I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that I often get asked about the latest so-called superfood and whether or not it is as good as the interwebs say. The short answer is almost always “yes, it’s wonderful” because more times than not it’s a real food with lots of fabulous micronutrients, phytonutrients, fiber and/or healthy fats.
But, there are two key things to remember about superfoods…
1) There are innumerable “everyday” foods that are superfoods because they give our bodies what they want and need — nutrients.
We can get caught up in finding ways to add the latest superfood to our diets and forget that there are health benefits to every vegetable, fruit, legume, nut, seed, protein and good fat available to us (with the caveat that this is not true for you if you have an allergy, sensitivity or intolerance to a specific food).
To give you just a few examples: Carrots have beta-carotene, lutein and polyacetylenes which have been shown to support eyesight, boost the immune system, and protect against some cancers. Walnuts are rich in unsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E, and phytosterols, which is how they help reduce LDL cholesterol and inflammatory markers in the blood. Raisins contain polyphenols, phenolic acid, and tannins which are believed to be responsible for their ability to modulate sugar absorption and insulin response, affect biomarkers associated with oxidative stress, and promote feelings of satiety via hormonal control.
This isn’t to say that “superfoods” aren’t super, because they certainly are! Pomegranate juice and green tea support your mitochondria (the energy-making powerhouses within each of your cells). The water, milk and meat of the coconut have been shown to be antimicrobial, antioxidative, liver protective and immune stimulating. And curcumin (the most studied polyphenol in turmeric) has been proven to positively affect the signaling pathways associated with cancer, liver disease, kidney disease and autoimmunity.
But what I want you to understand is that the Venn diagram of real foods versus superfoods looks something like this:
Put simply, most real foods are superfoods. The few real foods that are not superfoods include things like processed sweeteners (even if they are natural, like cane or beet sugar) and fats which have gone rancid. However, this is a pretty small subset.
As a result, our focus should be on eating mostly, if not exclusively, real food, which leads to the second point…
2) If we stopped eating crap that’s made in a lab, we could stop searching for the hottest miracle food to cure what ails us.
Being healthy can be as much about what you don’t put into and on your body as what you do. There are numerous articles available about how chemicals are affecting our bodies. Some of my favorites include this list of 10 Crazy Obesity Triggers, this short video about the biochemical changes one family experienced when they started eating organic, and this article outlining how brain-toxic chemicals have lowered our collective IQ.
You see, we are constantly bombarded by chemicals in the food we eat, beverages we drink (including water), air we breathe and personal care products we use on our bodies.
Certainly, it would be nice if companies were sufficiently testing the chemicals they are producing, but they aren’t. According to a study by Neltner et al, almost 80% of chemicals in the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) database directly and intentionally added to food lack the information necessary to estimate the amount that we can safely eat.
As well, another review showed that glyphosate (the pesticide found in Round-up and used on GMO crops) usage can be correlated with the increased incidence of 22 different chronic diseases. This correlation is so strong, in fact, that last year the state of California declared its intent to list glyphosate as a carcinogen (i.e., cancer causing agent).
I could go on and on with examples about how many hundreds of chemicals are getting into our bodies and causing us loads of problems. But instead, let me sum it all up for you…
- Every single thing that enters your body has to be dealt with and either used, stored or eliminated.
- The more chemicals you purposely or inadvertently put into your body, the more your liver, immune system and other organs have to do in order to keep you healthy.
- The harder your body has to work at being healthy, the more macro, micro and phytonutrients (i.e., “superfoods”) you need to support it.
So, what can you do? Ditch the chemicals by reading the label of anything you put in and on your body. Eat real food as much as possible. And stop stressing about keeping up with the latest superfood trends, especially since we know stress is harmful to our health.
Oh, and if you want some inspiration to make these changes, check out my newsletter about all the chemicals I found in my personal care products and Matt’s blog post about slowing the flow of chemicals in his life.
Good luck, and stay happy and healthy!
 Sharma KD, Karki S, Thakur NS, Attri S. Chemical composition, functional properties and processing of carrot—a review
 Zaini RG, Brandt K, Clench MR, Le Maitre CL. Effects of bioactive compounds from carrots (Daucus carota L.), polyacetylenes, beta-carotene and lutein on human lymphoid leukaemia cells
 Damasceno NRT, Pérez-Heras A, Serra M, Cofan M, Sala-Vila A, Salas-Salvadó J, Ros E. Crossover study of diets enriched with virgin olive oil, walnuts or almonds. Effects on lipids and other cardiovascular risk markers
 Williamson G, Carughi A. Polyphenol content and health benefits of raisins
 DebMandal M, Mandal S. Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.: Arecaceae): in health promotion and disease prevention
 Gupta SC, Kismali G, Aggarwal BB. Curcumin, a component of turmeric: from farm to pharmacy
 Neltner TG, Alger HM, Leonard JE, Maffini MV. Data gaps in toxicity testing of chemicals allowed in food in the United States
 Swanson NL, Leu A, Abrahamson J, Wallet B. Genetically engineered crops, glyphosate and the deterioration of health in the United States of America
 Barajas-Ochoa, E. Proposition 65: Notice of Intent to List Chemicals by the Labor Code Mechanism: Tetrachlorvinphos, Parathion, Malathion, Glyphosate [09/04/15]
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