Superfoods: The Culprits
Bananas: Believe It or Not… the First Superfood
The first known use of marketing strategies to advance the sales based on health benefits of any food in the United States was bananas, no doubt.
This takes us back to (drumroll)… just after World War I. American corporation United Fruit Company traded in several tropical fruits, but their principal exploit was bananas. They began promoting their food value and daily convenience, highlighting its use combined with cereal for breakfast, salads for lunch, and fried as the optimum side with meat for dinner. The real breakthrough, however, was their endorsement, a few years later, by the American Medical Association.
Bananas are rated for high levels of fiber, potassium, and vitamins C and B6. Purportedly, they lower blood pressure and fight hypertension. Despite these benefits, nutritionists still debate their health value. They are high on carbohydrates, with a single banana packing up to 27g of carbs and 14g of sugar. Therefore, they are definitely not recommended for low-carb diets and, spiking up blood sugar levels, they may cause problems for diabetics. Finally, contrary to belief, their potassium content is rather low. You will find that beans, milk, apricots or bell peppers are a much better source. In the Top 12 Healthful Fruits chart published recently by Medical News Today, it ranks only number 10, the first five spots headlined almost entirely by citrus fruits¾lemons, strawberries, oranges, limes, and grapefruit.
Quinoa: All the Hype Today
The most fashionable seed today, the hype was largely unleashed by celebrities claiming it helped reduce cholesterol and guaranteed weight loss. One of its compounds, saponin, is said to alter the permeability of the intestine, but no studies have yet confirmed this boon or allow us to draw any solid conclusions. One of the studies paraded continuously was performed in Brazil on ONLY 35 women!!!
Expert dietician and nutritionist Julio Basulto states, “Quinoa is a health food but not a healing food. It has the properties of whole grains, making it much healthier than white bread, but it’s a big stretch to state it has therapeutic properties.”
It is a source of protein, but not nearly enough to cover recommended daily intake. If you are packing the daily protein only with quinoa, you should also know that 2 cups contain almost 450 calories, so… nobody says you can’t keep having it, but think about bringing much need protein into your system with more suitable substitutes, such as garbanzo beans, cottage cheese, fish, meat, tofu or eggs.
Chia Seeds, Of Course
They are a fabulous source of Omega-3 ¾17 g in every 3.5 oz, much more than salmon¾, helping reduce cardiovascular disease and depression. However, medical science reveals: (1) you rarely eat 3.5 oz of this food supplement in one helping; and, (2) more importantly, the human body needs to convert its fatty acids to reap its awesome cardiovascular benefits. But, during this conversion process, they lose much of their effectiveness and, with it, the benefits of its nutrients and other beneficial components. Crushed and powdered would definitely help the conversion.
The Almighty Kale
Myth or Truth? Let’s break it down.
Truth: It is good for you. Although this is true of almost all other vegetables, one cup packs all the vitamins A and C you’ll need in a day, plus iron, vitamin K, Omega-3 and antioxidants. Also, only 36 calories, 5g of fiber, and no fat. As with all fiber-rich foods, it helps with Diabetes types 1 and 2 and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Myth: Eating kale raw is not mandatory. In fact, it is bitter and hard to chew on, so for better results try it in a smoothie or sautéed with garlic. It will not detoxify you. That is the function of liver and kidneys and no miracle edible (this one is a cruciferous vegetable) can substitute for that. Finally, kale did not top the charts in the nutrient density study performed by William Patterson University in 2014. It wasn’t even in the top ten! Romaine lettuce, spinach, chives and parsley outscored kale, as is the case with its brassica oleracea cousins, namely, cauliflower, cabbage and brussel sprouts.
Promising news came in the form of a 2012 research study performed on 93,000 women [now compare this to the 35 upstairs!] It concluded that participants who had 3 or more servings of blueberries per week had a 32% lower risk of heart attack than those who just had one serving per month.
Blueberries (strawberries, raspberries and other red fruits, as well) have high levels of antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins, the very stuff we thought did the trick. However, only a very small proportion enters the bloodstream. So, the truth is we do not know, as of yet, if it’s the product of the decomposition of anthocyanins that brings the benefits or if these compounds act directly on our intestinal ecosystem.
The science is stubborn, and yet, as we have seen, our scientific intelligence changes from time to time. So what we held true in the past isn’t necessarily what we know to be true today. In 1991, scientists from the National Institute on Aging and the USDA unearthed a rating tool called the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC). It measured the antioxidant capability of foods. Antioxidants are compounds produced by your body and found in foods that defend your cells from potentially harmful molecules known as free radicals. The resulting database pushed foods with high ORAC scores, such as cocoa, berries, spices, and legumes; blueberries were specifically promoted as disease fighters even when the science was weak. In 2011, the USDA retracted the information and deleted the database after concluding that antioxidants have myriad functions, many unrelated to free radical activity. Still, blueberry production doubled from 1998-2006 and continues to grow to this date.
Turmeric, seaweed, pea protein, edamame, etc. You will find a host of useful information on reputed medical journals and blogs on and offline.
As promised, the next and last chapter of this 3-part entry will discuss specific Nutrition Myths that have to do with spurious attitudes, behaviors or commonly held beliefs towards food and its components.