June 11, 2014

We have become accustomed to reading about the latest ‘superfoods’ every other week: one week it’s blueberries, then kale, chia, acai, or whatever. Food fads prompted by marketing or celebrity use can sway us into making food choices we otherwise would not be aware of. But is it worth it?

It’s an easy question, but there’s not such an easy answer. If the ‘superfood’ is something grown the way nature designed it, and is seasonal and local, it should be fine to eat if you enjoy it. Trying new foods and possibly adding variety to your meals could be a great outcome.

If you don’t like the food, though, or have to go too far out of your way – or too deep into your pocket – it may not be worth the effort or the expense.

The main problem with the promotion of ‘superfoods’ is that the clever marketing spin or celebrity endorsement suggests that the particular food is the only way we can get the essential nutrients it provides. We’re often left worrying that if we don’t eat it, then surely our efforts to improve health and lose weight will be doomed.

Take kale as an example. As a dark green leafy vegetable, it truly is one of nature’s superfoods. It has a strong, slightly bitter taste, and is an excellent source of Vitamins K, A and C, along with other vitamins and a host of minerals.

While this sounds great, be careful of being influenced by this sort of information. When you see that the food is a great source of any micronutrient, have a look at the serving size. It may be unrealistic to eat that amount of the food.

Craig Ferguson, host of The Late Late Show, regularly asks his guests, especially when they appear to be fit and healthy, if they eat kale. It’s an acknowledgement of the sudden popularity of the vegetable, and a dig at its supposed powers in improving health and performance.

Those following clean-eating or Paleo or primal eating patterns love kale too, and recipes abound with all sorts of uses. But is it really that much better than spinach or broccoli? Probably not, especially if you like it little enough that you don’t want to eat it.

The message here is not to avoid superfoods, but to take the hype for what it is – hype. If you want to try a particular superfood, go for it. If you don’t want to try it, there are plenty of other amazingly nutritious and healthy foods to choose from. Just compare kale, which Craig Ferguson humorously described as “hipster cabbage”, with good old spinach (see table below).

Achieving your health and weight goals need not require you to eat all the most amazing foods that get media attention. As author Michael Pollan says in his book, In Defense of Food, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Simple advice.

Spinach v kale_1