Seven Days of Super Foods

Mango salad tossed with watercress, Campari tomatoes, and black beans. Photo by MDJ Crumm, 2010.
Mango salad tossed with watercress, Campari tomatoes, and black beans. Photo by MDJ Crumm, 2010.

An Intro

Superfoods, super-foods, Super Foods!

Every few months it seems there is a new feature on the topic in the news, in the paper, on the talk shows. My local library has at least four books with "Super Foods" in the titles, and even more that dance acrobatically around the subject.

But cross-reference the lists, the Top Tens, the What's, the Whys, and the Hows, and the ambiguity amasses.

I've been wanting to write about Super Foods for a while now, to put them to the test, to experience and explain their power. But as the term "super foods" remains technically undefined and consistently inconsistent, I've had two choices: parse the various published explanations for their high-points and create my own definition, or find a credible, logical explanation and stick with that.

As I am not a scientist, nor a doctor, nor a registered dietitian, I have chosen the latter.

The expert whose explanation I have selected is Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of Eat for Health: Lose Weight, Keep it Off, Look Younger, Live Longer, and his top 30 Super Foods are ranked by their ratio of nutrition to calories, or what Fuhrman calls an Aggregate Nutrient Density Index. More on that as we go.

Granted, the major benefits of Super Foods (like the idea that they may stave off life-threatening diseases such as cancer and diabetes) would be quite challenging to test without considerably more time and some semblance of scientific method.

But some things can be tested easily:

As a meat-eating, sweets-slurping, crazy, on-the-go food-fiend, can I make Super Foods a practical part of my life? Will I notice an instant difference in the way I feel? Will it be expensive?

My plan is to see what I can learn when I dedicate a week, seven full days, to the pursuit of the super...foods, that is.

Fast Fuhrman Facts

  • Super Foods pack an exceptional nutritional punch compared to the number of calories they contain.
  • Fuhrman's Aggregate Nutritional Density Index rankings, or ANDI scores (patent pending), provide a clear and objective guide based on the equation Health = Nutrients / Calories
  • Kale, collards and watercress win with scores of 1000.
  • As a point of reference, whole wheat flour scores 31; white flour scores 18.
  • Fuhrman is particularly concerned with micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, etc.) as opposed to macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates, proteins).
  • While the Fuhrman camp is not anti-fat per se, they do suggest a ban on saturated and trans fats and a restricted use of extracted oils, including the beloved extra virgin olive. The reason: extracting the fat from a plant discards almost all the nutrients and isolates the most calorie-dense part of an otherwise nutritious food. Fat has 9 calories per gram, while protein and carbohydrates have 4. So if you are trying to eat only 2000 calories per day and you eat a lot of extracted oils, there are significantly fewer calories left for the fruits, veggies, nuts, and beans that give you more bang for your bite.
  • The highest ranking meat and seafood are lean bison top-sirloin and yellow fin tuna, respectively.

 

The Super Foods

Unlike many "Top Ten Super Foods" lists that tout the benefits of salmon, grains, and dark chocolate, Dr. Fuhrman's top 30 is composed almost exclusively of fruits and vegetables, with veggies alone claiming half the list and the entire top ten. Grains of any kind are noticeably missing, while nuts, seeds, tofu, and beans wrangle for spots 26-30.

  1. Collard/Mustard Greens
  2. Kale
  3. Watercress
  4. Bok Choy
  5. Spinach
  6. Broccoli Rabe
  7. Chinese/Napa Cabbage
  8. Brussels Sprouts
  9. Swiss Chard
  10. Arugula
  11. Cabbage
  12. Romaine Lettuce
  13. Broccoli
  14. Red Pepper
  15. Carrot Juice
  16. Tomatoes and Tomato Products
  17. Cauliflower
  18. Strawberries
  19. Pomegranate Juice
  20. Blackberries
  21. Plums
  22. Raspberries
  23. Blueberries
  24. Oranges
  25. Cantaloupe
  26. Beans
  27. Seeds (flax, sunflower, sesame)
  28. Pistachios
  29. Tofu
  30. Walnuts

Interestingly, the foods on this list are not necessarily the foods with the top 30 Aggregate Nutrient Density Rankings: Brazil nuts have a much higher ANDI score than either pistachios or walnuts, but they do not make it to the Super Foods list. Similarly, tofu, which claims spot # 29, has a lower ANDI score than lean bison top-sirloin, yellow fin tuna, lobster, and several other varieties of seafood.

