The Ultimate Guide to Smart Foods
In this health-conscious age of hipsterdom, more and more people are flocking to Whole Foods and local farmers’ markets to get their hands on so-called “smart foods” or superfoods.
A cursory search on Google reflects the sheer volume of people looking to find healthy and/or vegan recipes, and plenty of questions about what foods qualify as smart foods.
Many misconceptions have spread like wildfire. For instance, almost anyone you ask will tell you that white bread is no good for you.
This is because they have long been under the false impression that whole wheat bread is the healthier option.
After speaking with a nutritionist friend recently, I was rescued from this same false impression. What my friend, an accredited nutritionist and fitness instructor, had to say was this:
“It’s a total lie that whole wheat is better than white bread and it’s a lie that has been propagated and perpetuated by mainstream companies because it’s a way for them to charge more for their product.
“You know when you walk through the organic aisle at your local supermarket, the price are crazy. It’s the same with quote unquote low fat options, they know people who are concerned with their diet are willing to pay more for what they perceive as healthy.”
She went on to tell me that the only thing that makes whole wheat bread healthier than white bread is the whole wheat flour as it contains nutrients that are lost from white bread in the manufacturing process.
As she explained it, the nutrient content in whole wheat bread is so minute that they are swiftly converted into glucose, a form of sugar.
Her conclusion was simple: Whether whole wheat or white, it’s all absorbed the same, affecting one’s blood sugar in identical ways.
Never one to take a self-proclaimed expert at their word, I made it a point to do my homework in an effort to confirm what she had told me. The result was surprising.
Multiple sources online backed up her claim and the folks at Authority Nutrition even produced a list of potential problems with whole wheat bread.
This got me thinking: What other foods are we in the dark about? And what makes smart foods a smart choice? Here we will delve into the full gamut of superfoods, sussing out the good, the bad and the bogus.
Pretenders to the Throne
Dried fruit is often mistaken as a healthy food because it is rich in fiber, but what people don’t know is that dried fruit is also rich in sugar. What’s more, dried fruit has three times the calories per volume of fresh fruit.
Nuts are a great source of heart-healthy unsaturated fats—polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats—that are thought to lower cholesterol.
The problem is, all too many people pick up trail mix and think that they’re being healthy. On the contrary, the salts added to the nuts and the sugar from the M & Ms and raisins mean that you’re doing your body a serious disservice.
So remember, the next time you’re in the nut aisle, think of trail mix as the junk food of the bunch and always opt for fresh, organic nuts as opposed to the processed, roasted or salted varieties.
Fat-Free foods fly off the shelves all across America and beyond. People place a lot of faith in fat-free options, but the truth is, fat-free foods are not healthy at all. Most fat-free options actually contain more sugar than their original counterparts.
The same can be said of frozen yogurt; folks have been falsely conditioned to believe that frozen yogurt is the healthier option, but most fro-yo is actually loaded with sugar.
A half-cup serving of fro-yo contains about 17 grams of sugar, making it no better for you than a half a glass of soda.
Furthermore, the healthy gut bacteria innate to yogurt culture may be killed in the freezing process, meaning that you’re not exactly reaping any of the benefits of yogurt by eating frozen yogurt.
Ice cream may have more fat, but fat is actually responsible for slowing down the digestion of sugar, thereby preventing your body from storing those sugars.
Reduced fat peanut butter is another popular item on the grocery store shelves, but the removal of good fats (monounsaturated fats) from peanut butter leaves you with nothing but lots of sugar.
This is to say nothing of the fact that the calorie content is the same as original peanut butter.
A healthier option is organic peanut butter with no added sugar. It may be more expensive, but it’s worth it.
Acai has grown in popularity in recent years for its antioxidants, but the truth is, there are cheaper and more common sources of antioxidants and nutrients. Grapes, blueberries and cherries offer identical antioxidant content for far less money.
Raspberries and strawberries are other viable alternatives to acai.
Garlic. It’s one of my favorite foods and I could probably eat it several times a day if left to my own devices. But the average person does not want to eat it all day. Which may be a problem.
Yes, garlic contains a nutrient that is understood to be helpful in reducing blood pressure and lowering cholesterol, but in order to reap the benefits of that nutrient, it has been said that one would have to eat 28 cloves of garlic per day!
As anyone who grew up in a family with a love of Italian cuisine can tell you, eating just a few cloves of garlic leaves you stinking of the stuff. Can you imagine what your breath would be like after scarfing down 28 cloves?
Think about how much Listerine you’d have to knock back to counteract the stench.
Fruit cocktail is one of the worst supposed superfoods around. Just because there are chunks of fruit doesn’t mean it ain’t junk food.
