Kale. Açai. Flaxseed. Chia. While these may sound like recent celebrity baby names, they’re actually just a few of the latest foods to be declared ‘superfoods’ by the media and some health experts. But before you go out to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s and stock up on whatever happens to be the food of the moment this week, take a look at FastMed’s review of some of the superfood trends we’ve seen lately.
There’s no doubt about it – kale packs a nutritional punch. Kale has essential antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin, which can help prevent common vision problems like macular degeneration. You’ll get more vitamin C in a cup of kale than you will in an orange, and it also has over 100% of your daily vitamin A needs. One cup of raw kale is only 33 calories, including almost 3 grams of protein and 2.5 grams of fiber. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that women get 25 grams of fiber and men get 38 grams of fiber per day. A large kale salad can certainly help get you there! Plus, fiber makes you feel fuller, longer.
So what’s the problem? Some don’t like kale’s bitter taste, and the Environmental Working Group found that kale is commonly treated with poisonous insecticides, so you may want to go organic. Also, too many cruciferous vegetables in your diet can cause hypothyroidism, so eat it in moderation. Bottom line? Kale’s a superfood, but it’s not irreplaceable. If you don’t like the taste of kale, try mustard greens instead. Mustard greens have even more vitamin C, calcium, and folate, but fewer carbohydrates.
The first thing to know about this little berry is how to pronounce it: ah-sigh-EE. And you’ll want to know how to say it, because açai is everywhere these days. Smoothies! Breakfast bowls! Juices! People claim the berry has helped them lose weight, get rid of arthritis, regulate cholesterol levels, and even cure erectile dysfunction! So why aren’t we all eating this wonder berry?
Because science doesn’t support the vast majority of these claims, açai berries are certainly good for you. They’re rich in fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins, which give the berry its vivid color. They also have more unsaturated fats than other berries, so they can be a good source of omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids for vegetarians. Unfortunately, acai berries can be expensive and difficult to find, so try another dark berry like blueberries or grapes. You’ll get a similar dose of antioxidants and fiber, without the price tag.
You can buy ground or whole flaxseeds, or you can get flaxseed oil; both have been called ‘superfoods.’ In fact, in the 8th century, King Charlemagne actually passed laws requiring people to eat it! So what’s so super about flaxseed? It can lower blood pressure, help protect against prostate cancer, and contains omega-3 fatty acids, which decrease triglyceride levels and slow the buildup of plaque in your arteries. But flaxseed earns a guaranteed spot on the superfood list because it’s the king of lignans.
Lignans are phytoestrogens – they mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. Plant lignans are the building blocks of cell walls, and they have a ton of positive effects. They’re antioxidants that can lower blood cholesterol in men, decrease liver disease risk factors, promote a healthy weight, and help decrease the incidence of several chronic diseases. Don’t like flaxseed? Sorry, there’s no substitute here. Flaxseed is the richest source of these lignans – it contains far more lignans than any other plant food.
We all remember the ch-ch-ch-chia pets of the 80s. Turns out you could actually eat those seeds! Chia seeds are touted as a ‘superfood’ that helps with weight loss. When you put chia seeds in water, the seeds expand and become like a gel. The claim is that once you eat the seeds, they’ll expand in your stomach and you’ll feel fuller, causing you to eat less, and lose weight!
Unfortunately, none of the studies have borne out this myth, but don’t rule chia seeds out yet! Although they don’t help with weight loss, they do have plenty of soluble fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, potassium, and antioxidants. They even pack four grams of protein in each ounce. And chia seeds are easy to add to your diet, as they have a very mild taste with little flavor. Sprinkle some on your oatmeal, add it to a salad, or make our Green Monster Smoothie for a one-two punch of superfoods, with both chia and kale!
At FastMed, we don’t want you to buy into the hype surrounding certain superfoods. There will always be a new superfood advertised by the media, but healthy choices don’t change based on fads or trends. Do your own research, or talk to a dietitian or visit your nearest FastMed Urgent Care if you want to improve your diet and health. We’ll support you every step of the way – no hype necessary.