I suspect this is because ANDI scores consider nutrient content and calories, but not other factors such as mercury in fish or saturated fat and cholesterol in meat. Dr. Fuhrman may be considering the impact of negative factors such as these, as well as which foods work best together to present a well-rounded buffet of nutrition.

Dr. Fuhrman on Nutrient Density

The Rules

At first I thought, Hey, I'll just stick to the list and eat nothing but Super Foods all week--easy enough.

But upon further reflection, particularly upon the realization the list is composed almost exclusively of fruits and vegetables, I decided the Super Foods could use a supporting cast.

Still, to protect the integrity of the endeavor, I figured there should be a few stipulations:

  1. Consume a minimum of 5 servings of Super Foods each day.
  2. Limit the use of cooking fats and sweeteners as much as possible.
  3. Supporting characters should consist of other fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and whole grains or whole grain-based products--animal products and alcoholic beverages should be restricted as much as possible.
  4. Take notes each day on ease/difficulty of sticking to the plan, expenses, energy levels, cravings, etc.

Here goes!

The following is a food journal and should not be mistaken for a suggested diet plan. Always consult a doctor before beginning a new diet regimen.

Blackberries. Photo by MDJ Crumm, 2010.
Blackberries. Photo by MDJ Crumm, 2010.

Day 1

Breakfast: fresh blackberries (about 3/4 cup) and black coffee (about 3 cups).

Snack: 1 tiny square of Dagoba milk chocolate--probably shouldn't be allowed...but I forgot "the plan" at the sight of free chocolate samples at work.

Lunch: 1 Strawberry Banana Naked Juice (real fruit, no added sweeteners).

Snack: a glass of 100% natural, unsweetened pomegranate juice.

Dinner: Brown rice seasoned with turmeric, garlic, salt and pepper; salad of fresh baby spinach, Campari tomatoes and homemade low-oil balsamic vinaigrette; several glasses filtered water.

Dessert: A pretty hefty serving of red grapes; caffeine-free herbal tea.

Super-Food Tally: 5 (although the "strawberries" may be a reach, since they were in juice form...).

Notes: A 40-oz bag of organic ground flax seed was super-cheap at Costco, and blackberries were buy-1-get-1-free at Whole Foods! Woohoo! Great energy all day. Never felt hungry or had cravings for other foods. Wondering if it should be legal for me to drink coffee this week....

Veggie Pasta. Photo by MDJ Crumm, 2010.
Veggie Pasta. Photo by MDJ Crumm, 2010.

Day 2

Breakfast: Seven-grain cereal + organic ground flax seed + quick almond milk (1/2 tsp organic almond butter + 1/4 cup filtered water); 3 cups black coffee.

Snack: Organic Brazil nuts (just a few).

Lunch: Salad of fresh baby spinach, watercress, and Campari tomatoes with homemade low-oil balsamic vinaigrette.

Snack: 1 kiwi, 6 strawberries.

Dinner: Whole wheat pasta with watercress, asparagus, red bell pepper, onion and garlic.

Dessert: Red grapes; herbal tea.

Super-Food Tally: 7! Woohoo!

Notes: While pondering my coffee dilemma (and downing my third cup) this morning, I heard a story on the news declaring women who drink at least three cups of coffee a day are several times less likely to develop uterine cancer than those who drink less or no coffee. Good enough for me. Coffee Dilemma resolved.

Slept really well last night! Better than most nights! Energy levels are good. Walked three miles, and it felt like one. Hunger is so-so. Trying to forget how much I want to make bacon-spiked duck confit and drizzle it with chocolate and creme anglaise...on second thought....Having no problem remembering how much I love fresh fruit and veggies!