In fact, between the sugars inherent in the fruit and the sugar contained in the heavy syrup your fruit is floating in, fruit cocktail contains as much as 26 grams of sugar! That’s just one gram away from the sugar in a can of Red Bull.
Sushi rolls are another thing that people eat when they think they’re being healthy, but unlike raw fish, sushi rolls are not healthy in the Western world.
Thanks to the addition of ingredients like cream cheese and spicy mayo, sushi rolls can contain as many as 500 calories.
Cranberry juice often lands on top 10 lists of foods and drinks that are good for producing energy and relieving pain, but consuming cranberry juice in mass quantities can lead to stomach upset and diarrhea, not to mention the development of kidney stones due to cranberry juice’s high oxalate content.
What Foods are Good for the Brain?
You’ve heard it all your life and it’s true, fish really is “brain food.” Whether it’s deep-water fish or wild salmon, fish are dense with omega-3 fatty acids, essential acids that are vital to optimal brain function.
Avocados are among the greatest smart foods for a number of reasons. Chief among its benefits are its ability to promote brain health.
It is instrumental in proper blood flow to the brain. Some havre even suggested that the essential fats contained in avocados can make us smarter.
Evidence also supports the theory that avocados can help prevent cancer and may even be able to reverse cancer. There are multiple benefits to an avocado-rich diet including sexual health and fertility.
Avocado enthusiasts have even laid out why avocados are important for babies, noting the value of their antioxidants, essential nutrients and range of vitamins.
It is clear, even at first glance, why avocado landed on Dr. Frank Lipman’s list of the top 9 superfoods.
Blueberries are another excellent brain food. Rich in phytoflavinoids and antioxidants, blueberries contain anti-inflammatory properties and can boost focus as well as memory.
Blueberries are a source of potassium, fiber, vitamin C and much, much more. They are known to lower cholesterol levels and diminish the risk of heart disease.
Broccoli is always a healthy and smart option for memory and focus as it contains choline, a macronutrient that is responsible for improved nerve function, metabolism, muscle movement and increased energy levels.
That’s the thing a lot of people don’t get. The vast majority of true smart foods are foods that have been around for ages. Many of them were staples of our diets when we were growing up.
How many times did your parents push broccoli and spinach on you? Maybe you have PTSD flashbacks to the nights when mom would cook up a wet hot plate of lima beans.
Maybe you didn’t like the taste or the texture, but our palates change as we get older and so, too, do our nutritional needs.
While it is important for kids to eat their veggies so that they can grow to be big and strong, it is of equal importance that people over the age of thirty protect their bones, their brains, and their digestive and immune systems.
What these greens offer is imperative for people of all ages.
There are many things one can do with broccoli including a nice, tasty broccoli pesto dip.
Pesto also contains basil, another smart food that contains disease-fighting antioxidants and antibacterial properties, as well as pine nuts which contain iron, protein and monounsaturated fat.
Most leafy greens are excellent sources of vital nutrients and antioxidants. These include romaine lettuce, Swiss chard and kale. Which brings us back to that whole wheat bread vs white bread argument.
How about cut back on your caloric intake and get your fair share of vitamins C, K and A, potassium, fiber and manganese, and wrap your sandwich in some romaine instead of bread.
Superfoods for Mind & Body
In the age of nutraceuticals, more and more students and working professionals have turned to supplements to boost their energy, and increase focus and motivation, but there is a vast array of actual superfoods that can perform this very same task.
Oats are a terrific brain food and energy source. A bowl of oatmeal is slowly digested, acting like a time-release remedy that provides steady energy to your body and brain throughout the day.
Hemp seeds. Don’t get your hopes up, it’s not what you think it is. Put the bong down!
No, hemp powder comes from the seeds of the Cannabis sativa plant and can be sprinkled on your breakfast cereal or stirred in with some ice cream (don’t you dare mention fro-yo after the above) to yield a significant uptake in protein, antioxidants, omega-3s and omega-6s and other vital nutrients.
Hemp seeds have serious cardiac benefits and are fairly low in caloric content. They are also a great source of magnesium which is known to improve brain function and build stronger muscles.
Beans are one of the oldest and greatest superfoods. Dense with protein, magnesium and B vitamins, beans offer cognitive protection and tons of fiber. They are slowly digested, giving you all day energy.
There are so many great superfoods out there, be it rosemary—a neuroprotectant that combats free radicals—or ginger for its reduction of muscle soreness and blood sugar. And that is to say nothing of the wealth of tasty recipes available online.
Whether it’s a savory beef and broccoli dish or a vegan chickpea curry, a basil and tomato green bean recipe or a cranberry salad with feta cheese and walnuts, there is no end to the culinary possibilities with these wonderful superfoods.
Want a cheat day without sacrificing the nutrients? Try whipping yourself up a nice queso dip with greek yogurt and topping it with some lime slices. Mangiare! Mangiare!