Myth Busting Superfoods – finding the balance

One of the Health and Nutrition Myths I’d like to bust is what I call the ‘Health Halo’ around Superfoods. . . I have to admit this is a pet peeve of mine because everytime I hear about a new superfood, miracle supplement, some new technology, or a program guaranteed to get results my radar perks up. 

Most of the time my bias kicks in, and I have to rein it in by channeling that bias into taking a deeper dive into the science. Most often my hunch is right but right in that “murky middle” way.  While there are often some benefits the over promotion leads to some serious negatives due to overconsumption.

Here are a few glaring examples: 

1. Kale and other Cruciferous Vegetables.

Kale has been touted as a superfood…...even way, way back in the 1970’s this impossible to kill leafy green was touted as healthy because it kept the models of the early thin….and therein lies the clue. Kale is a very selfish plant. Like every other living organism in this grand sphere of life it wants to survive and Kale, even after cut and served and in your digestive tract kale is binding up minerals and nutrients .  . . 

This is due to the phytates and lectins in kale and why all those models were skinny...they were malnourished.  So the great kale craze is crazy folks. But let’s venture into the quicksands of the ‘murky middle’ to get some context. . . the point here is if you are eating a lot of raw kale in your salads, smoothies etc. thinking this is healthy because of the ‘Health Halo’ conferred upon Kale you are probably causing you and your biome to be impacted in a significant way. 

Generally, the first thing that causes a problem is iodine deficiency leading to Goiter and Thyroid issues because iodine is so crucial to thyroid health but in such minute levels. On the other hand, the occasional kale salad is not such a bad idea and can have beneficial effects and cooked kale removes almost all of the anti-nutrient properties and helps with the digestibility. This is true for pretty much all other Cruciferous Vegetables; a little fresh and raw and on occasion, not such a bad thing, cooked or fermented like sauerkraut or kimchi even better but in terms of nutritional value do kale and other Cruciferous vegetables deserve a ‘Health Halo’ which drives people to overconsume? Not so much. 

2. Seed Oils:

In the past decade all types of seed oils have been paraded out and conferred ‘Health Halos’ and again my radar spiked. Sure, relative to vegetable oils derived from corn and soybeans these oils are ‘better’, but this is relative and only a partial message used to confer the Health Halo upon seed oils like flax, chia, canola (rape seed), sunflower and others. 

This is similar to the myth and ‘Health Halo’ of whole grains versus processed grains. Seed oils tend to be high in Poly Unsaturated Fatty Acids otherwise known as PUFAs. This type of oil oxidizes easily thus can go rancid quickly and/or create free radicals and inflammation. While your body does need PUFAs, it is about getting the right amount instead of what happens when a Health Halo is stuck on a seed oil. 

Too much means excess PUFAs and a significant increase in the potential for oxidative stress from free radicals. . . . And there is more. Seed oils are high in Phytoestrogens, estrogen-like compounds produced by plants which bind to estrogen receptors in both male and females. Again, while a little is probably benign and may confer a beneficial effect, placing a Health Halo on a seed oil almost guarantees overconsumption. 

3. Liver.

Yes, liver. In order to provide balance and not be seen as picking on plant based foods I am going to put one of my favorite foods on the Health Halo Food Altar and sacrifice it -  Liver. In Paleo and Carnivore circles liver is considered a Superfood thus conferred the Health Halo.

This is a great final example because Liver really is a superfood in every sense. Liver is a nutritionally packed, bioavailable source of vitamins, minerals, long-chain fatty acids and proteins like no other food. But again, placing a Health Halo on liver winds up with consumers overconsuming liver and or liver based foods and supplements and ‘getting too much of a good thing.’ And always remember when consuming liver it’s important to eat ‘down the food chain’ rather than up.

Less is More when it comes to “Superfoods”

What all this comes down to is modern marketing. We are ‘Sold & Told’ a well-intended, simplified and partial message in a singular context. This sells because it is convenient and goes right to the core of our survival instincts which cause us to overconsume. 

In my 20 years of paying attention to human health and performance one thing about nutrition that continually strikes my curiosity is this; ‘Less is more’....that is, when you get your metabolism back to burning fat for your aerobic energy source the way Nature intended and achieve a ‘Dynamic Balance’ in your Nutrition, it continually amazes me how little you need, how good you feel and how well you perform. 

So when you hear the word ‘superfood’ or someone waxes prophetic about a device or specific training modality just remember…..YOU actually can get too much of a good thing! 

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