When to pick a superfood!

Do you have to include superfoods in your diet? Or can you be healthy eating the foods that you have grown up eating. Coach Shivani separates fact from fiction and shows what really counts as a superfood and how to choose what's right for you.

Feb 10, 2021

Choosing the right “superfoods”

It’s true.  Kale contains higher levels of vitamins and minerals when compared to, say, iceberg lettuce.  Does that mean you ought to be searching for a good, regular source of organic kale - irrespective of where you live and irrespective of whether you actually like it?  Indeed, how did you (or your parents) survive without it so far?!    

'Superfoods' are foods that are thought to be nutritionally dense and are good for one’s health.  And yes, foods like kale, quinoa, blueberries etc. that are branded as superfoods by the media can be great for you.  But so are many other foods even if they are not labeled as such by the media.  

Think about it. Do you need to purchase kale when you can instead get other dark leafy greens that are locally available like fresh spinach, mustard greens, or fenugreek leaves (methi)? 

They also contain a host of nutrients that are excellent for you. Do you still need to spend a bomb on sourcing the supposedly fancy, and often exotic, ‘superfoods’?  

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The truth

‘Superfoods’ are not scientifically defined.  As soon as a food is labeled as a ‘superfood’ in the media, everyone ends up scrambling to include it in their diet.  This is exploited by the food industry and often ends up being a marketing tool used to boost sales of a particular item.

While these foods may certainly be healthy, no single food is going to have as much of an impact on your health as your overall diet and lifestyle.  

Instead, go to your grocery store and pick local, seasonal vegetables, fruits and herbs in different colors.  Use and enjoy these ‘superfoods’ in your favorite traditional recipes handed down by your parents or grandparents!  

I’ll give you a few situations when you should not to pick a ‘superfood’:

Situation 1: You do not like it

You don’t enjoy the bitterness of kale. So you end up dousing your salads in heavy dressings to mask the taste of kale. Or you enjoy your food less and don’t include salads in your menu regularly any more. Should you still be forcing yourself to include it in your diet? Instead, include other locally available greens in preparations that you enjoy (are you perhaps a lover of ‘sarson ka saag’ or ‘keerai masiyal’?!). Use iceberg lettuce in your salads if it means you can use lighter dressings. There are far easier ways to include more vegetables in your daily diet.

If you don't like it, do not eat it.

Situation 2: It can be replaced by other healthy foods

Quinoa does contain more fiber and protein than white rice. However, white rice is more easily digestible.  So if you do not enjoy quinoa, you can instead have a moderate quantity of white rice and instead include other sources of protein (eg. dairy, eggs, pulses etc.) and fiber (eg, from vegetables, fruits) in your meal. It is much easier to build a healthy plate if you keep it simple and stick to foods you are familiar with.

Situation 3: It is available only in highly processed forms

Cranberries are touted to be high in antioxidants and various vitamins. However, the most common form in which cranberries are commercially available in India is cranberry juice, which is usually high in added sugars. Having a variety of other locally available fruits may instead give you a similar nutrient profile, without the added sugars.

Situation 4: You eat too much of it

Labeling a food as a ‘superfood’ often misleads us into assuming that we can eat unlimited quantities of such foods.  For example, take sunflower seeds.  You sprinkle them into your salads, yoghurt and porridge. You combine them with nuts and other dried fruits to make “healthy energy balls”.  You can whisk them into smoothies and into the batter of your muffins.  The risk: you forget that they are high in fats and you can end up gaining unnecessary weight from having too much of it.

Too much of a good thing is.....too much.

Situation 5: It’s travelled halfway around the world to get to you

Blueberries and cranberries are not locally grown in India.  Chia seeds and quinoa are native crops of South America.  While cultivation of these crops is slowly spreading to other countries, these are still not easily available and most commercially available products are imported.  What this means is that they are probably expensive and not fresh.  Long transport times and poor packaging/storage often results in loss of nutrients.  

A simpler approach:  Eat a variety of whole foods that are seasonal and locally available.  All these are superfoods too, even if not labeled as such by the media!

This is the approach we focus on in the Daily9 coaching programme. By looking closer to home and finding local, seasonal and fresh foods, Daily9 users find that a healthy lifestyle is much more achievable for them and their family.

And the best part is that there is no shortage of such foods in India. Take your pick!

You can refer to this infographic we've prepared that shows you how to use Indian spices hiding in your kitchen in innovative ways to boost your health and immunity.

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So when does it make sense for you to include a specific “superfood” in your diet? Here's a quick checklist.

  • It is easily accessible to you;
  • The price is reasonable for you; and
  • Most importantly, if you like it.

See how all of the above revolve around one thing - you! Never forget that what works for you matters a lot more than anything you will see in the press or social media.

One other situation where you might want to include a specific food:  if you are determined to be deficient in a particular nutrient.  For example, vegetarians are often deficient in selenium and this can affect thyroid function.  One way to address this is to include Brazil nuts in your diet, as these are one of the few sources of selenium for vegetarians.  

So what “superfoods” are you going to pick?  Think about it first, before you reach for the pack of insanely expensive blueberries that have travelled halfway across the world.  Instead, choose a variety of locally available superfoods! 

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