The Myth Of Superfoods

by | Sep 24, 2012
Blueberries

Blueberries

The term “superfood” gets thrown around a lot, usually by the media or somebody selling something. But more often than not it sends the wrong message about healthy eating, and only serves to fuel the fire of nutritionism.

Superfood refers to an edible plant (e.g. blueberries) or animal (e.g. salmon) that contains high levels of a particular nutrient (antioxidants! omega-3s!) that can supposedly help with a certain health issue. When something gets labeled as a superfood, most of us will automatically assume that it is extra super duper healthy and we should go out of our way to eat more of it. Not that we will, but maybe we’ll try to try and eat more.

To their credit, the superfoods I’ve seen are usually legit healthy foods. They tend to be berries, greens, fish and other natural ingredients. In other words, I haven’t seen any reports that Vitaminwater is a superfood and actually really good for you.

But is there really some list of magical foods that will save you from certain death? Probably not.

Obviously nutrients are important, but large doses of them from either food or supplements are almost never associated with added benefits. That is because the way our body deals with micronutrients is not linear (more does not mean better). Instead there is typically an ideal dose range for a given nutrient where too little is bad and too much is also bad, but any reasonable quantity is pretty darn good. Think of Goldilocks finding the perfect porridge temperature and bed softness. In normal ranges your nutrient levels will be just right, freeing you to continue snooping around strangers’ homes (or whatever).

Though it is hard to overdose on whole foods, it is possible. But more important, eating a lot of one kind of food almost certainly won’t give you any health advantage. If you’re eating something that means you aren’t eating something else, and in Western cultures what we’re really lacking is nutrient diversity.

The vast majority of our diets are made up of the same handful of foods that we eat over and over again. Even people who make legitimate efforts to eat healthy have rather limited diets if their fruit and vegetable purchases come from standard supermarkets. Throwing blueberries in there every now and then can only add so much.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands of important nutrients (vitamins, antioxidants, etc.) in our diets, and the reality is we probably don’t know what all of them are, let alone what functions they serve in our bodies. The problem gets even more complex when you factor in the context of our genes, environment and other foods we consume.

Each natural food contributes its own unique blend of nutrients. If you want to get the most from your diet, you’re much better off focusing on dietary diversity rather than loading up on the top 10 foods some magazine says you should eat more of.

All that being said, it does make me happy when lowly, forgotten vegetables like beets and lima beans get featured in the New York Times. Vegetables need all the press they can get, and it’s true that most people don’t eat enough vegetables period. Any article that encourages you to try a new kind of food is a good thing.

Keep in mind that if you see a food labeled “super” you should take it with a grain of salt, because the reality is that all natural foods are superfoods. The ones that make the news just happen to be those that some reporter decided to shine her spotlight on for the time being. Who knows what vegetable will land in the spotlight tomorrow?

What are your favorite unsung superfoods?

Originally published August 11, 2010.

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10 Ways To Make Your Salad More Satisfying

by | Jul 18, 2012
Quinoa Salad

Quinoa Salad

One of my favorite things about the arrival of summer is all the beautiful, crisp salad greens at the farmers market. I absolutely love to eat salads, but how can you turn a salad into a full meal that is truly satisfying?

The trick is to make sure you add enough protein, fat and carbohydrates to your salad so it is still a perfectly balanced meal.

There are dozens of healthy additions you can use to make your salad more filling and delicious. Here are 10 of my favorites.

