How Super Are Superfoods?

avocado-713094_640While scrolling down your Facebook newsfeed, you may have come across an article or two claiming that if you eat a certain food you will magically lose weight. Whether posted by a friend or sponsored by the site, it seems now more than ever, health has become trendy like never before. With summer in full swing, many people are on the lookout for the next big health trend to keep them swim suit ready with ease. One of this year’s trends is to incorporate “superfoods” into one’s diets, some of the most popular being kale, chia seeds and avocado. Although these foods do provide nutrients necessary for a healthy diet, it can be hard not to question whether or not these foods are truly as super as the media is making them out to be.

Super Foods, Super Marketing

Superfood is not an official nutritional term. It was actually created by marketers as a way to brand certain foods that are particularly rich in one or two nutrients. “We are a culture looking for a cure all, a magic bullet that contains all the health benefits we need,” says Kimberly Dong, a registered dietician and Food and Nutrition Professor at Emerson College. “That’s why this marketing works. When there’s wide spread public interest in these foods, the prices go up.”

The problem is that these foods are not the cure all that marketers try to make them out to be.  “If you have poor lifestyle habits such as a lack of exercise or bad hygiene, eating superfoods will not prevent you from being unhealthy,” says Dong. It is okay to incorporate them into your diet, but you shouldn’t rely on them as being the main source for all of your health needs. It is important to eat a variety from all of the different food groups and get the nutrients you need from more than one source.

Emerson student, Caroline Glass, 19, has successfully incorporated superfoods into her diet while still maintaining a healthy balance and variety. The junior communication sciences and disorders major says, “I read a lot of health news about superfoods so I wanted to try them. I assumed that since I was reading and hearing so much about them, the things they were saying must have been true.” She eats kale, chia seeds and avocado, and although she’s not quite sure what they do to her body, she knows they are good for her. “I eat them mostly for their taste, but it doesn’t hurt that they are healthy too.”

Kale, Chia Seeds and Avocado, Oh My!

Kale has been getting a lot of hype lately with many people trading in their spinach salads to test out this chic green vegetable. In addition to tossing it in with other leafy greens, it has also been popular to incorporate it into different juices and shakes, a trend that Pressed, a juice bar in the Beacon Hill area of Boston, has been able to profit from. Of the nine juices and superfood shakes they have listed on the menu, four contain kale as a main ingredient. “Kale is incredibly high in iron. In fact, [five cups of kale] have as much iron in [them] as a [1/4 pound] hamburger,” says Ashley Gleeson, one of the owners of Pressed. Perhaps, that’s what makes this vegetable so appealing, especially for those who are vegetarians or vegans. While other leafy greens, such as broccoli or spinach contain iron, they do not have the same concentration found in kale.

Iron is not the only nutrient found in kale, however. In an email, Elizabeth Avery, a clinical dietician and sports nutritionist at Emerson College, says, “Kale is high in vitamin K which is important for blood clotting and bone metabolism, beta carotene which is necessary for normal vision, gene expression, reproduction, embryonic development, and immune function, and vitamin C, an antioxidant.” It also contains indole-3-carbinol, which has been found to aid in DNA repair and may even help prevent cancer.

download (11)Chia seeds are another superfood that many people have heard they should be eating, but are still unclear on what exactly it is they do. Emerson’s Glass says, “I don’t know why but I’ve noticed such a difference in my energy levels. When I eat chia seeds, I don’t need to drink coffee.” In addition to being a great source of energy, chia seeds also contain protein, fiber and omega 3s, a heart healthy fatty acid, but that’s not all.

“Chia seeds are encased in a type of jelly that sticks to toxins and removes them from your body,” says Gleeson, owner of Pressed. It’s hard not to be impressed with all of the health benefits of these tiny seeds, but again, it is important to look at the bigger picture, and remember that none of these health benefits really matter, if you are not eating a balanced diet.

Avery, a registered dietician, says, “People benefit most from the synergistic effects of a broad spectrum of nutrients from a wide variety of foods, not a few nutrients from a few specific foods. [These] superfoods only provide a fraction of the nutrients that humans need to maintain their health.” Eating these foods will not cancel out the effects of the unhealthy foods you eat nor will they provide all the nutrient benefits of the healthy foods that may be lacking from your diet.

Emerson student, Rachael Samson, 19, has always enjoyed eating avocados and was happy to learn about all of their health benefits when she took a Food and Nutrition class last fall. The film major says, “I eat avocados because they are really filling and I like the taste of them, but I know they are healthy too. We learned in class that they are the good kind of fat that is heart healthy.”

Aside from that fact that they provide the kind of fat that our body needs, Avery says, “Avocados are good sources of unsaturated fat, vitamin K, folate, a B vitamin that prevents megaloblastic anemia and aids in amino acid metabolism and vitamin C.” Regardless, many people like Samson, eat them simply because they are delicious. They have a creamy, rich texture and are a good way to spice up your diet if you’re looking for a different kind of fruit. However, be aware that due to their fat content, they are high in calories with one avocado having 300-400 calories.

Health is the New Black

In these past few years, there has been a clear shift away from extreme, crash diets towards healthier, superfood fads. But why does it seem like people are more aware of their health than ever before? Pressed’s owner, Gleeson says, “Honestly, I think people have been watching their parents’ health as they’ve aged and it’s made them more conscious. They are starting to realize that they not only want to look better but they want to feel better too.”

Trying to add a superfood or two into your diet isn’t going to hurt and it will probably even do more good than harm. Just don’t forget about the other foods and nutrients your body needs aswell. Emerson’s Glass says, “You shouldn’t need to change your diet a lot to add in these superfoods. That being said, if you do add them in, remember that they don’t cancel out any unhealthy things you may be eating, and you still need to eat a variety of foods to maintain a balanced diet.”

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