Every once in a while my mum comes up to me and says that she read it on the paper (or some reputed magazine) that some food item (horsegram or honey or turmeric or some vegetable etc) is extremely good for some health aspect or disease condition. As I nod along, she usually goes on to say that it apparently has magical powers and that we need to make it a part of our diets.
I’m sure you’ve either been in my shoes or my mum’s at some point of time either reading about how eating something will fix your health problems or telling people about what you read. Some examples are…
Coconut oil hailed as a cure for Alzheimers.
Horsegram helps cure type 2 diabetes.
Cocoa found to contain most anti-oxidants.
Honey = health!
So are these claims true? Should we start looking for such superfoods and add them into our diets? Will that fix our problems?
Penny Wise, Pound Foolish
The answer to these questions, like most questions in nutrition is, yes and no. Let me explain.
While it is true that these superfoods contain nutrients (possibly in abundance) that are beneficial to health and that eating these foods along with an anti-nutrient free diet will help fix certain health problems, there is absolutely no benefit in eating these superfoods if you’re basic diet is fundamentally sub-par or inferior from a nutritional standpoint. I don’t think this needs more explanation, but just to be safe, I’ll break this down further.
Let’s say food X is rich in mineral Y and vitamin Z and hence helps in controlling a particular disease condition or improving a certain aspect of health. Now let’s assume that you eat a diet that is dominated by grains, rich in polyunsaturated fats and frequented by sugars. Adding in food X will not help in anyway whatsoever since the abundance of anti-nutrients in your diet will either overshadow any benefit that might result from eating the food or will render the nutrients in food X non bio-available or produce a benefit so trivial (compared to the constant damage from the anti-nutrients) that it is impossible to quantify/monitor progress.
Let’s talk specifics for a minute. Honey is healthful in its pure form and there is no question about that. But adding 2 tablespoons of honey to a diet dominated by wheat, vegetable oils, rice, processed food, sugar etc. will do you absolutely no good. As a matter of fact, this will only hurt you because this addition of honey, implies, not an increase in micronutrient consumption, but only an increase in sugar intake. So is the case with horse gram or spinach or strawberries or coconut oil or ghee or jaggery or any other food that is claimed as a superfood or a ‘health fix’.
On a side note, it is even funnier (actually sadder) when people try to fine tune their cooking methods or cook only using certain metals like copper hoping to reap some health benefits. Seriously? If you’re loading up plastic bags with money and throwing them away, does it matter if the plastic bag costs Rs 10 or Rs 5? If you’re eating a diet filled with junk, does it matter if you cook it in earthenware or eat off a copper plate?
Get your mind right
I’m sorry to burst your bubble folks, but the addition of one food item or cooking a certain way or using certain cooking/eating utensils will not magically convert a nutritionally inferior diet to one that is healthful. Or in other words, topping your cereal/biscuits/oats with honey and almonds won’t make it healthful and neither will eating them off a copper plate.
So, once again, stop looking for shortcuts or magic potions and focus on fixing your diet as a whole. Addition of specific superfoods is something you need to do after your basic diet is legit. It is the icing on the cake… the minutiae as I’d like to call it. Cutting out wheat, vegetable oils and sugars for the most part and basing your diet on real foods is 90% the battle! These changes will have HUGE positive effects on your health and are like money on the table. They’re right there for you to pick up. Make these basic changes first and cnce you’re able to do that, you can then think about focusing on adding in specific foods with specific effects/benefits.
Realize – there are no superfoods. Food, and by that I mean real food, is super! So just eat real food and as always, keep it sane, keep it simple and keep it real.
Photo credit: greenlifeorganics.com.au