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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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Farmers Market Update: Fruit!

by | Jun 5, 2011
Sweetest Strawberries Ever

Sweetest Strawberries Ever

I don’t usually buy a lot of fruit. It’s not that I don’t like it, I think it’s wonderful. But it tends to be much more expensive than vegetables. And it’s also hard to get soft fruit home without smashing it.

But today, I couldn’t help myself.

Similar to last week, the cherries were just way too good to pass up.

Ranier Cherries

Ranier Cherries

But I also realized that I hadn’t even tried any of the newer fruit in the market, like these amazing blueberries. I sampled a few, and knew some would be coming home with me.

Delicious Blueberries

Delicious Blueberries

Then there were the plums. I love plums, but like tomatoes they are one of those fruits that are so rarely good that you forget what real ones taste like. Until you try one.

Fruits

Fruits

I thought it was a bit early in the season for plums to be good, but I was wrong. These were as sweet and luscious as I’d ever tasted, and of course I had to get some.

Virctoria Heirloom Rhubarb

Virctoria Heirloom Rhubarb

Amazingly, I still had to restrict myself from buying strawberries, even more cherries, and also some peaches I found that were unseasonably delicious. But I did have to save some of my money to get vegetables.

Radishes

Radishes

I’m mostly enjoying salads these days. I like them with French radishes, carrots, sugar peas, spring onions and usually some quinoa or lentils.

Beautiful Treviso

Beautiful Treviso

I’m not ready to buy them yet, but summer vegetables are becoming more common as well.

Early Summer Squash

Early Summer Squash

The strangest thing I found at the market this week was fresh Japanese ume plums, which I’ve only ever seen pickled. I might pick some up next week so if any of you have a recipe I’d love to hear it.

Ume Plums

Ume Plums

Today’s purchases (~$50):

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Farmers Market Update: Best Cherries Ever

by | May 29, 2011
Mountain of Cherries

Mountain of Cherries

I’ve been doing this farmers market thing for awhile now, and I have to say that cherries are without a doubt some of the most difficult fruit to photograph. They’re so bright red that it washes out nearly every detail on the fruit, and drowns every other color in the frame.

Consequently I rarely feature my cherry images, and today would have been no different if I didn’t think leaving them out would be a crime. Because anyone who went to the San Francisco farmers market this weekend knows that the cherries were the star of the show.

Tasty Strawberries

Tasty Strawberries

And that’s no small feat this time of year. Today I tasted a strawberry so good I thought it had been injected with sugar, because it reminded me more of the sweetened agua fresca drinks from the taquerias in the Mission district than it did any natural fruit.

But still the cherries were better. Not only that, they’re better than they were last year and possibly the year before that. Honestly it was difficult to not buy some from every farm I stopped at, and I do regret not coming home with more. Don’t miss the cherries this year folks.

Brooks Cherries

Brooks Cherries

Of course there were other notable spring treats as well. Rhubarb is here, and before the season ends I’m determined to try to figure out how to use it. Most of the recipes I’ve seen for it are sweet, which I’m not so excited about. If you know of any good savory recipe, please let me know.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb

Generally all the spring vegetables are still amazing. I’m especially loving the sweet spring onions, though I’m normally not a huge onion person. This year I’m adding green onions to everything from eggs to salad. The leeks are excellent too.

Spring Vegetables

Spring Vegetables

Oddly even summer produce is starting to appear. I was stunned today to see watermelon and peppers this early in the season. The vendor told me it was from their farm in Southern California, which makes a bit more sense.

First Watermelon

First Watermelons

But as much as I love summer, I’m not ready to skip ahead just yet. I still haven’t tried any of these beautiful blueberries on my morning muesli.

Blueberries

Blueberries

Nor have I found anything to do with green almonds yet this season.

Green Almonds

Green Almonds

And the last of the citrus fruits shouldn’t be ignored either. This late in the season tangelos, navel oranges and kumquats are the best. Though we had some spectacular blood orange juice this weekend as well.

Kumquats

Kumquats

It’s truly an amazing time of year for the farmers market. Don’t miss it.

Big Tomatoes

Big Tomatoes

Today’s purchases:

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Farmers Market Update: Fruit Explosion

by | May 23, 2010
Apricots

Apricots

The San Francisco farmers market was a very different place this week compared to how I last saw it. Cherries, the first pitted stone fruit of the season, first appeared two weeks ago. But today fruit took over the market completely.

I must have tasted cherries from at least a dozen different growers this week, and they were all delicious. But the fruit explosion didn’t stop there. Apricots, peaches and nectarines were all available, and they tasted much better than I expected them to this early in the season. This week also marked the first appearance of local blueberries, which is very exciting.

First Blueberries

First Blueberries

White Nectarines

White Nectarines

The strawberries that had been somewhat elusive the past few weeks are now plentiful. And they are breathtaking.

Dirty Girl Strawberries

Dirty Girl Strawberries

If all this talk of berries and stone fruits is starting to sound like summer to you, I have some more good news. Summer squash is now available at the farmers market and looking delectable. I even found nopales (cactus petals), something that reminds me of the hot summers in Southern California.

Nopales

Nopales

First Summer Squash

First Summer Squash

I know all this is exciting, but let’s try to remember not to get too far ahead of ourselves. Spring is still dishing up delightful carrots, greens, peas, artichokes and delicacies such as green almonds. Enjoy them while you have the chance.

Fresh Almonds

Fresh Almonds

Little Carrots

Little Carrots

Today’s purchases:

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Farmers Market Update: BYOB (video post)

by | May 17, 2009

Bring your own bags is the new message from the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. As of next weekend, the Saturday farmers market at the Ferry Building will no longer be providing free plastic bags to shoppers. Instead they encourage you to bring your own bags or purchase the reusable or biodegradable BioBags they will be selling at the information booth. Their goal is to help the environment by cutting down plastic bag waste generated by the market.

The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) that runs the farmers market is leaving it up to individual vendors to decide how to deal with the change. Most of the vendors I spoke to will offer BioBags–some will provide them for free while others are charging $0.20 – 0.25 per bag. For your convenience you should plan on bringing a large tote bag to carry your items. For things like lettuces and berries, you should consider bringing your own small bags or expect to purchase environmentally friendly bags at the market.

Apricots and Strawberries

Apricots and Strawberries

Blueberries

Blueberries

The farmers market is a completely different place than it was just 4 weeks ago. You can still find delicate greens and spring garlic, but we now have all kinds of berries, cherries and other stone fruits that make it feel more like summer every day. Do yourself a favor and go find some blueberries from Triple Delight!

Also this week was the first appearance of my favorite frying peppers in the world, Pimientos de Padrón! I bought some and they were AMAZING. I love them early in the season because the spiciness level is perfect for me.

Bagged Padrones

Bagged Padrones

Colorful Heirloom Tomatoes

Colorful Heirloom Tomatoes

Maybe the best news of all is that the tomatoes are finally sweet! The heirloom I bought this week from Bruin Farms was the first of the season where I actually had trouble getting it from the cutting board to a serving bowl without eating it all first. I didn’t even need salt. That’s how you know it’s good 😉

Organic Artichokes

Organic Artichokes

Squash and Dandelion Greens

Squash and Dandelion Greens

Let me know how you guys like my second attempt at video. I didn’t have a camera man this time, so I limited the filming to my kitchen after I got home with all my goodies. Feedback welcome!!

Today’s purchases:

What did you find at the market?

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