What are superfoods?

Superfoods and Anamaya’s Vision of Healthy Eating

July 13th, 2010 by Geoff McCabe

superfoods-fruit

As we all know, many centuries ago before civilization existed, our cave-men ancestors didn’t have our huge choice of foods or knowledge of what healthy eating was. They only ate whatever they could find or catch.

Or is there something missing from this theory? What do we really know about the lost ancient wisdom of cultures that lived long ago?

It has been said that all human societies are technological societies, continually using, improving, and developing the worldly knowledge of their times. Ancient people in many areas of the planet ate a wide variety of things. In rainforest cultures, the tribal elders had names for thousands of different plants and animals within their known universe, and they had millenia to discover their uses. When the Ice Man was discovered frozen in a glacier in Italy, they found a larger variety of possessions than they ever had imagined, including herbs from far off places, and evidence of knowledge of acupuncture.

With civilization came greater abundance of food, and methods of storing it for longer periods of time. Foods may not have been as fresh, but at least people didn’t starve as frequently. Only very recently, has science shown us that foods should be eaten as fresh as possible, for maximum nutritional benefit.

Raw Food Or Cooked?

We have been cooking food for 100,000 years. That’s approximately 5000 generations of evolution with humans evolving to eating cooked food. Cooked food tastes good. Why did we evolve a taste for it? Was it because it was nutritionally superior, or because cooking simply killed parasites and pathogens? So should we go back to eating only raw food, like our ancestors did more than 100,000 years ago?

There is a lot of extreme thinking about food, hyped foods and fad diets, and a lot of people selling a lot of things, and many have very convincing, yet conflicting facts (sales science). At Anamaya, we believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Some foods are healthier eaten raw and unprocessed. “Processed” doesn’t just mean in a factory. Processing happens in your home blender too. We know that the minute most fruit and veggies are sliced or bruised, chemical reactions, oxidization, and enzyme breakdowns begin. Many of these reduce the nutritional benefit quickly.

Other foods are nutritionally superior when lightly cooked. Cooking can soften or break down cell walls in certain plants, which aids the digestive process. But overcooking can then damage the phyto-chemicals and other nutrients inside that are sensitive to heat. Overcooking can also create carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds in the food. For example, a healthy food like olive oil can be turned into saturated or trans-fatty oils by overheating it for an extended time. And to make things more complicated, some foods could have different nutritional benefits whether they are cooked or uncooked.

Certainly, we should be eating a large percentage of our diet as raw fruits and vegetables, but the amount is up to each individual to discover for him/herself. Many people find tremendous health benefits by consuming 50%-80% of their diet as raw food.

Food Science

The scientific research surrounding food health is a very new science, and as a species, humans know only a small portion of what we will decades from now. If you aren’t familiar with the complexity of this subject, and why it’s so difficult to get solid answers to, think about the following. If you somehow measure the vitamin, mineral content of a carrot, and then you eat it, how do you know how much of that nutrition changes during the chewing process? For the nutrition that gets into your stomach, how much survives the stomach acid, and how do you know how much of that gets into your bloodstream? If it does get into your bloodstream, how do you know it’s used properly by your body, when we know that some important chemical compounds require others to be present in specific ratios to be effective? And if it’s good for one organ in your body, how do you know it’s good for the others? If we measure our waste products and see that the nutritional compounds are no longer present, how do we know that they were even used? Could they be stored in our fat cells, or somewhere else? Could they come out in our sweat, or even our breath, or hair? So imagine how difficult it is to come to a solid conclusion about this, when our individual metabolisms, digestive systems, and neuro-endocrine systems vary so much from person to person and culture to culture.

Is Everything Okay In Moderation?

