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Superfoods aren’t superheroes

Trendy foods are no cure-all or replacement for a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle

Every year, popular magazines and trend watchers release lists of must-eat “superfoods” that will boost our health and overall well-being.

The idea sounds appealing — eat this food and you’ll feel great and improve your health. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy — superfoods are not the superheroes they’re made out to be.

The concept of superfoods is completely unregulated and scientifically unsupported. It is used more as a marketing tool than a health promotion tool. Yes, typically the foods listed (acai berries, kelp, moringa powder, algae fat, etc.) are nutrient rich and have some beneficial properties, but singling out one food over others is not recommended.

Dr. Carol Greenwood, senior scientist on brain health at Rotman Research Institute says, “When it comes to brain health, there is currently no evidence that any one single food within the same class is superior to other similar food.”

In other words, she would encourage you to eat all kinds of rich-coloured berries such as blueberries, saskatoons, haskaps, raspberries, cranberries and acai berries rather than singling out any one variety.

Greenwood’s findings are supported by other researchers working on behalf of leading health organizations representing chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, kidney disease, cancer, respiratory disease or arthritis. None of them support the notion of superfoods. They all agree that overall eating patterns in combination with physical activity, not smoking, stress reduction and social and mental well-being are more important than focusing on any one particular food.

Let’s stop looking for superheroes or superfoods and just focus on our overall eating patterns and the recommendations put forth by leading health organizations across the globe.

Fruit and veg

Eating a large variety and meeting daily recommendations (eight to 10 servings/day for adults) of vegetables and fruits is more important than finding the perfect “superfood.” Use fresh, frozen or canned to add dark greens, vivid reds, bright purples and blues, sunny oranges and yellows and even whites, tans and browns at every meal.

Whole grains and fibre

Less processed grains and foods provide more nutrients, more fibre and more long-lasting energy. Think whole grains like oats, barley, wheat, buckwheat, quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, etc. Include nuts, seeds and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and winter squash in this category too.

Varied proteins

Select a variety of fish, poultry, dairy products and lean meat along with non-animal protein sources like legumes, nuts, seeds, soy products and even dark leafy greens.

Less sugar and salt

Most of our sugar and salt intake comes from highly processed foods. By preparing more food from scratch we can better control our intake of sugar and salt. To meet World Health Organization recommendations for sugar stay below 12 teaspoons (50 g) of added sugar per day. As for salt, Health Canada recommends no more than 2,300 mg of salt per day, the equivalent of one teaspoon.

Fat choices

While views about fats are changing, leading health organizations continue to recommend choosing lean meats and reducing fats that are solid at room temperature. They also recommend looking for omega-3 fatty acids found in walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flaxseed, hemp, olive oil, canola oil, fatty fish (salmon, herring, trout, sardines, halibut, whitefish) and omega-3 eggs.

Try the following recipes that combine many wholesome foods to see just how tasty these recommendations can be.

Southern Beef ’n Rice

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. dried basil
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 can (370 mL) partly skimmed evaporated milk
  • 1/2 red pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 can (796 mL or 28 oz.) diced tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 c. chopped fresh or frozen greens (spinach, kale, swiss chard)

In large skillet, brown ground beef.

Add onion and celery; sauté until softened, about three to five minutes.

Add garlic, paprika, thyme, basil, cayenne and cinnamon; cook for one minute.

Add evaporated milk and simmer for about eight minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed.

Add red and green peppers, mustard and diced tomatoes and simmer for another eight to 10 minutes until heated through and thickened.

Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and extra cayenne if desired.

Stir in chopped greens and cook for about two minutes until just wilted.

Serve over brown rice. Serves four.


Italian seasoning

Make your own salt-free seasoning to use on pasta, chicken, pork, vegetables, garlic toast and even popcorn.

  • 4-1/2 tbsp. dried basil
  • 3 tbsp. dried marjoram
  • 3 tbsp. dried parsley
  • 3 tbsp. dried oregano
  • 1-1/2 tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1-1/2 tbsp. onion flakes
  • 1-1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1-1/2 tsp. rubbed sage
  • 1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Transfer into an airtight jar.

Use within 12 months. Makes 3/4 cup.


Chickpea sweet potato stew with barley

  • 1 tbsp. canola oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp. minced ginger
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 tsp. coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne (optional)
  • 1 med. sweet potato, cut into 1/4-in. cubes (approx. 2 c.)
  • 1 (540-mL) can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 c. pot barley
  • 1 plum tomato, chopped
  • 3 c. no-salt-added chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. frozen peas, thawed
  • 5 prunes, cut into quarters
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • Plain Greek yogurt and cilantro (garnish)

In large pot, heat canola oil over medium heat.

Cook ginger, garlic, onion and spices for three minutes.

Add sweet potato, chickpeas, barley and tomato. Cook for two minutes.

Add broth and salt (if using a salted broth, you won’t need the salt).

Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low. Cook for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add peas and prunes. Cook for five minutes. Add water or broth if stew becomes dry.

Add lemon juice after heat is turned off.

Ladle into bowls, and top with plain Greek yogurt and chopped cilantro.

Serves four to six.

Source: Zannat Reza,

About the author


Getty Stewart is a professional home economist, speaker and writer from Winnipeg. For more recipes, preserves and kitchen tips, visit



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