The Top 10 Super Foods
Jeff Novick, MS, RD
It seems like almost every day a new list of the 10 (or 5, or 14) best foods to eat comes out. These are often referred to as "Super Foods." We hear a lot these days about super foods, as they are foods that are believed to contain special unique properties for disease prevention and longevity.
The next thing you know, people are basing their diets around these 5 (or 10 or so) foods.
Is this a good thing?
I do not think so, for several reasons.
The whole philosophy behind the concept of Super Foods is misguided. Your health and longevity is not based on including (or even excluding) any one food but is based on the totality of what you do and how you live. Dietary patterns always trump individual foods. One food is not going to make a bad diet and lifestyle healthy.
When I look at most of these lists, I see many foods that I would not recommend or consume myself. Often they contain dairy products (usually kefir or yogurt), alcohol (usually red wine), oil (usually olive oil), meat (usually grass-fed wild game), poultry (usually turkey), cocoa (usually in the form of chocolate), tea (usually green), etc, All are foods I would not consume myself, or recommend to those trying to follow an optimal lifestyle.
In addition, a variety of plant foods are historically and biologically important. Our ancestors ate 100's of varieties of plant foods and ate plant foods of many different colors, Americans eat few varieties and very few colors.
This is important because the colors (of fruits and veggies) represent different families of chemical compounds that are beneficial. In addition, there is evidence that interaction between these foods of different colors provide additional benefits. Therefore, it is important to have a somewhat diverse diet and eat a variety of foods from the known healthy food groups
Even within individual foods, a variety of color maybe important but in our modern food system we have selectively bred the colors we eat into a narrower range. There are red carrots in India, we eat only orange ones. There are ~150 varieties of sweet peas, but we eat only a few.
Therefore, I do not like lists that focus on specific individual foods as that takes the focus off of the healthy food groups and the variety of food within these food groups. In other words, eating a variety of fruits is healthy not just eating berries. In addition, eating a variety of berries is also healthy not just blueberries. In addition, eating a variety of vegetables is healthy, not just green leafy veggies. In addition, eating a variety of green leafy veggies is healthy, not just kale. So, some variety within foods and food groups is an important issue not only for pleasure, but also for nutrient adequacy.
Having said that, here is my list of the healthiest foods/food groups or my list of ...
The Top 10 Super Foods :)
3) Cruciferous Vegetables
4) Starchy Vegetables/Roots/Tubers
5) Intact Whole Grains
6) Beans, Peas, Lentils
7) Higher Fat Plant Foods - Nuts/Seeds/Avocado (In Moderation)
8) A variety of foods and colors within each food/food group
9) Not over-eating.
And, last, but not least...
10) A healthy lifestyle including fresh air, pure water, adequate sleep, rest & relaxation, emotional poise, social engagement, loving relationships, adequate activity/fitness, etc as food is only one aspect of health.
I think this is a list we can all live with, and live very well with.