*Disclaimer: Nutrition WOD is not affiliated with CrossFit, Inc.
In this blog, we discuss
- some of the common foods that show up on superfood lists
- why this label ultimately doesn't matter to your nutrition plan
- and our own improved definition
As Americans, we love putting labels on our food like Natural, Wild Caught, and Free Range. These labels are not backed by science or law and are usually marketing tricks to lure the customer in. The newest kid on the block?
With zero actual meaning, the term can be used by just about anyone to mean just about anything. This definitely presents a problem when you are looking at a food package and in big bold green letters it says "Superfood."
The Popular Group of Superfoods
Just type the word into Google and you will get at least 10 different blogs telling you the hottest and most effective superfoods you must eat for a healthy diet and nutrition lifestyle. These popular lists tout everything from longer life to antioxidants and more. While each list varies, there are a few foods that seem to make most lists.
Blueberries are great and we love them too. Especially in the summer time when we freeze them and use them as cool treats. While blueberries are certainly a great fruit, so are fruits in general. Our suggestion is pick blueberries yourself and eat them in season. If you don't live in an area where they grow, buy the frozen variety picked in South America and you will get the same great nutrients.
Everybody loves to put this green on their list, and for good reason. Kale is packed with vitamins and minerals. Except, all dark leafy greens that will give you these nutrients. So if you don't like the taste of kale, try Swiss chard or collards.
Salmon and Sardines
Known for their high Omega-3 fatty acids, these fish are a great nutrient dense food. Make sure you know where the fish came from and whether or not it was farm raised. Since studies have shown that farm-raised fish have higher omega-6's and less omega-3's, location matters. Since labels like "Wild Caught" are not regulated, you should look for the label "Marine Stewardship Council Certified Sustainable Food." This standard is "designed to assess if a fishery is well-managed and sustainable."
Better known as the bean where chocolate comes from, we definitely use unsweetened cacao powder daily. In fact, cacoa is part of our most popular protein shake recipes. It is packed with antioxidants and minerals, but finding a quality source is difficult. Plus, we noticed some of our clients jumping (fairly quickly) from the benefits of raw unprocessed cacao to assuming 60% chocolate is also a superfood.
As Lee Corso would say, "Not so fast, my friend."
We suggest staying above 85% cocoa if you want to get the positive health benefits.
Why it doesn't really matter
With so many definitions out there and multiple lists, superfood became another marketing tool used by food companies to get you to buy their product. They all use key words like "Studies suggest", "Believed to be" and "Lower risk" to make sure they cover their tracks.
Are we saying blueberries or salmon aren't important? Of course not!
They, along with many other nutrient dense foods, should be an integral part of a healthy lifestyle.
We believe that super-food means different things to different people depending on where they are in their nutrition journey. For example, many of our athletes have just started to look at nutrition and its importance to overall health. So swapping their processed food out for any non-starchy vegetable will make that vegetable a super-food for them.
Getting hung up on eating kale versus eating more vegetables in general is a waste of time and energy.
For people in our Tier 2: Personalization group who are already eating, making swaps like eating spinach instead of iceberg lettuce makes spinach their superfood. Both greens are better than not eating any vegetables at all, but spinach is nutritionally a better option.
In our last tier: Performance Optimization, most of the better nutrient swaps have already happened. These athletes are making small changes and tweaks to their highly personalized nutrition plan to see if it helps or hurts their performance. So a superfood in this group will be whatever works for each individual. If kale causes GI distress and Swiss chard doesn't, swapping to the latter makes Swiss chard their superfood. Amanda has to avoid blueberries due to reflux after eating them, so she makes sure to incorporate other berries like raspberries or blackberries instead.
How Do We Define a Superfood?
We define a superfood as Any food swap that is nutrient dense and moves a person closer to performance optimization.
Don't get caught up on lists like the 10 hottest superfoods in 2016 or Superfoods you must eat today because these lists are not talking directly to you and are not taking into consideration all of the elements that make your nutrition lifestyle unique. Let the stress of trying to follow everyone else go and focus on your next most important goal.