10 Ways To Make Your Salad More Satisfying

  • Warm ingredients Grilled or sauteed onions, peppers, mushrooms and meats wilt salad greens and make them slightly warm, adding depth and character to an otherwise boring salad.
  • Brown rice Adding 1/2 cup of warm rice to a salad makes it more satisfying to eat and keeps you full for longer. Use single serving rice balls and this simple addition will add less than 2 minutes to your salad prep time.
  • Nuts Walnuts and sliced almonds are my favorite, but feel free to try pecans, cashews, peanuts, pumpkin seeds or anything else that sounds interesting.
  • Beans Chickpeas, black beans, edamame and other legumes are inexpensive and delicious sources of protein and fiber to add some substance to a salad.
  • Avocado Half an avocado is sometimes exactly what a salad needs to take it to the next level.
  • Smoked salmon For a slightly more upscale salad experience top your greens with a few slices of smoked salmon.
  • Quinoa Mix in a small amount of quinoa as an accent or make it the base of a salad by adding cooked or raw veggies and greens. See my Mexican-style quinoa salad recipe.
  • Grilled meats Your salad is a great place for summertime BBQ leftovers.
  • Egg Boiled, fried or poached, an egg is a wonderful way to make your salad more substantial. See my Summer salad with poached egg recipe.
  • Sardines Canned fish is one of the easiest ways to get extra protein and omega-3 oils in your salad. Here are 6 reasons to eat more sardines.

How do you make your salads more hearty?

This article was originally published June 8, 2009.

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For The Love Of Food

by | Mar 30, 2012

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

Before we get to this week’s top stories I want to announce that I’ll be out of the country for the next two weeks (going to Japan, suggestions welcome!) for my first non-work related vacation in about 5 years (woohoo!). I’ve worked hard to get a full two weeks of new blog posts scheduled for while I’m away, but unfortunately the Friday link posts and farmers market updates will have to wait until I get back.

This week, a wonderful (and true) fish story, lots of bad science, and some interesting news about diet soda.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Digg. I also share links on Twitter (@summertomato), Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

Links of the week

 What inspired you this week?

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5 Tips For Buying The Freshest & Most Sustainable Salmon

by | Jun 13, 2011
Wild Alaskan Salmon

Wild Alaskan Salmon

Natalie Mann is the founder of Ambrolio Foods, a website dedicated to delicious and healthy foods. A nutritionist with a degree from Cornell University, Natalie has spent decades working in the food industry. As a parent with two sons, she also has firsthand experience with finicky eaters, dairy allergies, and gluten intolerance.

5 Tips for Buying the Freshest & Most Sustainable Salmon

by Natalie Mann

Buying salmon used to be easy.

Fresh-fished salmon was abundant, prices were reasonable, and warnings about overfishing, water pollution, and PCBs weren’t making headlines.

In 2011, all that has changed.

More than half of the salmon purchased in the United States comes from fish raised in man-made farms. Prices are much higher, and sustainability and safety are pressing concerns.

To lend insight into your next salmon purchase, here’s a quick guide for buying the freshest and most sustainable salmon possible.

5 Tips For Buying The Best Salmon

1. Fresh fish, including salmon, should NOT smell.

If the fish counter and surrounding area smells ‘fishy,’ walk away and don’t make a purchase.

If you don’t detect any odors at the counter, but your salmon smells fishy when you open the package at home, return it.

2. Fresh salmon should glisten, not look dull.

Salmon should look bright and shiny. Its flesh should be firm, clean, and evenly colored. Natural white marbling on the fish is an indicator of good omega-3 fatty acids. (See photo)

3. Wild Alaskan salmon is the most eco-friendly.

Many resources, including the Environmental Defense Fund, cite wild Alaskan salmon as the most sustainable choice. Fresh, frozen at sea, and canned salmon from Alaska are all good options.

4. Fresh, wild Alaskan salmon is a seasonal item.

In Alaska, the salmon fishing season starts in May and ends by late-October. Outside of this time you will only find good smoked or canned salmon.

5. Farmed Atlantic salmon should be avoided.

Farmed salmon are raised in large, densely packed pens that pollute surrounding waters with waste and chemicals. In addition, farmed salmon are more prone to illness in crowded net-pens, and antibiotics are often used to treat disease.

Farmed salmon have elevated levels of PCBs. The Environmental Defense Fund has issued a warning to limit the consumption of Atlantic salmon. This warning pertains to everyone, but is particularly important for young children. See the EDF site for specific details.

Conclusions

  • In 2011, our salmon choices impact our oceans as well as our bodies.
  • At the seafood counter, ask questions. Farmed or wild? Previously frozen? How fresh – delivered when?
  • At restaurants, ask if the salmon is delivered daily and whether it’s wild or farmed.

What do you consider when buying salmon?

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