What’s a Superfood Anyway

 

While most of us can agree that the idea of a “superfood” is supposed to be something that is good for our health, you might be surprised to find out there’s no real consensus about what defines a super food.

Superfood is a term that gets thrown around a lot. Sometimes it pertains to berries, other times you see it ascribed to grains or seeds, and there’s no shortage of packaged and processed snack foods that are touting the superfood label.

But a unique study by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease sought to define what really is a superfood.

Now, these researchers steered clear of the somewhat controversial term “superfood” and decided instead to call their subject matters “powerhouse fruits and vegetables”. And what they did was to study the relative nutrient density of 47 different pieces of produce to analyze which ones were PFVs (powerhouse fruits and vegetables).

To qualify as a PFV, a fruit or vegetable had to have 10% or more daily value per 100 calories of 17 different qualifying nutrients. Based on the nutrient analysis, here are the top 10 “powerhouse fruits and vegetables”, ranked in order from highest nutrient density score:

  1. Watercress
  2. Chinese cabbage
  3. Chard
  4. Beet green
  5. Spinach
  6. Chicory
  7. Leaf lettuce
  8. Parsley
  9. Romaine lettuce
  10. Collard greens

You might have noticed a pattern here – that these are mostly dark green leafy vegetables. If you’re looking for an area where you can make an improvement in the nutrient density of your diet, try adding more greens to your meals. You can do so in salads, stews, sautéed or even ground up and mixed into patties to help cut meat when you’re enjoying burgers or meatloaf.

To see the rest of the PFV list of fruits and vegetables and their rankings, check out the CDC article here.

When Vegetarian Diets go Bad

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the benefits – and drawbacks – of a primarily plant-based diet.

A recent article in the New York Times buy Jane E. Brody entitled “Good Vegan, Bad Vegan” brought some of these issues to light. Her article was based on opinions about and feedback from another popular publication, the documentary “What the Health“, a controversial movie with many questionable premises billing itself as “The Health Movie Health Organizations Don’t Want You to See”.

Brody points out in her article some of the same points that many dietitians and other nutrition and health advocates regularly repeat, that even vegetarian diets, if not properly planned and balanced can be unhealthy.

Take this sample vegetarian meal “plan” for example:

  • Sugary cereal with vanilla (sweetened) soy milk for breakfast
  • White pasta with pesto and high-sodium canned soup for lunch
  • Refined white carb crackers and salty soy cheese for snack
  • Grilled vegan cheese sandwich on white bread with canned green beans for dinner

Now of course this menu is a big exaggerated…but you get the point: there are no animal foods in that diet, but there is a ton of added sugar, salt, and refined white carbs that also aren’t so great for you either. Not enough fiber either…

While cutting back on your reliance on animal protein can be good for your health – and the environment – there are certainly ways to incorporate small amounts of animal foods responsibly in a diet that is well-balanced!

  • If you’re a heavy meat-eater, try making at least one day a week meatless. (Check out meatlessmonday.com for inspiration)
  • Focus on plants you can eat MORE of – aim for at least one serving of fruits and/or vegetables every time you sit down for a meal or snack
  • Be picky about processed food – don’t forget that even processed vegetarian foods can be devoid of important nutrients or have high amounts of added sugar and/or salt