Our love of quick, targeted solutions doesn’t work with nutrition
I don’t really hate superfoods. I hate the idea of superfoods. The whole concept of superfoods flies in the face of a fundamental tenet of healthy eating: variety. The truth is that health comes from a varied diet, not from any individual food.
We humans are omnivores. More than just meaning that we eat both animal and plant-based foods, being an omnivore means we thrive on a wide variety of foods. And that is not just eating all the food groups.* It also means eating a variety within each of the food groups.
Superfoods generally earn their rating based on their outstanding nutritional density. That means they contain an above average amount nutrients for each calorie consumed. That is a good thing. By and large, foods designated as superfoods are particularly strong in one particular nutrient. For example, blueberries and dark chocolate are strong in antioxidants; salmon, avocados and walnuts are strong in healthy fats; and oats are strong in soluble fiber.
But humans do not thrive on a short list of outstanding foods, we thrive on a diverse diet of many nutritious foods. Blueberries are a great fruit, but it is way better to eat various berries and melons and vine fruit and citrus fruit and tropical fruit and apples and pears and on and on. Spinach is a great leafy green, but eating spinach and kale and chard and collard over the course of a week is much better.
Then there is the short list of exotic sounding and very expensive foods such as acai, gogi and noni. According to advertising, eating these promises improved health, but the truth is that health comes from a varied diet, not from any individual food.
The path to good nutrition is wide, not narrow
Americans are enamored with short lists; five steps to love, ten steps to a great job, seven steps to a flat belly. The concept of superfoods feeds into that narrow strategy to health. Eat these five foods and you will be healthy. It just isn’t so.
I recently read an article that posed, then answered the question: “Which is the best nut to eat.” Unfortunately they answered the question: “almonds.” The correct answer would have been: “all of them, in moderation.”
So, do your best to include all the food groups every day and a variety within each food group over the course of a week. Certainly include those nutrient dense superfoods if you want, but I’d suggest thinking twice about paying crazy high prices for exotic sounding foods from far away.
*Skip some food groups for medical or ethical reasons, but you need to know what you are doing.