Dig In: Superfoods all around us

Almost every day I see another magazine article or media blurb insisting we need some new miracle food.

Home grown potatoes can offer great nutrition for low cost.

Home grown potatoes can offer great nutrition for low cost.

Almost every day I see another magazine article or media blurb insisting we need some new miracle food.

Our local produce, it implies, cannot compare to the exotic nutritional power of whatever they are selling, be it acai berries, chia seeds, sweet potatoes or coffee beans that have been predigested by monkeys.

Aside from the alleged healing qualities claimed by the producers, the only thing these products have in common is that they are difficult, if not impossible, for the average gardener to grow here.

Perhaps it’s the Highland Scot in me, but advertising hyperbole makes me a wee bit suspicious, so I thought to take a look at a few of them to see if they really were superior to foods we can grow in our backyards or source locally.

Take acai berries, for example, touted to be laden with antioxidants, fibre, vitamin C and compounds that help prevent cancer and phytochemicals that may slow the aging process.

Compare them with local wild rose hips that have about the same vitamin C content plus bio flavonoids, pectin, carotenoids and several other vitamins and minerals.

Rose hips also regulate blood sugar levels, and their astringent quality keeps the skin healthy.

I made a face wash with wild rose hips this Christmas and often make a tea with them.

Raspberries are hard not to grow, they keep sprouting all over the place and are chock full of nutrients. They have anti-cancer benefits and are rich in anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. In studies involving several different cancers, raspberries lower oxidative stress, reduce inflammation and reduce the production of cancer cells. Flavonoids in berries improve memory and are associated with a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Professor Aedin Cassidy from the University of East Anglia in UK states, “a regular, sustained intake of anthocyanins from berries can reduce the risk of a heart attack by 32 per cent in young and middle-aged women”. Raspberries also help keep blood sugars stable because of their high fibre content. Nothing in the research I have read indicates that acai berries are superior to rose hips or raspberries in anything but price.

Then there are chia seeds, rich in soluble and insoluble fibre, protein, omega 3 fatty acids and minerals. Guess what? Flax seeds provide almost identical amounts of these same attributes. One should bear in mind though, that the omega three in both seeds does not convert readily into DHA, the active fatty acid required by the body, but we can grow our own flax seeds that probably will be more nutrient dense than anything we can buy. They’re easy to grow.

Some suggest we eschew white potatoes in favour of sweet potatoes, because, they say, the starch content of white potatoes raises blood sugars too precipitously. Sweet potatoes, they continue, contain more fibre, carotenoids, vitamins and minerals and won’t cause blood sugar spikes.

These early studies used peeled potatoes but more recent research shows that when peels are included white potatoes do not raise blood sugars significantly. Many of potatoes’ nutrients are located just under the skin anyway, as they are for most root vegetables. Grown on re-mineralized soil, white potatoes can contain as much as 11 percent protein and are full of anti-oxidants that protect against age-related oxidative stress. White potatoes don’t contain much carotene, but that can be rectified by eating carrots, another no-no we are told to avoid because they cause blood sugar spikes. I eat them anyway and haven’t noticed my blood sugars spiking. Maybe they were also peeled before the tests.

Bear in mind that crops we grow on re-mineralized soil full of micro-organisms should contain more nutrients than the crops studied, and that the quality of fresh local produce will be greater as well. When it comes to “miracle foods,” try looking in the backyard first. Those who want a genuine miracle must content themselves with the World Champion Chicago Cubs while they wait for the Canucks to win the Stanley Cup.

In fairness, I must confess I found no local comparative to the monkey-digested coffee beans. I am open to suggestions there as long as someone else does the laboratory work.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.