Diet Dynamos

Health Experts explain the buzz surrounding "Superfoods"

Super Foods

Superfoods are Mother Nature’s multitasking powerhouses. This month, we’ve enlisted two subject matter experts to help us understand the buzz surrounding these diet dynamos and to share perspectives on vitamins and dietary supplements.

Dr. Candice Cook is a Hampton Roads-based, doctorate-level, licensed professional counselor and a board-certified clinical nutritionist with a concentration in advanced nutritional laboratory analysis. Michael Morris, certified nutritionist, has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from the University of Pennsylvania and is based at The Health Food Market on Pacific Avenue in Virginia Beach.

Name your favorite superfoods, and why are they important?

Morris: Several of my favorite superfoods are: Chlorella, chia seeds, spirulina and wheatgrass. Chlorella acts as a heavy metal detoxifier. It contains nucleic acids that help with cell renewal and repair and that are critical to a healthy immune system. Chia seeds have a nutty taste and are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which benefit cardiovascular health. Chia is an ancient staple food, valued for nutrients and antioxidants. The insoluble fi ber content is high, which is great for the digestive system. Chia seeds have calcium, magnesium and highly bioavailable protein. Spirulina contains phycocyanin, which helps prevent free radical damage to cells. Spirulina has also been used in a number of diabetes-related trials as a blood sugar regulator. Wheatgrass is one of the easiest foods to digest. The high amount of chlorophyll in the juice helps to detoxify the liver, restore red blood cell health and oxygenate the tissues in the body.

Cook: Superfoods have certain traits in common. They tend to be lowcalorie, high in fiber and beneficial fatty acids and are nutritionally dense. Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts are superfoods. So are raspberries, blueberries and fl ax seeds. Superfoods contain a lot of fiber and vitamins, as well as phytonutrients, a class of chemicals with antioxidant properties. Phytonutrients can strengthen the immune system, reduce infl ammation and are especially abundant in colorful foods. Some spices, like turmeric, for example, contain a host of beneficial phytonutrients.

What should we know about vitamins and other supplements? Do we really need them, or are we just paying for very expensive urine?

Morris: It is difficult to discern how much of a supplement or herb is available for the body to use. The ‘more is better’ approach isn’t valid when you can absorb only so much of a supplement, or if that supplement requires another enzyme or mineral to be of benefit. Each individual’s ability to break down foods and absorb them is unique. Using a whole food approach allows the natural components to work together. It’s hard to keep our dietary choices in line with our fast-paced, stressful lifestyles. Supplements give us a way of filling in the gaps. Whole food supplements can provide critical enzymes and phytonutrients that are not available in synthetic or isolated sources. But they aren’t substitutes for a well-balanced diet.
Share a few simple dietary changes we can make now that will have positive, long-term influence.

Cook: Organic is better. Pesticides are poison. If you want to go organic but don’t want to break the bank, focus on the ‘Toxic 12,’ those easily researched fruits and vegetables like celery and grapes that have the highest levels of pesticide and chemical residue. Try organic wine. People commonly think about organic foods but not necessarily the wine they’re drinking. No trans fats. Eat more healthy fats like olive, coconut, fish and flax oil. Make sure the fl ax oil is fresh and refrigerated, and look for fi sh oils that have been molecularly distilled. I would emphasize that the human body was designed to function with less food rather than more. Portion control is key, and it’s helpful for weight control to eat smaller meals throughout the day. Fried foods, if eaten at all, should be reserved for rare ‘special’ meals.

Morris: It’s optimal to add new foods and supplements to your diet gradually. Don’t attempt to address every dietary issue at once. I’ve known people who decided to go on a raw foods diet almost overnight and who suffered ill effects. You can learn what’s working well with your body by following through with one or two changes correctly. Consistency is important— making the right dietary choices day-to-day.