Superfood Confusion

The health industry sure does love the term "Superfood" doesn't it?

The Superfood phenomenon has brought us such nutrition heroes as chia seeds, kale and goji berries. While all three of those foods are wonderful and incorporating new nutrient dense foods into your diet is an excellent thing, the whole Superfood Nation that we've created has both its pros and its cons.

Superfoods

I'm writing this article to help clear up a few things.

I want to assist you in deciphering between the helpful messages and marketing ploys, understand how to apply new nutritional knowledge to your life and point out common pitfalls.

Remember that food companies are in business to make money. 

Therefore, it will never take long for a food company to seize a marketing opportunity. As soon as a food gets labeled a "Superfood" that food can start popping up everywhere. Chefs start creating recipes featuring that food and processed food companies may try to incorporate some amount of that food into their ingredient list and then feature its inclusion prominently on the box. 

While learning how to cook with an unfamiliar food is a wonderful (and necessary) thing if someone wants to prepare a new food, one must bear in mind that "Superfoods" do not turn any dish into a magic elixir. Chia seeds are wonderful omega-3, protein-packed, fibrous little gems, and using them in a brownie batch means that your brownies may have a bit of extra nutritional value. If you are going to eat a brownie, eating a nutritionally superior brownie is a good decision, but you are still eating a brownie. A BROWNIE.  

Act accordingly.

Meaning: still treat that brownie like a dessert.

People get themselves into trouble by utilizing "Superfood" ingredients as a way to turn all of the accompanying ingredients into "Superfoods By Proxy." It doesn't work like that. The large amount of sugar in your brownies is still a large amount of sugar. Now, with that said, I think that finding ways to improve the nutritional quality of our desserts is an excellent thing. If we are able to up the protein, fiber and vitamin/mineral content of our desserts, then when we eat them, hopefully, we will be satisfied with smaller portions, our blood sugar won't spike as high and we may get some nutrition. 

Note the use of the words "AS HIGH" and "SOME" nutrition.

My point is that your souped-up brownie is still a calorie-dense, sugary, mostly nutritionally-devoid food. If you have an occasion where you want a brownie (because, yes, I'm not here to suck the fun out of life) then eating a better brownie is great. But if you were not going to indulge in a sugary treat and instead thought "but it has chia seeds so now it's a health food!" you have missed the mark. 

Adding "Superfoods" to desserts and nutritionally-devoid foodstuffs does not turn them into health foods. It just makes them SLIGHTLY better than their typical counterparts.

That is probably the most common pitfall that we make when dealing with "Superfoods" or any healthier swap situation. The confusion that a food's health value is a matter of a simple grading process where less healthy ingredients are voided by combining them with a healthy ingredient. Not so. 

The good news is that all that is required is a tweaking of how you are viewing food. 

The trick is to remember that "Superfoods" or any healthier option is simply an UPGRADE of the same thing.

Using natural sugars instead of white sugar is an excellent upgrade. AND we are still talking about sugar. Maple syrup, raw honey, dried fruit all fall under the category of natural sugars that are vastly superior to white sugar, but they have not ceased to be sugar. Snacking on dried fruit is better than snacking on cake, but both are still in the dessert category.

Let me repeat that: Dried fruit is akin to a sweetener or dessert.

If you want to sweeten your granola or eat a dessert, then adding some raisins or eating some dried figs is a great choice. But, you have still added sugar to your breakfast and eaten dessert. As long as you recognize this, and therefore adjust your future choices accordingly, then you are all good. If instead, you think you have only added "nutritional value" to your breakfast and consumed a health-food snack, you are bound to end up consuming too much sugar (and too many calories) over time, leading to blood sugar imbalances, weight gain, and other health concerns.

Viewing foods properly is key. Speaking of which...

Working out and coconut water/ sports drinks

OKAY. Listen up folks because this is another classic case of misperception.

First of all, sports drinks are sugar water. There are also some electrolytes, but mainly it's sugar water. That is the original point of them! If you are running a marathon or playing professional soccer then your body is burning fuel at a very high rate; during this INTENSE activity your body may become depleted and need additional glucose to perform at its highest level. In that situation sugar water is useful because it is easily absorbed by the body and able to be utilized as energy right away. If you are in the middle of a soccer game this is ideal. 

