrates, protein, and fat that come from different types of foods to Micro (think tiny) nutrients like vitamins and minerals that also come from a variety of foods. In order to meet the complex needs of our body we must consume all of these foods and attain all of these nutrients. You may be thinking: that’s a lot of food! But don’t worry; we are as efficient as we are complex, and are capable of storing nutrients for later use– but not eternally. Some vitamins and minerals are nutrients that we don’t have to consume every day, because our bodies are storing them. Instead a few times per week may suffice. If we were to jump on the wagon of the super food, and consume all things Acai all day every day, while we may be high in some nutrients we will soon be deficient (low) in others not to mention bored of eating the same food daily.
The American Dietetic Association has responded to the super food movement by stating, “It is more important for the public to eat a “super diet” than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health. A super diet is one that follows the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans on a daily basis. Rather than focusing on a single disease or food component, the Dietary Guidelines provide science-based advice to promote health and reduce overall risk for major chronic diseases through diet and physical activity (1).”
Here are some claims about a few current “super foods” and information on some foods of equal value:
Blueberries: Packed with antioxidants and phytoflavinoids, also high in potassium and vitamin C (2). So are pureed or pasted tomato products, and orange juice to name a few (3).
Kiwi fruit: High in vitamin C, also a good source of potassium, fiber, and vitamin A and E (4). Canned pumpkin is also a good source of vitamin A and E, fiber and potassium (3).
Acai Berry: full of antioxidants, amino acids and essential fatty acids (5). Many types of fish and nuts are also high in amino acids and essential fatty acids (3).
Yes, some foods are higher in specific nutrients than others. As mentioned above, macro and micronutrients come from a variety of foods; so while one food may be high in a specific nutrient it may be low or absent of another all together.
To stockpile or not to stockpile, that is the question.
It is not necessary to sign up for the super food of the month club and eat one food until your skin turns green (or blue, or red, or orange—which yes, orange can actually happen from severe carrot mania), but instead it is best to include those foods as part of a balanced diet. We need carbohydrates which come from grains, starches, and naturally occurring sugars in foods like fruit and dairy for energy and brain fuel. We need protein which comes from all foods except fruits (but higher levels exist in meats, beans, legumes, dairy products, and many grains) for cell strength and healing. We need fat—believe it or not– for protection of ALL cells, and it comes in many forms but the unsaturated that comes from non-meat sources are optimal (oils and nuts, nuts, nuts) as are omega-3 fatty acids from fish. And lastly we need a vast variety of minerals and vitamins—so taste the rainbow of fruits, vegetables, dairy products, whole grains, and lean protein sources!
- Hot Topics: Super Foods. American Dietetic Association. Available on-line at http://www.eatright.org/. Accessed March 26, 2010.
- “Superfoods Everyone Needs.” WebMD. Available on-line at http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/superfoods-everyone-needs. Accessed March 26, 2010.
- Foods listed by nutrients. USDA National Nutrient Database. Available on-line at http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=18877. Accessed March 26, 2010.
- 10 Every Day Superfoods. WebMD. Available on-line at http://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/10-everyday-super-foods?page=2. Accessed March 26, 2010.
- Dr. Perricone’s 10 Super Foods. Available on-line at http://www.oprah.com/health/Dr-Perricones-10-Superfoods. Accessed March 26, 2010.