Pistachios. Photo by MDJ Crumm, 2010.
Pistachios. Photo by MDJ Crumm, 2010.

Day 3

Breakfast: Seven-grain cereal + organic ground flax seed + skim milk; 3 cups black coffee.

Snack: None.

Lunch: Leftover whole wheat pasta with watercress, asparagus, red bell pepper, onion and garlic.

Snack: Fresh blackberries (about 3/4 cup).

Dinner: Pistachios (about 1/2 cup with shells).

Dessert: None.

Super-Food Tally: 5.

Notes: Feeling pretty good. Definitely sleeping better than I usually do. Just wishing I could squash the constant desire for pork products and pastries....

Kale and White Beans. Photo by MDJ Crumm, 2010.
Kale and White Beans. Photo by MDJ Crumm, 2010.

Day 4

Breakfast: Seven-grain cereal + organic ground flax seed + skim milk; 3 cups black coffee.

Snack: Pistachios.

Lunch: Naked Juice 100% Juice Tropical Smoothie with Coconut Water.

Snack: Whole wheat toast with organic almond butter and a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Dinner: Kale and White Beans cooked with carrots, onions, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and homemade chicken stock.

Dessert: None.

Super-Food Tally: 4.

Notes: The Kale and White Beans turned out amazingly well--so good and so filling! Didn't use any cooking fats, so the dish was virtually fat free except for the trace amounts in the beans and chicken stock. It's a good thing I bought the ingredients for this dish ahead of time though, because the only things keeping me from ducking into the 8oz Burger Bar for a Breakfast Burger, Sweet Potato Fries, and a Firefly Sweet-Tea Vodka Lemonade after work were the kale in my fridge and the white beans soaking on the stove-top.

However, I didn't meet my quota of 5 Super Foods today, so it wasn't a complete victory.

Day 5

Breakfast: Seven-grain cereal + organic ground flax seed + skim milk; 3 cups black coffee

Snack: None.

Lunch: a Strawberry-Macadamia Nut KIND Bar; water.

Snack: None.

Dinner: White bread with butter; fresh mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto on a bed of fresh tomatoes and roasted red peppers; salad of arugula, calamari, clams, scallops, mussels, shrimp, tomatoes, and shallots in a lemony vinaigrette; shaved dry-aged beef tenderloin and goat cheese over a bed of arugula; garlic-infused broccoli and mushrooms; Santa Margherita Chianti.

Dessert: a couple bites of Black Forest Cake (chocolate cake, cherries, Chantilly cream, ganache); a Nutty Irishman (coffee spiked with Frangelico and Bailey's Irish Cream, topped with fresh whipped cream).

Super-Food Tally: 5.

Notes: So here's the thing... I failed to eat enough during the day, and work was especially exhausting. On my drive home I could hear my body saying a) "Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!" and b) "It's the weekend! Woohoo! Take me out to play!"

I had every intention of denying it pleas, but when I walked in the door to my living room and my husband was listening to "Check Please, South Florida" tout the glories of IL TOSCANO, an Italian restaurant in nearby Weston, FL, my good intentions were out the door as quickly as I could slip on a sundress and heels.

While I may have blown things up a little with the wine, cheese, bread, butter, beef, and desserts (and definitely spent more money on one dinner than I spent on groceries all week), I did manage to meet my quota of Super Foods for the day. And that's what matters, right?

Day 6

Breakfast: Whole wheat toast with organic almond butter, CocoaHaze! chocolate-hazelnut spread, and cinnamon; fresh strawberries, kiwi, peaches, and blackberries; black coffee.

Snack: Naked Juice 100% Juice Tropical Smoothie with Coconut Water.

Lunch: Leftover Kale and White Beans.

Snack: None.

Dinner: Tequila-lime chicken; brown rice; mango salad (green mangoes, lime juice, cilantro, serrano peppers, tomatoes, red onion, yellow peppers, orange peppers, and red peppers).

Dessert: None.

Super-Food Tally: 6.

Notes: Ugh. Did not sleep so well last night. Did not want to get out of bed this morning. Vague headache from last night's wine and dine. Woke up craving fruit and water. And coffee. Of course.

