“Super-food” seems to be the latest buzzword in the world of nutrition, but what exactly are these super-foods and do we have to go to faraway, exotic places to get them?
Super-foods are simply foods that are nutritionally dense (i.e., chock-full of nutrients) and, yes, some do come from exotic places. Fortunately, many super-foods are also available in our part of the world, some in our own backyards. These locally-sourced super-foods are bursting with nutrients and, therefore, are very good for us. In fact, it can be argued that, from an ecological point of view, when we purchase super-foods from faraway places - things like exotic fruits and berries that have been dried out and sometimes powdered, packaged, and then shipped half way across the world - we are contributing to the world’s carbon footprint (e.g. pollution from processing, shipping, etc.).
From a financial point of view, super-foods that are shipped in from far and wide tend to be the most expensive. So, for those of us on a budget, isn’t it better to try and get the majority of our super-foods locally? What exactly are these super-foods? For the purpose of today’s article, I am focusing specifically on vegetables and fruits – although, of course, there are many other types of super-foods such as - nuts, seeds, grains, herbs, spices, etc., that come complete with their own, essential super-nutrients and are part of a balanced diet.
I believe it was Gabriel Cousens who first wrote about the need for us to “eat the rainbow” of vegetables and fruits, and that still stands as very good advice, nutritionally speaking, today. If we incorporate a variety of different coloured whole vegetables and fruits into our diet – ones that are grown in our own region – every day of the week, then we can be sure that we are getting a number of different (and much needed) vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. This is especially true if at least some of these foods are consumed raw or sprouted!
Because they offer their own unique and different nutrients, we can pretty much think of all vegetables and fruits as super-foods. The important thing to remember is that we get more out of these super-foods if we consume the ‘whole’ food as opposed to changing its composition through deep frying or over-cooking, refining, or over-processing them. In other words, a good quality complex carbohydrate-rich vegetable like the humble white potato (of which there are many different varieties) baked or boiled in its skin (or raw juiced) contains nutrients such as potassium, iron, magnesium, sodium, some B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, etc., along with phytochemicals such as alpha lipoic acid, beta carotene, and don’t forget the fiber (and the list goes on)! Compare this to so-called ‘natural’ potatoes that have been dehydrated, put into a cardboard box, and called ‘instant mashed potatoes’. Or potatoes that have been pre-cooked in damaging vegetable oils and sold to us as French fries or potato chips, etc., we might as well be looking at almost two different species! This kind of processing makes them higher on the glycemic index and depletes them of many of the nutrients mentioned that come in the unrefined/unprocessed potato.
And while we are on the subject of potatoes, please note that the best are organically grown without the use of pesticides/herbicides. Also, be wary of a green tint to the skins – an indication of solanine – a toxin. Some people with arthritis (though not all) find that they do best to avoid potatoes and other (or all) of the nightshade vegetables (eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, etc). The rest of us can benefit from their many nutrients. Because we are all unique - ‘biochemically individual’ - which foods sit well with us and which don’t will vary from person to person, so be sure to listen to what your body is telling you.
We are fortunate enough in our part of the world to be able to grow so many nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits. Things like carrots, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, onions, fennel, cucumber, chard, garlic, many types of berries (blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries – all of which can be frozen in peak season and enjoyed year round), apples of many varieties … in fact, far too many foods to name here. These are all very potent foods when it comes to preventing (and even fighting) many diseases. They all contain various nutrients and compounds which all play a role in contributing what the body needs for optimal health and wellness.
At the end of the day, most of us don’t need to become experts at nutrition in terms of knowing exactly what foods contain which nutrients and their many and various compounds (some foods have hundreds of them and it would be almost impossible to learn them all … never mind the fact that the scientists are still learning about them and discovering more each day)! All that is really vital to know is that we need to get a variety of these nutrients and we do that by simply eating a variety of whole, fresh foods in as natural a state as possible. In an ideal world, we would get them locally - since the least distance they have to travel, the fresher they will be (and usually the cheaper too). So, if you find yourself feeling deprived because you can’t afford the latest super-food out of Peru – just look around your own maritime community and know that we are rich in an abundance of our own super-foods! The next time you see a rainbow – think whole, fresh super-foods as being the precious pot of gold at the end of it!
In good super-food health – until next time.
Healthy Habits is written by Jane Claxton-Oldfield MDN. Jane is an instructor for the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition – Moncton branch. firstname.lastname@example.org