Are there super foods or simply super dietary patterns?



I often post about the nutritional perks and disease fighting effects of one plant food or another as nature provides an arsenal of weaponry to protect against a wide assortment of various ills. For example, earlier this summer, I posted on my Enlightened Eater Facebook page  about the assorted benefits of strawberries.

But after the strawberry post, I received a question which got me thinking. The query was about how many berries a day it would take to decrease all the potential disease risks that I had written about.
The question made me realize I needed to explain a key point about these particular posts about various foods.

One food alone does not a healthy diet make. One food alone will not fix a lousy diet.

Thinking about it took me back to decades ago when scientist discovered that oat bran could lower blood cholesterol. Suddenly oat bran was added to all kinds of food, including plenty of junk food options. Somehow people were led to believe that eating deep-fried, salt-laden chips of one kind or another would offer benefit if they contained oat bran. Then just one study, which showed a not so positive effect of oat bran (not a good study in any case) burst the oat bran bubble.

It is really dietary patterns, not one particular food or nutrient, that’s associated with good health. Not that there aren’t foods that should be considered as nutritional powerhouses or those that should be given elevated status above others. Iceberg lettuce versus spinach, a spring mix or arugula would be a good example. But singling out only one food or nutrient, though, as good or bad will lead you astray and not make you put the effort where it belongs. While you don’t want to focus on one food or nutrient, meeting all your nutritional needs is also key whether it be calcium, potassium, omega-3s or your antioxidant quota.

A diet based mainly on whole plant foods: fruits and vegetables, pulses (legumes), whole grains, nuts and seeds and healthy oils along with small amounts of animal foods, if desired, and minimally processed foods, is what to aim for. You don’t need to be a vegetarian or a vegan or cut out dairy products or meat. Not only will you benefit your own personal health but you’ll also be contributing to a healthier planet.

So keep in mind that when I post about different foods, my goal is to enlighten you about their benefits so that you will include these various foods on a regular basis. Sometimes, though, there may be a need for a person to focus even more so on one particular food over another such as in the case of someone with a condition such as macular degeneration and the need for more lutein/zeaxanthin rich items on a daily basis.

But the bottom line is that you should go for a healthy dietary pattern such as the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.

Enlightened eating definitely entails keeping your eye on the big picture.

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Categories: Superfoods, Whole Foods

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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