It’s a bird; it’s a plane; it’s a…superfood?  It’s a what?

The term superfood has become super common.  It’s a made-up word. Meant to promote foods that are nutrient dense, superfood may be a misnomer.  There are no set criteria for what is or isn’t a superfood, according to the American Heart Association. Are all real foods super?  Or are foods that make you happy super?  And, if nutrient-dense superfoods don’t make you happy are they still super?

To start our investigation, an understanding of un-superfoods would be helpful.  Defining un-super is trickier than it sounds.  If we follow the superfood buzzword school of thought anything processed that doesn’t contain an abundant amount of nutrients or vitamins isn’t super.  By another definition, superfood is food that makes you feel super or happy or marvelous – like s’mores or buckets of fried chicken.  They might make your insides feel a little dirty, but they make your heart fill with joy and skip a beat (your heart may literally skip a beat due to fat and cholesterol, but at least it’s happy. Amirite?).  Following that logic, an un-super food would be one that makes you sad – like pearl onions – yuuuuck.

I’m not one to get on a soapbox.  I eat like that vitamin commercial – 90% of Americans try to eat healthy, but only a few of us are getting the nutrients we need.  Yeah, that’s likely me, and not to judge, likely you, too.  Healthy-ish.  Fruits and veggies are delightful, but I’m also a sucker for a fast food burger.  It calls me.  It taunts me, and I cave and eat one like the poor sucker I am, greasy fingers and all.  Not the healthiest but the happiest tummy thanks to beef and bun.

Other foods that induce euphoria might include birthday cake, donuts, coffee, chocolate, noodles, soup, bacon, and anything Grandma makes.  While this list isn’t exhaustive, it gives you a flavor.  Fat, sugar and memories. Need them.  Want them.

Are nutrient-dense foods and foods that make you happy mutually exclusion?  Or can we have our healthy cake and eat it too?  Elements most often associated with superfoods include:

  • Antioxidants: thought to ward off cancer
  • Healthy fats: thought to prevent heart disease
  • Fiber: thought to prevent diabetes and tummy troubles
  • Phytochemicals, chemicals in plants responsible for rich colors and smells (think asparagus): thought to protect against of all sorts of ailments.

A few common superfoods filled with super-sized amounts of antioxidants, healthy fat, fiber, phytochemicals and vitamins and minerals include blueberry, avocado, kiwi, eggs, kale, almond, red wine, and ginger.  This list isn’t new or exciting.  It’s a list you’ve likely seen umpteen times before, and you’re probably rolling your eyes at it.  These and the other superfoods constantly thrown around can’t possibly be the only foods that are super.  Yes, they make you healthy.  Yes, they keep your body functioning.  Yes, I want to eat other food besides these.  How do we balance healthy and happy superfoods?

Moderation, or a skill that no one masters, is key.  Nutrition textbooks define a moderate diet as one that “avoids excessive amounts of calories or any particular food or nutrient.”  I interpret that as do not eat too many superfoods.  A nutrition coach may disagree with that assessment. Oh well.

Blending super healthy and super happy isn’t painful or anxiety-inducing.  It’s exhilarating – like reaching the top of Mount Everest or finally running a mile.  Two things I haven’t mastered but the excitement is all the same nonetheless.  How can you make food that meets all super standards?

  1. Train Your Taste Buds – yes, that’s a thing. Your buds may have gotten used to fat and sugar and salt.  Can you blame them?  Start reacquainting them to veggies and fruits.
  2. Be Bold – Try new flavors and pile on the spices. Let spices rain down for the jar or your fingertips.  Think Salt Bae.
  3. Fail – it happens.
  4. Repeat – this is self-explanatory.

Finding ways to incorporate all definitions of superfood create a win-win for the heart and the health-conscious mind.  So often we can’t have it all but in this instance, we can.  Worlds collide with chocolate red wine cake, kale pesto salmon and anchovy chili pasta.  These may not make you as happy as, say, a hamburger with grilled cheese buns, but they’ll make you smile.  They also won’t make your heart explode for all the wrong reason – like heart disease.  Finding the intersections of all superfoods prompts a new category – super-duper-food – nutrient dense and joy-inducing.