Spend more than a minute online, and you're sure to see a superfood claim. Goji berries, kale, avocado, pineapple and more are touted as the cure to all your problems. It sounds wonderful- just think, you can undo the damage of a junky diet or sedentary lifestyle by eating just one magical food!
Unfortunately, as is often the case with such things, this claim is too good to be true. Nutrition is a complicated process The body has hundreds of active processes at any given time, each requiring a specific blend of vitamins, minerals, and other biological compounds. The same goes for protein, carbohydrates, and fats, which the body uses for many purposes including energy and building new tissue.
That isn't to say that these foods are not good for you. Most of these superstars have been highlighted for a reason- they tend to offer a particularly good blend of nutrients. But the bottom line is that every foods has a different nutrient profile that will satisfy a portion of the body's needs, but cannot meet them all. Diversity is key. As the American Heart Association points out, a single "superfood" here and there will not negate a poor overall diet.
Let's look at an example. A one-cup serving of leafy green kale will provide approximately a full day's worth of vitamin K. Great, right? Well, yes, sort of. But remember that the body needs all thirteen vitamins and many more minerals. Where can you get the others from? Here's where diversity comes in. Maybe kale doesn't provide much vitamin C- but an orange does. Or if you want to cash in on the benefits of antioxidants as well, you might turn to a handful of fresh berries instead.
So, it becomes clear that the key to a healthy diet is including a wide variety of foods. Perhaps this news is a bit of a let down- after all, isn't it easier to remember just one food instead of many?! The good news is that while nutrition is complicated, your diet doesn't have to be. When you eat a variety of foods, it's safe to say you are getting the majority of the nutrients your body needs without having to count calories or study nutrient profiles. Your body is really good at knowing what it needs and utilizing the highest potential of the foods you consume.
Of course, maybe you want to gain a deeper understanding, or target your diet for a particular goal such as a marathon or managing an illness. Perhaps you'd like to explore the benefits of eating organic. Just turn to a dietetic professional, such as a dietitian, and they will help you navigate the literature and gossip about nutrition. And there's no need to miss the taste of junk food- health food with no flavor is another myth! There are thousands of recipes at our fingertips that provide nutrient dense meals in delightful and delicious forms.
Go ahead and enjoy your superfoods- just be sure to mix them up! As the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages, you can incorporate a variety of heathy foods, such as whole grains, lean meats and fish, dark leafy vegetables and fresh fruits. Use these items in place of saturated fats or heavily processed foods. Remember that foods aren't good or bad, per se. They just have different nutrient profiles.
So find an interesting new recipe and have at it! Or try out one of those weird-looking tubers you're always curious about in the grocery store. You won't regret it!