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Superfood Shake, and Agave Controversy

Posted Jul 13 2010 12:39pm

Hooray for enthusiasm over fava beans ! And the inevitable Silence of the Lambs jokes.

Veteran readers of Choosing Raw know by now that my attitude toward that mystical genus of foodstuffs known as “superfoods” is ambivalent at best. In theory, superfoods are simply foods that have a particularly high phytonutrient content. By this definition, many, if not most vegetables and fruits are, in fact, superfoods: kale, blueberries, kiwi, apples, spinach, walnuts, and dark chocolate are only a few examples. The problem is that the term “superfood” has no legal definition or government regulation, so it’s very easy for food manufacturers to exploit it.

Within the raw foods community, this is a particular pickle. The term “superfood” is now used to describe any number of dried fruits, powders, and supplements. Many of these–including cacao or goji berries–have some probable health benefits. But it’s not clinically proven that they’re any more healthful than a vast array of far more commonplace and inexpensive nutrient dense foods, like raisins, oats, or pumpkin seeds.

In other words, there’s nothing inherently deceptive about the claim that raw cacao or lucuma is high in phytonutrients; what is deceptive is the suggestion that they offer concentrated health benefits that no other food can provide more accessibly and cheaply. Raw cacao and lucuma might be great, but if we strip the term “superfood” down to its true meaning, cinnamon is a comparable contender. In addition, a number of superfoods are marketed with very murky health claims: powder X is supposed to balance hormones, while powder Y is supposed to prevent aging. These claims — structure-function claims as they’re called in the nutrition world — are seldom regulated, and very often reflect cultural lore more than proven efficacy.

Here’s what I like about “superfoods”: they can taste yummy sometimes. I don’t think cacao and lucuma will make me live forever, but I sure do like the flavors of both! And so I occasionally turn a dollar or two over to superfoods, not because I expect remarkable health changes, but because I find specialty ingredients fun. Take these, for instance:

Some old and recent purchases from Navitas Naturals and One Lucky Duck . Health panaceas? No. Fun for smoothie experimentation? Oh, yes.  This past weekend, I was in the mood for a little smoothie experimentation, and this expensive decadent concoction was born:

Superfood Shake (wink) — Serves 1

1 large frozen banana
2 tbsp cacao nibs
1 tbsp lucuma (available here )
1 tbsp yacon powder (available here )
1 tbsp hemp protein powder
1/2 cup hemp milk
Splash vanilla extract
1 cup ice

Blend all ingredients on high till smooth and thick. Thin with water as needed.

I’m confident that this bad boy conferred a nice dose of protein (hemp), potassium (banana), and antioxidants (cacao). But what it really delivered was taste, taste, taste. The cacao makes the shake rich and chocolatey, while the lucuma and yacon give it sweetness.


Since we’re on the topic of health claims — pro and con — I wanted to call your attention to my latest post for Whole Living Daily . Tons of you have written in asking me about agave: is it safe? Is it the same as high fructose corn syrup? I’ve avoided making bold statements about this since I’m not a chemist, doctor, or food manufacturer. But I am, at long last, offering my perspective on the heated debate. Check it out here !

xo

P.S. So excited to see Wolf Parade tonight! Any other NYC-ers going?

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