Unfortunately, a lot of sports drinks have a bunch of added chemicals and crap that give them crazy bright colors or make them taste fruity (you know, in a completely not-real-fruit kind of way). Therefore, coconut water has come out as a great alternative to classic sports drinks because it is lacking in these additives and BONUS has decent mineral content. If you are a professional athlete, I recommend coconut water during/after events if needed.

Most of us, however, are not exercising at that high a level.

If you are working out for an hour or less you do NOT need to consume extra calories in order to get your body through it.

And that is what you are doing by consuming either coconut water or sports drinks. Your body has a system for burning fuel. It can get you through a basic 45-60 minute workout. And your electrolytes should be fine as well. Possible exceptions involve extreme sweating situations, such as with hot yoga or working out in heat. Adding a small pinch of sea salt to your water can be a good option if you find yourself excessively sweating. 

Drink water

And before you think the sports drink companies have a solution to this issue, let me stop you. EVEN WORSE are "diet" sports drinks with less calories. That is some serious ridiculousness right there. Those "diet" sports drinks are just a marketing ploy attempting to sell sports drinks to people who work out moderately.

Hmm...people who work out moderately...sound like a LARGE demographic?

Yep, the companies thought so too. Once, they caught on that people working out to lose weight or maintain health realized that sports drinks weren't increasing their calorie burn enough to counter the calories they were now drinking, the sports drink companies decided to hit the market with "diet" versions. They contain crappy chemicals and artificial sweeteners. There is absolutely no point to them. If you are performing strenuous physical activity, you will benefit more from the regular versions (although I'd still recommend coconut water over them). If you aren't trying to maintain your peak performance during major prolonged activity, then you don't need any special drink. The best "diet" sports drink is WATER. If you want "extra energy" to get through a typical workout designed for general health or weight loss, try a B-complex vitamin. That will actually assist your body in making ATP, your cells' energy source. 

How should we incorporate "Superfoods" into our lives?

By remembering that they are just upgrades.

Eating a varied, whole foods diet is key to great health, so incorporating kale, chia seeds and goji berries into your diet is great. If you make trail mix with dried fruit or chocolate for some sweetness and want to upgrade to goji berries, great! But, don't go out and buy goji berry juice when you weren't already drinking juice because you think it is a health drink. (And you know how I feel about juice.)

Coconut water is a great upgrade to traditional sports drinks when necessary. It is also an upgrade to most fruit juice. It is NOT an upgrade to water. 

Kale is freaking wonderful! But putting some kale into chocolate chip cookies (it has happened) doesn't make them stop being cookies. Sneaking vegetables into foods that you were going to eat anyway is cool, but don't let it be an excuse to eat food you wouldn't have normally eaten. 

Allow the term "Superfood" to encourage you to try cooking with spices, such as turmeric, that you may not have previously used. Try new vegetables, new fruits, different grains. But don't throw all of your knowledge about appropriate portion size, or what a dessert is, out the window because you are using a "Superfood." 

Many of my raw desserts contain raw cacao, which is often considered a superfood. I agree. Raw cacao is great. But I still consume my raw brownie as a sweet treat. I shouldn't start eating raw brownies by the pound because they contain raw cacao. 

Understand? Excellent.

 

photo credit: source
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Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

What's the Deal with "Raw" Almonds?

You may or may not be familiar with the new laws regarding the required pasteurization of "raw" almonds in the U.S.  For those of you who have not read about all of the shenanigans surrounding almonds, let me bring you up to speed.

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In 2001 and 2004 there were cases of salmonella contamination in almonds.  In response to this, in 2007 The Almond Board of California, which oversees nearly all of the almonds that are grown in the U.S., decided to implement a mandate that would require all almonds be pasteurized for safety purposes.  The interesting point, of course, it why on earth would almonds contain salmonella?  It has nothing to do with the almonds themselves, rather it is caused by runoff from nearby CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations, which are the ridiculously inhumane and unsanitary mass confined animal feedlots that are referred to by Big Ag as "farms.")  

