How Super are “Superfoods”? (with a Bonus Baby Kale Sauté Recipe)

Kale

I have wanted to post this recipe kale sauté that I make for some time. As I finally got around to it, it got me thinking about the origin of the term “superfood”, since kale is billed as such, so I did a bit of digging. What I found was that the term started to gain popularity in the 2000s, but from where? Wikipedia doesn’t pinpoint the origin of the word or how it came into popular use to describe the fad that elevates some foods to superstar status for their amazing properties. And there’s no academic research to be found on superfoods prior to the start of the 21st century, though since that time, there have been almost 2,500 publications about superfoods. Maybe it was turn of the century that made people think more about how to boost their health that started this revolution? At any rate, the term took us by force and is here to stay, along with a lot of misinformation about the foods bestowed with the title.

What are Superfoods?
Superfoods are nutrient-dense foods. They are typically associated with being rich in flavonoids like beta carotene and lycopene (which are phytonutrients containing antioxidants that fight cell deterioration), particular vitamins or minerals (like vitamin K, magnesium), and higher concentrations of healthy fats (like omega-3 fatty acids). The great thing about foods accorded with superfood status is that they are real foods, and almost all of them, including flax seed, pomegranates, avocados, quinoa, and kale, are plants.

So Are They Really Super?
Yes and no. On one hand, they are super foods in that they are really good for us, because of the nutrients they have to offer. On the other hand, researchers aren’t exactly sure how much of any one superfood a person would need to get any additional benefits. That’s to say, exactly how many cups of blueberries would someone need to eat to boost their antioxidant levels? What we do know is that too much of any one food alone is not good for us.

So What’s the Bottom Line?
It’s better to eat foods labeled as superfoods than not to opt for these healthful choices. But the research just isn’t there to back up the power of superfoods as magic remedies to counter bad eating habits or to prevent or cure diseases. So paying a whole lot to start drinking organic açai berry juice every day just isn’t worth it. Instead, being healthier is about making a lifestyle change that introduces whole foods into your diet, jettisons the junk, and includes exercise. So eat these “superfoods” because they’re awesome for you, but don’t depend on them to cancel out the ill effects of a diet based on deep-fried Oreos or BBQ pork ribs.

Baby Kale Sauté Recipe
I started making this very simple side dish when my spouse, Michael, and I moved to a low-carbohydrate diet. It’s a great accompaniment to a variety of entrées because its neutral flavor compliments seasoned dishes very well. I often serve it with his and her (i.e., poultry for him, vegan for her) Italian stuffed sausage, pizza, or Mexican marinated chicken. It’s easy and quick to make, as long as you’re not like me and need to destem the leaves. They seem stringy to me, so I tear those off, which takes a bit longer. I look for packages with bigger leaves, because those stems are less stringy.

  • Heat a sauté pan to medium-high heat.
  • Add ½-1 T. safflower oil, 1 T. finely chopped fresh garlic, ¼ t. crushed red pepper, and sauté until the garlic starts to brown. (You can cheat, like me, and use jarred minced garlic, but buy a good brand because some don’t remove the rough stem bit of the cloves before processing them.)
  • Mix in 5 oz. fresh baby kale leaves and stir until the kale starts to wilt.
  • Add freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste.

Voilá! You have a great side dish that’s excellent for your health, whether it’s a superfood or not. You can use regular kale, but it’ll be much more fibrous and less tender.

Serves:
Prep time: 5 minutes w/o destemming; 15 if you choose to destem the kale
Accommodates: Omnivores, Vegetarians, Vegans, low-carbohydrate, keto, paleo and gluten-free regimens

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