By Kim Robson:
We hear a lot these days about “superfoods,” but what exactly makes a food so special that it gets this designation? Is it a scientific term or just a casual one? Certainly there are marketing departments out there playing fast and loose with the word “superfood” and making all sorts of unfounded claims. Let’s look into the hard science presented in this 2014 study by Jennifer Di Noia of William Paterson University.
First, Di Noia threw out the word “superfood,” and, instead, looked for what she determined were “powerhouse” fruits and vegetables (PFV), foods that are “most strongly associated with reduced chronic disease risk.” Forty-seven foods were ranked on the basis of “17 nutrients of public health importance per the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and Institute of Medicine.” Those nutrients are
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
You can see the full results here, but these foods (all greens!) made the top ten in this order, with watercress as the runaway winner with a 100% on the nutrient density scale:
- Watercress (100%)
- Chinese cabbage (91.99%)
- Chard (89.27%)
- Beet greens (87.08%)
- Spinach (86.43%)
- Chicory (73.36%)
- Leaf lettuce (70.73%)
- Parsley 65.59%)
- Romaine lettuce (63.48%)
- Collard greens (62.49%)
Surprisingly, kale doesn’t show up until we get to number 15 at 49.07% nutrient density, and the first non-green food (red pepper) doesn’t show up until number 17. Surprisingly, six of the 47 foods analyzed didn’t even meet the powerhouse criterion, and they’re all considered to be super-healthy:
Blueberry, cranberry and garlic for heaven’s sake! Of course, the study looked only at the nutrients listed above. If it had looked for cancer-fighting phytochemicals as well, there would be much more color in this list.
Considering that all the top ten are leafy greens, let’s look at some clever ways to sneak them into your kids’ diet without raising suspicions:
Mix‘em with Eggs— Add greens to a frittata or scrambled eggs, or fold them into an omelet. Be sure to include plenty of cheese for extra enticement.
Breads and Muffins— Veggies like zucchini, carrot, basil, tomato, banana and sweet potato all work beautifully in baked goods.
Pancakes and Waffles— Add mashed cooked squash like pumpkin, butternut squash or acorn squash to pancake batter as a way to slip a serving of vegetables into your kid.
Smoothies— Sweetened with apple juice or banana, you can pass off a lot of greenery (and even a spoonful of protein powder) without an argument. Add an avocado for additional healthy fat and vitamins E and B6. Call it “monster juice” and watch it disappear.
Pasta and Noodles— Kids love spaghetti. Add some spinach or mushrooms or broccoli to the sauce. Or serve pasta with pesto (some kids love it). Or see if they’ll go for veggie noodles (thinly sliced zucchini, squash, asparagus, or cucumber cooked and eaten in place of noodles).
Mac and Cheese— If there’s anything kids love more than spaghetti, it’s mac ‘n cheese. Veggies you can sneak into any casserole include spinach, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, sweet peas and broccoli florets.
Cheesy Anything— Making a grilled cheese sandwich? Add slices of tomato, basil or avocado. Making a quesadilla? Add some peppers, onion, leafy greens or even corn.
Meatloaf or Hamburgers—Bulk them up with pureed carrot or chopped mushrooms or sweet potato. A few capers in homemade burgers add spots of briny flavor plus vitamins and minerals.
Soups or Chili— It’s super easy to add some potato, tomato, squash, greens, pepper, beet or carrot to your next chicken soup or chili recipe.