There is a lot of talk about super foods and what they can do for your health and performance, but how much of it can you buy into?
There are people who swear by superfoods and make them a staple diet source, some who will use them as dietary boosts if needed and others who wave off the whole idea as garbage, with so many opinions around, it can easily get confusing.
If you look at the sales figures there is certainly a billion or two good reasons for companies to keep you keen on super ingredients. The superfood industry already clocks in a healthy $180 billion according to Industry Analysts, and that number is constantly growing as new products are creatively added to the market and fruit value climbs due to increased global demand.
Can you blame them really, who wouldn’t want a cure all, energy boosting, life prolonging product? Whether it be the traditional greens, like spinach, kale and broccoli, the power fruits like pomegranates, goji berries and blueberries, or green tea leaves and white coffee beans, there seems to be something for everybody and every occasion.
When you have a passion for action, like road cycling or mountain biking, your health and sustained vitality is important. If your cycling passion includes endurance events or competition then, yes, you want to give yourself ever edge available and a natural source through healthy food is a great place to start.
The trick is knowing which superfoods are actually super and which simple come with super advertising on the package. “Superfood” is simply a marketing term for food that supposedly has health benefits due to nutritional analysis or nutrient density. That means companies are free to classify just about any related product as super, there doesn’t need to be a lot of evidence. Which is why I was interested when I did find some hard figures around health benefit content.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, USA, completed a study in 2014 on nutrient density of fruits and vegetables to determine which provided a bigger hit for reducing the risk of chronic disease. It’s not entirely accurate, since the study was looking at very specific qualities but it can’t be denied that what they are looking at counts and we can most certainly tap into it to know what to pile on our plate to stay on the bike longer, for longer.
The study looked for naturally occurring forms of 17 nutrients in raw fruits and vegetables, specifically;
Their results mean that you can tuck into portions of foods that matter most for a genuine nutrient hit every day.
When it comes to nutrient density the leafy greens win by a mile.
Watercress was top of the list (listed as rank 100) followed shortly by Chinese cabbage, chard, beet greens and spinach. Other high-flying greens were lettuces (leaf, Romaine and iceberg), parsley, chive, kale and the leaves of turnip, mustard and dandelion.
Lower down the list came vegetables of red capsicum, broccoli, Brussels sprout, and pumpkin with Kohlrabi, Cauliflower and cabbage all ranked close together around rank 25. With Carrot and tomato ranked in the low 20s.
The first of the fruit was lemon at 19 with strawberry, orange, lime and pink grapefruit after that. The bottom of the list in at 11 and 10 were blackberries and white grapefruit.
Sweet potato was the only carb-friendly food to make the list with apples, bananas, corn, and regular potatoes considered too nutrient poor to meet the study requirements.
The study took on 47 foods that were known to be beneficial for the reduced risks for cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases and some cancers. The initial list of foods to be tested was made of a mix of foods that were scientifically known to have benefits as well as consumer guidelines and those that featured high in ‘superfood’ marketing. Of those 47 items 41 of them made the final ranking.
Surprisingly, some well-known masters that were dissected didn’t make the grade. The six tested foods that didn’t pack enough nutrients to get a ranking were; raspberries, blueberries, tangerines, cranberry, garlic and onion.
This doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t hold other nutrient value, i.e. are beneficial for reducing risk of degenerative diseases, they just didn’t pack a big enough punch for this study.
While it can be argued that this (and any other study) is geared at only certain benefits and limited uses, it’s still a good indication of what your body can use as in place of multi vitamin pills.
So fill up your plate with greens (and reds and oranges) for a rainbow of goodness that will deliver a high number of different nutrients and help you cycle your way to a long and happy life.
Improving your cycling through your diet? That’s freedom!