Superfoods: Fact or Fiction?
By Avance Care Registered Dietitian Grace Burton, MS, RD, LDN
Many of you have probably heard of the term “superfood”. The word has been used to describe various foods such as kale, berries, sweet potatoes, salmon, quinoa, and avocados. It can lead one to believe that by eating any one of these foods, they will consume magical disease-fighting nutrients and receive overall life-changing health benefits. But is there any truth to this? The answer is complicated. For one, the term “superfood” is not evidence based at all – it is purely for marketing purposes and internet hype. No one single food item can provide all of those promised powerful components on its own. Basically, adding kale to your morning smoothie isn’t going to make up for a diet of fast food for lunch and dinner most days of the week. Don’t get me wrong, the foods typically advertised as superfoods do provide many important health-promoting nutrients and antioxidants when eaten as part of a balanced diet. So instead of fixating on including a few specific foods in your diet, it is important to prioritize getting a wide variety of foods and colors to ensure an adequate balance of vitamins and minerals. Following the “MyPlate” method when planning meals is a way to consume more of a balanced diet. Aim to have a lean protein on ¼ of the plate, a whole grain on ¼ of the plate, and fruit and non-starchy vegetables on the other ½ of the plate.
Choose lean meats, such as skinless chicken and turkey, fish (especially salmon and tuna), and at least 90% lean ground beef. Limit high fat red meats and processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, and hotdogs. Low-fat dairy and eggs are also great sources of lean protein. Try adding a plant-based meal to the weekly rotation using proteins like beans, lentils, nuts and/or nut butters.
When eating grains like bread, pasta, and rice, aim to choose the whole grain options (such as whole wheat bread or pasta, brown rice, oats, or quinoa) at least ½ of the time. Whole grains provide fiber, which can promote weight loss and it plays an important role in promoting more optimal blood sugar and cholesterol levels. The fiber gets removed when making white, refined grains, which is why the whole grain sources are preferred. It’s like taking $20 out of your wallet and replacing it with a $5 bill. As part of the grain section of the plate, you can also opt for starchy vegetables, like potatoes, corn, and peas.
Eat the Rainbow: Fruits & Veggies
Try to include something colorful on your plate and aim to eat a variety of colors – reds, oranges, yellows, greens, blues, purples. The different colors provide different phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
Red: apples, bell peppers, cranberries, cherries, grapes, plums, raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, watermelon
Orange: bell peppers, carrots, oranges, pumpkin, squash (such as acorn or butternut), sweet potatoes
Yellow: apples, bananas, bell peppers, pineapple, summer squash
Green: apples, bell peppers, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cucumbers, dark green leafy veggies (such as spinach, kale, turnip or collard greens, swiss chard), green beans, zucchini
Blue/Purple: blackberries, blueberries, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, grapes, plums, potatoes
Healthy, Unsaturated Fats
Adding a healthy source of fat to each meal promotes heart health and can contribute to improved cholesterol levels. Try cooking with olive or canola oil or using oil-based salad dressings in place of creamy options. Additional sources of healthy fat include avocado, nuts, nut butters, and/or seeds, such as flax or chia seeds.
The bottom line is that “superfoods” don’t exist on their own. There are so many nutrient-dense foods that should be consumed as part of a balanced diet. Choosing a variety of colorful foods in addition to lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats will ensure an adequate balance of nutrients. For more help with healthy eating and consuming a balanced diet, call to schedule an appointment with an Avance Care registered dietitian by calling (919) 237-1337, option 4 or visit our website: https://avancenutrition.com/.
Grace is a registered dietitian working at the Wake Forest and Northeast Raleigh locations. In her free time, she enjoys playing with her new puppy, Lucy. She also likes to run, and especially likes doing races in other cities because it gives her an excuse to visit new places. She loves trying new restaurants, spending time with family and friends, and cheering on the NC State Wolfpack at football and basketball games.