The headache lasted most of the day, but I felt much better after dinner.

Mango and Watercress Salad with Queso Fresco. Photo by MDJ Crumm, 2010.
Mango and Watercress Salad with Queso Fresco. Photo by MDJ Crumm, 2010.

Day 7

Breakfast: Seven-grain cereal + organic ground flax seed + skim milk; fresh strawberries; 3 cups black coffee.

Snack: None.

Lunch: Pistachios.

Snack: Orange Mango Motion Naked Juice.

Dinner: Watercress and black beans topped with leftover mango salad (green mangoes, lime juice, cilantro, serrano peppers, tomatoes, red onion, yellow peppers, orange peppers, and red peppers) and homemade queso fresco. Southern Tier 422 Pale Wheat Ale.

Dessert: Chocolate chip cookie dough--totally the husband's fault.

Super-Food Tally: 7.

Notes: First of all, watercress--what a revelation! Definitely my new favorite salad-green. Dinner was filling, delicious, and perfect. Then I had a beer, which weakened my resolve and prepped me to cave and steal the dough-cloaked paddle attachment of the Kitchen Aid after my husband whipped up a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I polished off the paddle, placed it in the sink, re-committed myself to healthy pursuits, and then attacked the spatula.

Went to bed feeling like a self-sabotaging dodo.

Conclusions

Seven Days and several Super Foods down, I am surprised most by the simultaneous ease and difficulty of sticking to the plan.

It was a little shocking to reflect on how few of these foods--especially fresh fruits--I had been eating prior to this week, even though I have a natural affinity for so many of them.

Meeting the five-a-day quota was a cinch most of the time: the secret there is really just to have the ingredients on hand.

The biggest challenge I faced was making sure I ate enough throughout the day to avoid caving to unhealthy cravings in the evenings.

The most eye-opening part of the endeavor was not noticing how great I felt or how well I slept on the days I really stuck to the plan, but how drastically worse I felt after my mega-splurge on Day 5 (and after the cookie dough on Day 7). I definitely gained an appreciation for how my food-choices can dramatically affect the way I feel, and I'm learning there is more than a little truth to the old adage you are what you eat.

Super Foods and You

If you want to begin incorporating more Super Foods into your life, consider these tips.

  • Go at your own pace. There is nothing wrong with baby steps. If you typically eat no foods from the Super Foods list, pick the least formidable ones and begin incorporating them into your diet. The gurus would tell you to purge the evil from your fridge and pantry at once and hit the produce isle with a vengeance. This is a great idea in theory, but it could set you up for failure if you are not ready, sending you straight to the drive-through window while the kale and berries you so eagerly purchased turn to slime in the crisper drawer. Which brings us to tip number two....
  • Assess your fridge. So many times I have excitedly purchased gorgeous strawberries and spinach and brought them home to my crowded fridge, where they were inevitably pushed to the back, blocked by bulky containers, and forgotten forever (or at least until they became unrecognizable and inedible). So for this seven-day adventure, I cleaned out anything past its prime in the fridge, moved all the less-perishable items to the back and bottom shelves, and arranged the fresh produce in the front and on top where it was highly visible and easily accessible.
  • Buy the food, then actually EAT IT!! If you are craving sweets, go for the fruit in your fridge first, drink water, eat slowly, and then, if you still really want that cake, go for it. But chances are, you won't.
  • Know yourself. Some people need to criminalize less-healthy foods so that they won't eat them. But if I tell myself I can't have meat or sweets, chances are I will dream of bacon-wrapped brownies and carnitas-laced lollipops and drive myself crazy till the air in my kitchen is thick with their aroma, and their grease is dripping from my lips. If you are like me, emphasizing the Super Foods in your diet may be a much better idea than banning less healthy options. Going forward, I will not restrict any foods, but I will focus on eating at least one Super Food every day. Maybe I will work my way back up to five or more eventually, but I want to keep my goals realistic by letting them progress naturally. You should do what works best for you.
  • Try the veggie-enhancing recipes below!

