My task was simple enough. Research superfoods, try them out for a week and see if I felt any more … well, super. What I found was that while marketing and promoting certain foods as “super” is a thriving scene, the truth about food in general is a bit subtler and less glamorous. Eating smarter and, as a result, feeling super is a more appropriate approach to nutrition, but the hype surrounding superfoods is so great that I was compelled to explore what, if any, the gains would be of a targeted eating regimen. Turns out my wife, now, really hates our blender.
The term superfood began to surface some time around 2007, derived from a description of certain superfruits, like Brazilian açaí and Indonesian mangosteen, which started making their way into American health food stores and markets. Congruent research continues to show no particular super qualities, per se, in either of those exotic fruits. Just like blueberries and strawberries, all fruit, in fact, is nothing more than a plant’s attempt at reproduction. Still, the term superfood had to be more than just a marketing ploy, I thought.
After a brief study of the Internet provided a good list of superfoods and the benefits each claims to provide, I purchased a few with the intent of starting each of the next seven days with a superfood shake. That’s a thing, right? Sure. I purchased some acai berries as an antioxidant (I’ll show those stupid oxidants what’s what), hemp seeds as an immune booster, cocoa powder to lower blood pressure, kale for urinary health and kefir, a tart, fermented milk drink, good for digestion.
Our morning alarm was replaced by the obtrusive whir of a blender firing at 7 a.m., much to the chagrin of my sleep-deprived wife and my frightened 3-year-old son. The way I saw it, if I was going to get healthy, well, then, the whole family had to be in on it. Each shake was a green concoction of less-than-desirable flavor and consistency, but I was determined to become a superman.
The fervor that coursed through my veins on Day One and Day Two had waned a bit by Day Three. I couldn’t tell if I was feeling better or more energized, but the cold I had been wrangling with the week before was abating and, psychologically, I was doing something great for my body. Still, I needed some sound, scientific reinforcement to get me through the remaining days of my week-long pledge of sludge-chugging. I reached out to an actual dietician.
“I can’t say that I have ever used the term ‘superfoods’ in my practice,” says Cynthia Hartman, a registered dietitian at Life Care Center of Jacksonville. The disclaimer: Cynthia is a friend and I asked her to be as real with me as possible about what I was doing, yet the frank resolution of her tone deflated my hopes that I would be able to leap tall buildings (in a single bound) by the end of the week.
She continues, “There are benefits to all common food choices of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean proteins, grains and dairy.” Sensing my dismay, she placated me by sharing that kale and spinach do have a good nutrient profile. “I encourage people to have a wide variety of foods that are nutritious. There is no one product, food or shake that supports the claim of having a super quality,” she added.
I still had to make it to the end of the week with my shakes, so I pressed her for tips and hints on better eating overall. “Good nutrition is based on a person’s history and eating patterns. As a general rule, though, the more raw or lightly steamed vegetable and raw fruit a person consumes, the less room for garbage junk food that person will have,” Cynthia shared. OK, I thought, at least my shakes were preventing my usual mid-morning cravings for croissants and cookies. That was all the validation I needed to complete my task. Cynthia added that water may be the only real superfood, not because it adds nutrients to our bodies, but because when properly consumed, it flushes out so many of the toxins we otherwise ingest.
Days Five, Six and Seven were a breeze. I concocted my shakes in the morning, included grains like quinoa and barley into my lunch and dinner, and minimized the cookie intake. After the experiment ended, I genuinely felt better in both mind and body, the former inducing the latter. My wife has since destroyed our blender with a bat, however.