What IS a SuperFood?
The buzz these days in the raw food world is superfoods. What are they? Are they the same thing as a supplement? Why would I want them in my diet?
While the word “superfood” does not actually have an official definition, the implication of a superfood is that it is a food containing many unique healthful properties. These properties may include, but are not limited to: antioxidants, EFAs, DHA, a wide range of minerals, complete proteins, blood sugar stabilizers, immune system modulators, hormone balancers. Superfoods contain an assortment of vitamins, they may be anti-inflammatory, detoxifying and the list goes on and on. Many plant and animal based products contain a couple of these traits. What puts a superfood up and above the rest? David Wolfe states in his new book Superfoods : the Food and Medicine of the Future, “ These include foods that have a dozen or so unique properties, not just one or two. For example, the goji berry is a source of complete protein, immune stimulating polysaccharides, liver cleansing betaine, anti-aging sesquiterpenes, antioxidants, over twenty trace minerals, and much, much more.”
The list of foods that I consider to be super foods are endless, and while yes, most should be used only as supplements, this does not make them any less important than the staple foods that provide to us the bulk of our diet. A supplement is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as being “ something that completes or makes an addition”. If you were to take a glass and fill it with stones you would fill the glass, but there would be many empty holes. You would need other objects to fill those holes; pebbles, sand, water. So is our body system. You can fill the bulk of your body with your staple foods. You need foods to complement your staple foods, foods that supplement the missing puzzle pieces. A different beast entirely is the “vitamin supplement” which is separated from the whole food and extracted into a pill or powder form for our consumption. Most people in the superfood world are not promoting this at all. The processing of most of the superfoods is simple. Most superfoods are not processed more than how raisins are dried, nut mylks are blended, wheat grass is extracted, or seeds are ground. Something like Marine phytoplankton is simply phytoplankton grown in water and spun to separate the ocean water from the phytoplankton, in order to concentrate the phytoplankton. How is this anymore processed than wheat grass juice being extracted from the blade, since that fiber is indigestible for our human stomachs? Maca is a root, not unlike a turnip, that is dried and powdered in order to retain its nutrients. Nothing is isolated and refined. To call these foods processed and concentrated is to also call a vegetable juice, honey, seed crackers and nutmylks, anything but whole food in its whole state processed or concentrated. Does this make these foods unhealthy?
Taking a superfood is much different than taking a product that is isolated and concentrated. They are different than a drug that is derived to push the body beyond its natural limits. Superfoods are whole foods, and YES our bodies ARE dependent on minerals, vitamins, amino acids. These are nutrients that we cannot deny. Our body will not run optimally with out them. To provide them at the levels that we need will help our bodies to function at a superior level. There is an artificial energy that comes with stimulants such as caffeine and refined sugar. It is sustainable energy when your body has sufficient minerals, vitamins and amino acids.
When my six year old daughter was presented with the idea that you don’t need to eat superfoods, her response was quite simple “You do, to keep you healthy.” There is a lot of wisdom in her response. Many of us “health conscious” New Englanders are eating so called “fresh”, “organic” produce that is trucked in from across the country. Let us consider this. Okay, yes, the west coast is much more fertile than the east coast. Geologically, the east coast has been much more stable for a much longer time, giving it ample time to loose many minerals into our ocean. However, many of the companies that we are buying our “organic” produce from are large scale. How truly “organic” are these large companies, and how much have they been depleting their originally fertile soils? They are over-cultivating the soils, even though they are “organic”. Next, I must consider, when was my head of lettuce picked? Or my leaves of kale separated from the plant? Most likely at the very least it has been a week. How many nutrients have been lost in that week? Your produce starts loosing nutritional value from the moment it is picked. And for my fruit, how green was it when it was picked? How long has it been ripening off of the tree out of the sun’s energy? I am a huge advocate of fresh produce. My family survives on green smoothies, nut mylks, salads, and more fruit than you can imagine. I believe that this food is the best path to my family’s health. I also believe that this food is not as optimal as it can be and that we are missing a lot of nutrition. There are many ways for us to improve our nutritional intake from our produce. Support local farmers who are stewards of the land. These are farmers who build mineral-rich soils, farming the soil… not the crops. There are farmers who practice permaculture, letting the land remain truer to itself. There are “weeds” that can be wildcrafted; dandelion greens, wild grasses, docks, sorrels, wild berries and roots. These have all proven to be strong by recultivating a barren land. Wild foods are those that survive when people have stripped the land. These plants are remineralizing our soils just as these plants will remineralize our bodies. These plants will keep our bodies strong and healthy. Many people, including myself, consider them superfoods in their own right. Scores of these wild foods are potent herbs that we literally walk all over when we step out our door. That is, of course, unless we have doused them with chemicals to rid them from our lawns.
It is beyond the scope of this article to begin to delve into the world of herbal medicine. I do, however feel that the powerful benefits of herbs must be acknowledged. Herbal medicine has been practiced for centuries and is embraced by most cultures. There are herbs to support, stimulate or calm every system of the body. You can order Amazonian herbs such as cat’s claw or pau d’arco. If you are knowledgeable in the medicinal mushroom realm you can harvest your own immune modulating mushrooms. You can walk out into your backyard and harvest powerful medicine such as dandelion, burdock, yellow dock, red clover, thistle and SO much more. I have a friend who is harvesting his own herbs while living in New York City. These medicines are free, or very inexpensive when bought. There are many classes and local herbalists, incredible books that you can work with to educate yourself. It wasn’t until modern times that we began to shun herbs and turn towards man-made drugs, to take the place of what nature has provided to us from the beginning of time. Herbs can be taken in many forms, tinctures, capsules or tea. Whether it be an infusion (pouring hot water over leaves or flowers) or a decoction (simmering roots and barks) a tea can be amazing medicine. Used either as a preventative tonic or relief for an acute or chronic problem.
Elixirs are herbal teas turned into nut milks, and blended with superfoods. They are a wonderful modality to take herbal tonics, add to them the sustained energy from nuts or seeds and to combine it with your choice of nutrient dense superfoods, in order to maintain health and longevity. If you are unfamiliar with elixirs, I highly recommend checking out Daniel Vitalis’s Elixir Craft videos on youtube.
Holistic health is not one straight path. It is a windy road with many options. There are many choices for you to consider in determining which is right for you. A combination of many modalities is what will keep you healthy. There is no one prescribed formula that will work for everyone. The healing path can include spring water, ferments, meditation, herbs, exercise, raw foods, superfoods, reiki and other energy healing arts, acupuncture, acupressure, massage, rolfing yoga, tai chi and other internal arts, among many other things. The balance that you establish will increase your energy and sustain your personal vitality.