For me, healthy choices need to feel natural or else I will end up fighting them. But after only seven days of Super Foods, I have developed a taste for kale, a craving for fresh fruit, and a little bit more of a hunger for health.

Bulk items and dried beans. Photo by MDJ Crumm, 2010.
Bulk items and dried beans. Photo by MDJ Crumm, 2010.

Money-Saving Tips

  • Buy beans--especially dried. Canned beans are affordable, but dried beans are C-H-E-A-P. I bought a bundle of 6 12-oz bags of beans at Costco for $4.89. That's $0.068 per ounce!!
  • Look for sales in the produce department. At Whole Foods Market (at least in Florida) every department in the store has Weekly Specials and Hot Weekend Deals, featuring healthful and delicious foods at incredible prices. I stock up on whatever is on sale in the produce department, which often includes items from Fuhrman's Top 30.
  • Buy your "supporting cast" in bulk. Dried whole-wheat pasta, quinoa, brown rice, beans, and more super-foundational items are shelf-stable, affordable, and great to have on hand to flesh out any Super meal.
  • Learn to love leftovers. Stretch out your meals with cheaper items (like the bulk items mentioned above), exercise portion control by eating just enough to fully satisfy without reaching the "Ughhh, I'm soooo fuuuull" stage, and cash in on a "free" meal later in the week. You can also make some items work double by using them in new ways: mango salad was a side-item/condiment for chicken on Day 6 and the star of the show with a watercress salad on Day 7.

 

Recipe Index

  1. Low-Oil Balsamic Vinaigrette
  2. The Perfect Veggie Topper

 

Low-Oil Balsamic Vinaigrette

The standard recipe for vinaigrette is three parts oil to one part vinegar, seasoned as you wish. The recipe below uses just enough oil to add richness and balance the acidity of the vinegar.

1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar

2 tsp Orange blossom honey

1 tsp ground mustard (the powder), or 1 1/2 tsp prepared Dijon mustard such as Grey Poupon

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp dried sweet basil (I like California sweet basil from Penzeys Spices)

2 1/2 T extra-virgin olive oil

1. Whisk vinegar, honey, mustard, salt, pepper, and basil together till honey, mustard, and salt are fully dissolved. Whisk in oil till very well blended. Best when served immediately. Great as a salad dressing, marinade, or sauce for dipping roasted veggies and crusty bread.

The Perfect Veggie Topper

Use real Parmigiano-Reggiano. It may be more expensive, but it has much greater flavor than immitations like American Parmesan, so you can get away with using much less, saving money and calories.

2-to-3-oz chunk Parmigiano-Reggiano (not grated, removed from the rind)

a handful of fresh, flat-leaf Italian parsley

several cranks of freshly ground black pepper (about 1/2 tsp)

1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until the mixture is very evenly blended and resembles very coarse sand. Store in an airtight container or zip-top bag in the fridge for up to a week. Perfect for sprinkling over the top of soups, salads, roasted veggies, dips, or anything that could use a quick boost of savory flavor!

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Comments 6 comments

Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 6 years ago from California Gold Country

I love these suggestions. I already do fairly well at using fresh fruits and veggies. You presented this in an interesting way with our personal experiences. Also a little beer and cookie dough can't be that bad. Cheers.

And I agree with your salad dressing and Parmesan hints. I usually grate a chunk of Asagio cheese-- flavor intense, and cheaper than pre-grated


cheerok 6 years ago

oh. my. god. you are a genius. you made the awful sounding foods seem semi-normal. i'm going grocery shopping right now to see what i can incorporate. plus its written beautifully. the people at coking light should really give you a job!! :)


questiongirl profile image

questiongirl 6 years ago Author

Thanks so much for the positive feedback!!


TSJohnston 6 years ago

Cool. Great piece; I'm perked.


dallaswriter profile image

dallaswriter 5 years ago from North Carolina

Wonderful article and so much information


MickiS profile image

MickiS 4 years ago from San Francisco

Great Hub! I'm a big consumer of super foods. Dr. Furhman recently published another booked called "Super Immunity." Another great read on this subject.

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