Friday, June 27, 2014

Superfoods Defined

The popular press often touts superfoods and berries and dark leafy greens are often cited as examples.  A researcher defined what are also called powerhouse fruits and veggies based on their nutrient density.  To understand nutrient density, think of corn as low and spinach-rich in vitamins and minerals-as high.  Superfoods and powerhouse fruits and veggies are associated with decreased chronic disease risk.

Categories (with examples) were:
green leafy (chard, beet green, spinach, chicory, leaf lettuce)
yellow/orange (carrot, tomato, winter squash, sweet potato)
citrus (lemon, orange, lime, grapefruit)
cruciferous (watercress, Chinese cabbage, collard green, kale, arugula)
berry fruits (strawberry, blackberry)
allium veggies (scallion, leek)

Overall, foods in the top 2 categories above scored higher than those in the bottom 4 categories.

Those that didn't make the cut were:  raspberry, tangerine, cranberry, garlic, onion and blueberry.  Some surprises there?  Looking at the methodology, foods that are excellent sources of a particular nutrient were capped in the scoring system so foods with a variety of the 17 nutrients of public health concern (per FAO and IOM) scored better.  Also, phytonutrients were not included in scoring.

The good news for foodies:  watercress was at the top of the list and white grapefruit, though still making the cut, was at the bottom.  New and perhaps unusual foods included chicory, kohlrabi, rutabaga and leek.

The good news for home gardeners:  many of these are easy to grow in most climates. 

The good news for farm to school programs:  many of these (spinach, leaf lettuce, winter squash, sweet potato, collard green, kale) are affordable options for school lunch menus. As a side note, the subgroups of veggies required each week in the National School Lunch Program are:  dark leafy greens, legumes, red/orange, starchy and "other" (green beans, cucumbers, celery, etc.). 

The good news for consumers:  this classification system helps them plan menus that include powerhouse fruits and veggies and the beneficial nutrients they provide.  And maybe they'll try some new things along the way.

Grow it, try it, like it!  Have a family taste test.

FAO:  Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
IOM:  Institute of Medicine

Source:  Preventing Chronic Disease, June 2014


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