Superfoods! Are they really super?

Maureen McFadden

“Avocado, bright vegetables, kale, tofu, quinoa.”

Dr. Abby Battjes, a family practitioner with St. Joseph Health System, says these are foods we often think of when we talk about superfoods.

But are these foods worthy of getting superfood status? Clinical dietician Erin Hurst explains, “There's no clinical definition of a superfood, but there are foods that have properties that can support people that have a lifestyle that is a good quality of life and increase longevity.”

Both remind us that what may be a superfood for one person may not be for another.

“There's always a need to identify the health issues that you either want to address or that you want to prevent,” Hurst says.

Battjes agrees, adding, “Everything in moderation is a good thing.”

We went shopping with Hurst to find out what part of the store we should be shopping in and the foods we might want to avoid.

Tip number one? “When we're talking about walking the perimeter of the store, we really want to hit the foods that are least processed.”

Hurst notes that foods on the end caps and down the aisles tend to be processed and loaded with ingredients that work against us.

What would be considered superfoods? “Leafy green vegetables have some of the widest variety of nutrients. We have chlorophyll, we have lutein, and all of these have different properties in terms of antioxidants, managing free radicals. Good sources of fiber,” Hurst says.

While green is great, purple packs a different punch. Purple kale has more anthocyanin than green kale, an antioxidant that makes it super healthy.

Studies have shown that blueberries, purple grapes, cranberries and even red wine contain resveratrol, which can limit the spread of certain cancers.

Hurst says that while purple and green and reds and yellows are good for you, don't forget the white vegetables like onion and cauliflower. Potatoes which are high in fiber and naturally detoxify the body.

While most of us enjoy a nice steak or thick pork chop every now and then, Hurst says salmon is a better source of lean protein if you eat the right portion, which is about the size of a computer mouse. ”We're looking for a 3-4 ounce portion size. It's got the omega three fatty acids that can be really heart healthy and very anti-inflammatory.”

When it comes to a Red Delicious apple or a Granny Smith, like leafy veggies, she says, they are not created equal. “Differences in color are going to provide some different nutrients. Ultimately you're still getting good vitamins, good minerals, just maybe a little bit different.”

While these so-called superfoods are obviously healthier than a cheeseburger and fries, can they prevent illness and get folks off their medicine? Battjes says that by adding what are touted as superfoods, she has helped her patients with diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. "They've changed their lifestyle that much that they can come off their medicine. I'm a big proponent of not being on medicine, so if we can do it by lifestyle and diet, let's go ahead and do it.”

So are there foods that have healing power? “I think that there are lifestyles that have healing powers,” Hurst says.

It's like mom always told us: everything in moderation. Battjes agrees. “Not all superfoods are going to be super if you take them in large quantities.”

Hurst suggests our plates are made up of 25 percent good carb, 25 percent protein and 50 percent fruits and non-starchy vegetables.

There are certain components of foods and drinks that may be especially helpful, and the color of our plate makes a difference. Think of a rainbow with lots of color.

“There's not one food that I could say, ‘If you take this one food, you aren't going to have any disease, any cancer.’ There's just not one food that does it. There is no one food that has this magical power,” Battjes explains.

Hurst adds that there are also many spices that have properties to improve our health. Black pepper, for instance, helps other nutrients get absorbed into our bodies, like vitamin B and C.

Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties that some experts say are thought to be good for your brain and joints.

The bottom line is that you should eat foods as close to how they are in nature, but realize that you should discuss any changes to your diet with your doctor. Have them line you up with a nutritionist who can help you figure out a plan that works for your body and that you can stick with.