Are you making superfood smoothies? Spoiler: They may be the reason you’re gaining weight.
What started as a general, well-intentioned suggestion to eat a diet full of fruits and vegetables has now spiraled out of control. Instead of appreciating the produce that is so readily available at our local farmers markets and grocery stores, we’ve come to put exotic, hard-to-find, expensive powders, elixirs, and cold-pressed oils on a pedestal. Sure, they may boast all the nutritional benefits they’re being praised for, but are they actually doing your body any good?
Before I go into why you should shed the promises of the superfoods, let me define what I mean by “superfood” here.
The term is thrown around a lot and can mean many different things to a variety of people. Originally, a superfood was pegged as any food with an unusually dense nutrient content. Nowadays, it is used to describe something as mundane as an apple, simply because the apple is superbly good for you. For the purposes of this article, however, when I use the term “superfood”, I’m referring to all the health foods entering our market that usually come in powder, dried fruit and nut, or oil form. These superfoods are out of the ordinary for the American agricultural scene but have a growing fanfare for all their health promises.
This is not to say that superfoods don’t have their place – they do — but we shouldn’t blindly accept superfoods as the be-all-end-all ingredients to make us our healthiest selves. For some, superfoods open room for more creativity in the vegan kitchen, especially for superfood smoothies! For others, they are a necessary part of a strict dietary protocol that attends to a specific health woe or concern. And, of course, they can be super delicious! The key is in understanding that superfoods are superfluous, not foundational, and they aren’t nearly as super as you think.
Now that we are on the same page, let’s talk about why such superfoods are making you thicker around the middle and, in some cases, compromising your health.
Sugar is Sugar, Even Superfood Sugar
There’s no way to avoid it: sugar is sugar, no matter what form it’s in. If you eat too much sugar, it’ll strain your liver, lead to the accumulation of toxins, increase the risk for fungal infections, decrease brain function, and of course, metabolize directly into fat.
Agave, coconut palm sugar, lucuma, brown rice sugar, and variations of unprocessed regular white sugar, such as Demera and turbinado sugar, are still raising your blood sugar levels, even if not to the extent of white sugar. To get these superfood sugars’ nutritional benefits, you’d have to consume a whole lot more than reasonable. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ve mastered sweetness without the potential side effects. Sure, there are better alternatives to white sugar out there, but that does not mean they warrant superfood status. These “superfood” sweeteners may be better for you, but they are just a lesser evil.
Nuts, Dried Fruits and Powders: Super Constipated
Nuts, dried fruits, and superfood powders are dense, concentrated in sugar or fat, and are often hard to digest. Goji berries, acai powder, cacao nibs, camu powder, chia seeds, nut/seed butters, hemp powder, and mulberry berries, among many many others, are prey to manipulative marketing techniques. Superfood companies sell this idea that you’ll be light-years better off with the addition of a cocktail of various dry products in your superfood smoothies. What they don’t say, however, is that a few superfoods later, your smoothie has tripled, if not quadrupled, in fat, calories, and sugar content. Make no mistake: you can gain weight from superfoods. In fact, adding them to your smoothie is the sneaky way many of us are loading in the fat, sugar, and calories. The idea that the smoothie is infused with only raw, vegan, purportedly miracle ingredients masks the reality of what we are consuming.
Meanwhile, many raw and vegan enthusiasts have popularized nut-based dishes as the go-to density provider in place of meat. A spoonful of almond butter or a handful of nuts is one thing, but basing an entire meal around nuts is a digestive disaster waiting to happen. Nuts are extremely fatty and caloric and having too much will simply make you gain weight.
When browsing new healthy recipes, I often see a lot of faux-cheese and dessert recipes based in cashews, and I am dumbfounded by the logic. Sure, it’s vegan, but what about your health? There are other ways to make vegan cheese or desserts without nuts as the core ingredient. When is it ever natural and healthy to have one or two cups full of nuts at any given time?
Healthy Fats: Still Making You Fat, if Not Fatter
I once had a client who complained about gaining weight. For all intents and purposes, her diet was flawless. She was a vegan who had a pantry and refrigerator stocked with chia seeds, kombucha, freekeh, kale, and the likes. She did her research and made sure to keep up with the newest and most promising dietary crazes. Still, she was gaining weight and having digestive issues. I asked her what she used for fat, and she said “coconut oil, of course.” Ah, there it was. The coconut oil craze has gone too far!
My client was mixing coconut oil in her coffee and smoothies, and she was cooking with it. If you look at coconut oil from an objective standpoint, it glimmers! Not only are its medium-chain fatty acids metabolized in a special way so that its inherent saturated fat isn’t as harmful as it normally would be but also it boasts incredible benefits for the skin, brain, and overall energy. But, is this true in practical use? I’ve witnessed conflicting results.
When we are told something is good for us, we tend to overdo it, and I think that is what happened with coconut oil and is happening with other oils, like grapeseed, avocado, and sesame oils. All fat, regardless of type, should be used minimally, and regular butter is actually easier to digest than coconut oil. Coconut oil leaves behind a slight residue in the body, making it a bit harder to digest than regular butter. Even though regular butter comes from milk, it does not contain the hard-to-digest casein protein. It goes down like, for lack of a better word, butter. At the end of the day, fat is fat in the same way sugar is sugar.
Once I advised my client to switch to regular butter, she felt almost instantly better. She naturally used less of it, and her digestion improved. For vegans out there, stick to coconut oil, but please don’t depend on it as its own food group. It is meant to accent a dish, not drown one.
How to Eat (Superfoods Optional)
Superfoods can be part of a balanced diet, but don’t depend on them as lifesavers. They aren’t necessary for a healthy lifestyle, and you can get by just wonderfully on local produce cheaply and readily available at your nearest grocery store.
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Green Smoothie Image from Shutterstock