Instead of regulating the CAFOs and the issue of runoff, the Almond Board of California has demanded pasteurization of ALL almonds under their jurisdiction, which is essentially all almonds grown in the U.S.  Why would they do this?  Well, there is the safety concern side, but that would be best dealt with by actually going to the source of the problem.  Almonds are not the problem; the same thing has happened to other innocent foods such as spinach and melons.  The problem is the CAFOs and they will continue to contaminate their neighbors until they are forced to deal with their sanitation problems.  Therefore, there has been a lot of speculation that the true motivation for the mandate is for the larger almond growers to squeeze the little farmers by making them shell out the money to have their almonds pasteurized, which is a costly step.  Was it really a political power play on behalf of the powers that control the Almond Board?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Either way, the mandate doesn't really get to the heart of the issue and has created a system that now deceives the public.

What do I mean by deceiving the public?  The new law also dictates that these now pasteurized almonds can still be labeled as raw.  Say whaaat?  Yep.  It's a lie folks.  Pasteurized almonds, whether they are treated using the less undesirable method of steam heating, or are gassed with PPO (propoylene oxide, a known carcinogen), these almonds are not raw.  Truly raw almonds are a living food.  You can sprout them.  Pasteurized almonds are dead.  So why are companies allowed to lie to us and pretend that their almonds are raw when they aren't?

You can still buy truly raw almonds in the U.S. if you buy them directly from the grower at a farmer's market or online. There are a number of small companies that sell unpasteurized raw almonds: a few examples are One Lucky DuckRenegade Health and Bremner Farms.

A great resource with the latest on the pasteurization laws and the difference between raw and pasteurized nuts can be found here at www.livingnutz.com

If you want to know which brands use steam and which use PPO check out this Guide to how almonds are pasteurized.  Keep in mind that all certified organic almonds must use the steam method, so buying organic is a great way to avoid PPO.

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Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

Raw Deserts are Awesome

Now that the holiday season is over, many of us may be looking to ditch desserts for a while to make up for the many treats that were consumed throughout December. Instead of completely ruling out anything sweet, if you are looking for a healthy swap, here is a way to "hack" your dessert plate: Raw Desserts.

Raw desserts are an awesome way to get your dessert fix without consuming processed sugars.  Most raw desserts use raw nuts to make amazing things.  Seriously, those two raw cheesecakes pictures below are made with cashews!  And they are awesome.  As in really, really deliciously awesome.  

What is a Raw Dessert?

Raw food hasn’t been cooked, processed, microwaved, irradiated, genetically engineered, or exposed to pesticides or herbicides. It includes fresh fruits, berries, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and herbs in their whole, natural state. Proponents say cooking destroys most of the vitamins in food and crucial enzymes.  In general, the temperature determined to be the cut off is around 115 degrees Fahrenheit.  Raw desserts are desserts made using raw foods. 

I am not a proponent of eating entirely raw foods, but dessert seems to me to be one of the areas where the raw versions flat out trump the processed versions.  I don't seem to get any of the negative consequences traditionally associated with eating desserts if they are raw.  My blood sugar doesn't spike (probably because there are always good fats, fiber and protein included in raw desserts via ingredients such as nuts, seeds, coconut oil, whole fruits and veggies.) I don't get a food coma after eating them and they digest well.

Raw desserts often use dates as the sugar, sometimes maple syrup/agave/raw honey, but never any processed sugars.  Personally, I'm not a big fan of agave, so maple syrup and raw honey are my go-to sweetners when a liquid sweetner is required.  I also like using Brown Rice Syrup since it is fructose-free.  And, because raw desserts are chock full of goodies like raw cacao, raw nuts, and other whole-antioxidant-rich foods, raw desserts are full of lots of vitamins and minerals, unlike most processed desserts which are completely devoid of nutritional value.  Not to mention that processed desserts are often incredibly detrimental to our bodies.  Therefore, for anyone who fears that they can't possibly satisfy their sweet tooth without consuming crap, I say "Fear not! Make yourself a raw dessert!"  

They are pretty simple to make usually, unless you want to get all kinds of fancy.  Which you can.  You can make raw desserts that would bring the house down if you'd like.  Or you can keep it simple and still blow the minds of any naysayer out there.  

There are tons and tons of raw dessert recipes out there, including a couple on my recipe page.  Other great sites are Sweetly RawRawmazing and This Rawesome Vegan Life to get you started.

Pictured above are this cheesecake recipe from The Wellness Warrior via Eat Awesome and this chocolate cheesecake recipe from Detoxinista.  (Surprise: The chocolate cake has an entire cup of zucchini in it! And it's soooo good!)

Happy Raw Dessert Eating!

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Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.