Exotic superfoods: can you really not miss them in your diet?

“Include quinoa in your breakfast.” “Switch to pink Himalayan salt.” “Kill cholesterol with chia seeds.” We have likely heard these and similar recommendations of late. But are we to give them credit?

Sometimes it seems to us that an exotic food is, due to its novelty, automatically better than any other that we have traditionally consumed. Especially if it is accompanied by stories that tell us about ancient traditions of consumption by other civilizations.

However, the reality is that these foods are more humble than we think. The seemingly novel kale, which everyone is talking about, is nothing more than kale, a vegetable as recommendable as any other but traditionally known in Scotland as ‘poor man’s spinach’.

It doesn’t just happen to kale. In general, from a nutritional point of view, all fashionable exotic foods are usually equivalent to others that we have been consuming for centuries. Sometimes they can even be less beneficial or even harmful to health.

Good nutritional profiles, but similar to traditional foods

Quinoa has gone from being an unknown to being a ubiquitous food in restaurants. It is a pseudocereal, which means that botanically it is not a cereal, but we use it as if it were. Due to its high protein and fiber content, it is nutritionally very interesting, but no more so than chickpeas, which provide the same nutrients.

The same applies to other exotic superfoods, such as Goji berries or amaranth: interesting nutritional compositions, but similar to those of traditional foods.

Obviously, each food will have its own particularities. But if we ensure a healthy diet, rich in foods of vegetable origin, we will be able to reach the necessary levels of any constituent without having to resort to foods of remote origins or become experts in handling food composition tables.

Chia seeds.
Shutterstock / everydayplus

No studies on its health benefits… or with adverse effects

Beyond the composition, it is necessary to carry out studies where the effects on the health of a food are tested, which are the origin of the nutritional recommendations. Many of the phrases we hear about the supposed properties of these new foods are assumed based on their composition, but they have not been proven.

That would be the case of kombucha tea, which is obtained after fermenting the tea. It can be considered as a healthier alternative to other carbonated drinks because it contains less sugar (although this component is still present) and because, coming from tea, it has the beneficial compounds of it. But the truth is that at this time there is no proven evidence that shows beneficial effects of kombucha consumption.

For other supposedly healthy foods, experiments have been carried out that, paradoxically, have brought to light adverse effects. This is the case of coconut oil, which is promoted as a healthy fat. The reality is that several studies have shown that its effects on cholesterol are worse than those of other fats of vegetable origin. And, by the way, it is much more expensive than the best extra virgin olive oil that we can buy.

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Not too much sweetener and not too much salt

There are foods that we should avoid, wherever they come from. This is the case of so-called “healthy” sweeteners, such as agave syrup, or “mineral-rich” salts, such as Himalayan pink salt. The truth is that both sweeteners and salt are components that it is advisable to reduce in our diet, whatever their origin.

It is important to remember that any syrup (as well as honey and juices) falls within the World Health Organization’s definition of “free sugars”. Which, by the way, are the ones that we should reduce in our diet due to their negative effects on health. This recommendation excludes the sugar naturally present in the fruit when we consume it without processing it.

As for the minerals in Himalayan pink salt, to consume the calcium that we get from eating a can of sardines in oil, we would have to take 600 grams! of this salt That is to say, although it is true that this salt contains more minerals than the common one, they are negligible percentages. And thank goodness, because it also contains plutonium!

Therefore, if we feel like it, we can include it in a recipe, but being clear that its consumption must be as restricted as that of common salt.

Next time you hear about a “superfood” (a term for which there is no legal or scientific definition), let’s first see if it is in a healthy category (for example: fruit yes, any sweetener no). that surely there is a traditional food with a similar composition and, by the way, much cheaper.

From there, it is our choice to consume it or not. But remembering that the important thing is always that the diet is healthy as a whole and not that we add a few touches of healthy products, however exotic they may be.

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