The result is a lot of mystery surrounding foods, and to make matters worse, the companies that produce unhealthy foods use their publicity machines to promote the idea in the mainstream media that there’s a lot of confusion about what’s healthy, and so the corporate message becomes “everything is okay in moderation,” which quickly becomes a license to eat whatever you want. Anyone striving for optimal health should be very wary of this concept. We want to have a good balance, but highly weighted towards the healthy side. In the U.S., the “Food Pyramid” is written and maintained by the USDA (U.S. Dept of Agriculture) whose goal it is to promote the products of America’s farming corporations, not the health of its citizens. I’d love to see a new “Dept of Homeland Nutrition” take over this role.

The health food movement started as a reaction to what people saw as wrong with society, and as a rejection of that, many people became focused on what they didn’t eat, rather than what they do eat. Many people become vegetarians and watch their health decline because they’re still eating a lot of milk products and junk food. Vegans have are an even more extreme case, and in some town and cities, it’s very difficult to eat vegan healthily without having a very in-depth knowledge of healthy cooking. Many resort to eating a lot of very expensive and highly processed vegan and vegetarian “health” foods in packages from places like Whole Foods. It’s either that, or spend four hours every day in the kitchen!

At Anamaya, our food program is designed to not only bring you the healthiest food we can, but to show you how amazing it can taste and how easy it is to prepare. Our guests are invited to watch and learn from our chef, so you can take back with you recipes and knowledge that will help you eat healthier without quitting your job to spend all day cooking or going bankrupt buying from Whole Foods.

Superfoods

A few years ago, author Steven G Pratt wrote the book “Superfoods RX”, in which he coined the term “Super-foods”, which became a nutritional buzzword. These foods are ones which are shown to have a higher nutritional value than any others. Since then, many food gurus have written articles about the subject, and many have provided their own lists of super-foods based upon their own research and educated hunches.
I went through as many of these lists as I could find, to try to get a consensus from a variety of experts, and that list is compiled below. Anamaya strives to use as many organic super-foods from this list as possible in every meal. We will be continually improving our menu.

Super-Foods List:

Almonds
Apples
Avocados
Beets
Blueberries
Broccoli
Chocolate
Coconut Oil
Cranberries
Garlic
Olive Oil
Pumpkin
Purslane
Spinach & Leafy Greens
Spirolina
Sweet Potatoes
Tea (black and green both)
Tomatoes
Turmeric
Wheat Grass
Whole Grains
Wine (Red)
Yogurt

Secondary List:

(Listed as a super-food by at least one expert):

Brazil Nuts
Cinnamon
Eggs
Flax Seeds & Oil
Ginger
Oats
Onions
Oranges & Citrus
Salmon
Walnuts
Wasabi

Some of these foods are on the list because they’re full of a variety of great things, and others, such as Turmeric are here because they have one particular nutrient that’s extremely important. In the case of turmeric, for example, food scientists have found that it has a class of nutrients that are incredibly good at preventing Alzheimer’s disease. In India, where turmeric is eater frequently, Alzheimer’s is almost unknown.

Local Economy

In addition to cramming as many superfoods into each meal as possible, we are working on “buying local” Whenever possible, we are buying foods for our kitchen that are grown in the immediate area. Even our salt is made locally from evaporated ocean water. However, it’s tremendously difficult to grow many of the healthiest foods at sea level in a tropical climate organically. There are just too many bugs and fungi that attack the plants. A lot of research is being done to improve this, and we’ll be able to buy more local produce as farmers develop new techniques. Most of the rest of our produce is grown in Costa Rica at higher elevations, so only a very few spices and herbs are imported.

Food Prepared With Love

At Anamaya we’re in love with our food and it shows. Not only do we love the recipes and the organic farms that grow our food, but we love our clients and are thrilled to be filling your bellies with such healthy food. We’re incredibly blessed to be able to operate a business that is so aligned with our personal values about food health.

By Geoff McCabe

Geoff is the CEO of Anamaya, working tirelessly to continually approve all its functions. With the goal to make it the most amazing yoga and wellness center anywhere, Geoff delves into nutrition, design, management, and just about every facet of Anamaya. When not working, he lives at Rancho Delicioso, our nearby organic farm, and enjoys surfing and yoga.