At a time when it’s not always clear which foods are “good” or “bad” for us, so-called “superfoods” are getting a lot of attention. The much-touted foods in this elite category are packed with vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, good-for-us fats, and micronutrients the health community is still learning about. For many dietitians though, the phrase “superfood” is not so super.
“I don’t use the term ‘superfood’ because your whole diet is important, not just certain foods that are really healthy,” says Virtua registered dietitian Katalin Russek, MS, RD. “People will go eat fast food and say, ‘Oh, I’ll just chase it down with a blueberry smoothie and that superfood will counteract all the fast food I just ate.’ I believe people really should look at their diet as a whole.”
Russek concedes that fresh or frozen blueberries are packed with antioxidants capable of lowering your risk of heart disease and cancer, and that salmon deserves all the praises it receives for its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids that are so beneficial to our hearts and brains. But, she says she and most dietitians encourage people to think less about superfoods and more about following an overall healthy eating style.
“One really healthy eating style people should try is the Mediterranean diet,” recommends Russek. “It includes all of the superfoods. All the meals in the Mediterranean diet are cooked in olive oil, they’re all served with some kind of whole grain, and fresh fruits and vegetables, and the protein often comes from beans or legumes, or fish or shellfish. This type of eating style, with all of these things included, can promote optimal health and well-being.”
Russek adds: “A healthy overall diet is really what we should be promoting. Honing in on one ‘superfood’ gets very confusing and then people tend to compensate with just that one food, and that won’t do them any good.”
Russek says an overall healthy diet includes the following elements:
- Soluble fiber (in foods such as oatmeal, apples and beans), which studies have shown can reduce the risk of colon, rectal, and breast cancer along with lowering cholesterol and controlling blood sugar
- Nuts, which are high in magnesium and protein, and provide us with healthy fats
- Moderate amounts of olive oil
- Plenty of seasonal and fresh fruits and vegetables (local, if possible)
- Proteins, as much as possible from fish and shellfish, with smaller meat portions than we typically find in the American diet
- Portion control – many restaurant portions are large enough to comprise three normal meals
- A little wiggle room to enjoy sweets or your favorite treat
Virtua's registered dietitians assist individuals of all ages in making healthier choices by developing a food plan tailored to their needs. For more information or to make an appointment, call a Virtua Personal Health Navigator at 1-877-896-6267.