In recent years, there have been tons of talk–and much study done–on “superfoods.” The latest is the tamarind (Garcinia cambogia) (here’s a great series from Dr. Oz on the latest potential dieting wonder: 1, 2, 3), but there have been others. Acai, amaranth and quinoa, coconut (milk, oil, palm sugar, etc) and so on. It seems like the list is growing into an endless one.
I’m beginning to feel a bit skeptical about all of this for one reason: the marketing schemes. There has been so much money thrown out there, labeling snacks and foods on the grocery shelves as superfoods, it boggles the mind. The other day, I saw chocolate-covered acai berries. Yuuu-um! But are they really all that healthy for you? I mean, considering how much sugar, GMO soy, and milk are put into chocolate-covered items these days, are you really getting the benefits of the berry (and cocoa), or are you being sold on this idea of superfoods somehow equating to an answer (or cure) for a problem that may have a simpler–though by no means easier to follow–solution?
Here’s a great example of marketing schemes regarding the Paleo Diet. (The video is about 22 minutes long.) This diet is one of the big fads and I can see why. People want to get back to the roots of food and food culture (and I think that’s fantastic). The Paleo Diet looks like a great way to do so, right? But as Christina Warinner points out, archaeological evidence (and, honestly, some common sense) don’t really back up the claims.
There’s another great point that Warinner makes: all these superfoods we have available to us is a result of modern technology, be it transportation or farming development. In ancient times, this wasn’t possible. People ate seasonally with periods of feasting and famine. Having studied Classical literature in college, I can also add that I believe that people ate far more plant-based foods than meats for the simple, straightforward fact that meats–particularly those discussed in such diets as Paleo–were expensive to rear, keep, and purchase. Ancient peoples needed cows to do farm labor and provide milk. To slaughter one meant there was something important to celebrate. (The Biblical Tale of the Prodigal Son comes to mind.)
But back to superfoods. Do I think they’re awesome? Yes. Do I think they have potential for helping people stay healthy? Of course, but then I think that a vast majority of foods, when consumed whole (or as unprocessed as possible) and in moderation, do.
Food is our natural medicine but, again, this can be a double-edged sword. Too much of a good thing might lead to disease. (Sugary substances, anyone? And in case anyone’s ever wondered, I have a sweet tooth so avoiding the intake of too much sugar can be a struggle for me.)
While I post articles and links to blogs that interest me, I never recommend a specific diet or way of eating. For me, I’ve found that gluten-free eating combined with whole foods is the best way to stay healthy. This may not be for everyone. What I think is clear, however, is that people need–and want!–to take control of their food sources, the processes under which that food goes to make it to the grocery store, and how they approach the dinner table. They’re tired of big companies telling them what’s healthy; they want to make that decision for themselves. Some of the best ways to accomplish this are:
- Grow a garden
- Go to farmer’s markets
- Learn how to can, dry, and preserve foods for “famine” spells (i.e. winter and spring)
- Eat seasonally
- Find nearby farmers who raise their meats and produce ethically, without chemicals (if that’s a big deal to you), and purchase from them
- Learn about portion sizes–your food will go farther, you’ll buy and waste less
- Pick and choose your indulgences; if more than one, alternate between them
- Minimize boxed and process foods–not only will it reduce your grocery expenses, it is environmentally more friendly, better for your health, and allows you to get in touch with food and food culture again (a very satisfying experience, I must say)
- Meal plan and cook at home for the majority of your meals
- Decide what kind of eating is best for you and your family
As always, when new products with fabulous claims come out, do your research. A lot of claims are pushed over the top–sadly, a lot of companies, even those promoting natural lifestyles, lie. Remember that the ultimate way to stay healthy is to live with moderation in mind, staying active and taking control of the things you can, enjoying life as it comes, and remembering that gratitude, happiness, peace and love are the foundations for a better life.
Eat to taste food rather than worry about what’s going into your body. Sadly, one of the ways food companies keep customers buying their products is because they create fear. Fear about themselves, their waistlines, etc. Don’t buy into it. Free yourself from it. Educate yourself on foods and reacquaint yourself with the kitchen. It’s an eye-opening, lip-smacking experience that will have you begging for more (real food)! And if superfoods fit into your budget and dietary requirements, so be it!