As part of their New Year's resolutions, many decide to elevate their efforts toward personal health and wellness. This often includes a fitness plan, backed by a "healthy" diet. But what is a healthy diet? Advertising tells us that there is a set list of "superfoods" that constitutes the healthy diet that will promote energy now and longevity later. What are these superfoods? Why are they so expensive? What makes them so healthful? And what can the standard grocery offer that fills these requirements without breaking the bank? As in many endeavors, the more complicated the solution, the more the industry profits, whereas the simple solution often yields cheaper results. Here are some simple steps to follow so that there is no financial sting during your next health food purchase.
Chia seeds, goji berries, wheatgrass, kombucha, cacao and almond butter. Aside from making your next smoothie order wickedly expensive, these "superfoods" share one main characteristic: They are very nutrient-dense. This is an important distinction, because foods can be calorically dense (high in energy) but also nutrient-poor (low in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which help the body function properly) -- a Twinkie, for example. Health writer Christopher Wanjek, in an article for Live Science, states that although many of these proclaimed health foods are indeed nutritionally dense, the title "superfood" is a marketing ploy designed to hype up the cost and sales of these high-end imports.
This sparks a question, then: What nutrients are we buying into? A quick summary of the elemental facets that make something "superfood"-worthy helps to clear this up.
--Vitamins. According to nutritionist Christian Nordqvist in an article on Medical News Today's online database, vitamins are organic compounds that are essential to survival but cannot be produced by the body alone. Examples are vitamin A (aids in eye health), vitamin B-6 (aids in neural integrity) and vitamin D (preserves bone strength and the functioning of some hormones).
--Minerals. According to MedlinePlus (a governmental resource that helps citizens understand their nutrition and wellness), minerals are inorganic elements that help the body function and develop. Examples include potassium and sodium.
--Antioxidants. MedlinePlus goes on to define antioxidants as any compound that helps delay cell damage or breakdown. Beyond being a nutrition buzzword, antioxidants can be found in many fruits, vegetables and fermented foods.
When you know what nutritional aspects you are looking for, it becomes easier to avoid the overpriced "superfoods" and select cheaper but effective alternatives. Here is a list of nutrient-dense foods compiled from articles by Heather McClees from the nutrition website One Green Planet and Kerri-Ann Jennings, registered dietitian and contributor to EatingWell, that won't bankrupt you during your grocery run.
--Apples. They are filled with vitamin C.
--Bananas. They are a great source of potassium and fiber.
--Berries. They're filled with anthocyanins -- an antioxidant group that helps reduce cholesterol and lower blood sugar.
--Broccoli. It's an excellent way to get your B vitamins.
--Cabbage. It's one of the best sources of vitamin K. Also, diets filled with leafy vegetables are shown to correlate with lower cancer rates.
--Carrots. They're a natural source of vitamin A.
--Green tea. It's one of the top sources of antioxidants. It's also a lot less acidic than coffee.
--Oats. They're a good source of calcium and iron.
--Sweet potatoes. Beyond being filled with vitamin A, sweet potatoes are digested very slowly by our bodies, so they don't cause blood sugar to spike.
--Tuna. It's one of the cheapest ways to get your omega-3 fatty acids (vital for hormone health). Make sure to buy dolphin-safe varieties!
Just as one bad food won't ruin a day of clean eating, one good food won't cure a consistently bad diet. Cook with whole foods from natural sources, factoring in at least a few every meal, and your body will thank you. Avoid the hype of the "superfood" marketing scheme and your wallet will thank you, too.