So I was recently caught off guard by a friend who asked me a seemingly simple question, "What is the best superfood?" It wasn't that I was unequipped to answer, it was just the context at the time. From what I can remember, the topic we had been on leading up to that was how to count to 4 in german. Being in Germany at the time and the majority of our food conversations having revolved around pork knuckles and pretzels up until this moment (I was on vacation, you're allowed to indulge when you're in another country!), my quick response was, "meat". Some of you may currently be reacting in a similar way to how 2 out of the 3 people I told this to at the time did, making a face that looks something like this 🤨. Understandable. Let me explain.
Firstly, I like to challenge widely known yet very weakly supported health myths. I can get dramatic in doing so, but I promise you, more thought goes into it than just blurting something out for the sake of a reaction.
Secondly, the term "superfood" in itself bothers me. It implies that there are only a handful of foods that someone can eat and if they do so, they can meet all their nutritional needs and cure any disease, ache, pain or ailment. I very much dislike this notion. The fact is, superfood is more of a marketing term than a real thing. Every few months some new, barely pronounceable fruit that may also be a vegetable and looks like an alien gets thrown in your face as the solution to all of your problems. But wait, there's more! It also happens to be wayyyy more nutritious and can solve exactly 4 more new problems than that last superfood we told you about a month ago! Yeah, marketing.
That being said, let me give you my thoughts on some "Superfoods" that you may not have known you were already eating and are perfectly capable of meeting all your nutritional needs without having to fly to some exotic country to obtain.
Well I've already mentioned it so why not start here. Meat is very good for us! Aside from being the best source of absorbable protein that is not a supplement, meat contains many vitamins and minerals that are rather difficult to find elsewhere. The 2 big ones here are Vitamin B12 and Iron. While it is true that some vegetables carry these as well, nothing is more useful and bioactive than the forms found in meat (red meat in particular). For bonus superfoody goodness, try to change it up and include wild game such as venison, moose and elk when possible and don't forget the organs! Liver, heart and kidneys are packed full of vitamins and minerals!
Any kind will do. Mushrooms are incredible things really. I say "things" because they belong to their own kingdom and have so much potential in medicine and health that I really don't know how best to describe them. Not only are they delicious, but some mushrooms contain some much needed Vitamin D and even have the ability to increase your immune system and fight off illnesses. Edible mushrooms vary in appearance and taste, making them incredible additions to almost any dish you can think of!
Not so difficult to find, chocolate makes the list for it's antioxidant and metabolism boosting powers! Not just any chocolate will do however. This is specific to dark chocolate with very little to no sugar. Not only does dark chocolate contain cocoa mass, a rich source of healthy fats, but the cocoa or cacao is full of magnesium and calcium and it even has anti-depressant qualities. But then again, what can taste that good and not make you more happy?
Not only does broccoli contain a slew of vitamins, minerals and fibre making it good for the heart, bones and digestive system, but it also contains a compound called "sulforaphane". Sulforaphane is being studies and has shown some evidence for being quite useful in fighting cancer, diabetes and inflammation! Broccoli isn't the only veggie with this superpower; cabbage, cauliflower and kale all deserve honourable mentions here as well.
5. Olive Oil
Can't stress the importance of this one enough! Cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil stored in tinted glass containers is the way to go for the majority of your cooking or dressing needs. Yeah, I'm picky about this one because while it is incredibly good for you, it tends to be a bit fragile and can loose a lot of it's health benefits if not treated with love and care. With strong evidence of daily consumption leading to lower risk of cardiovascular disease, increased HDL (good cholesterol) and enjoying food so much more because it tastes so good, olive oil should be a staple in every kitchen. My golden rule for consumption, cook with less on lower heat, add more raw later. Nothing beats the nutritional punch that raw olive oil can pack. Other honourable mentions here for avocado and coconut oil, which are much better suited for higher temperature cooking than olive oil and are very good for you as well.
The list could go on but I feel like I covered some good groundwork. My main point here is that a healthy, whole foods diet that reduces processed food and refined carbohydrates is a "superfood". If the next time you see some sort of advertisement about the latest and greatest superfood and you stop to question it even for a moment, know that I will be ever so proud of you.
PS. Some foods that didn't make the list but could definitely hold their own against anything out there: Berries, coffee, avocados, coconuts, rosemary, garlic...
Dr. Rob Raponi ND, CISSN, B.Kine(Hons)