Three more trendy “superfoods” to avoid

Yesterday, I told you about three decidedly unimpressive “superfoods.” The truth is, Nature doesn’t make any one plant healthier than the next. Each food found in Nature gives you a different piece of the puzzle for good health. So you should always strive to eat a variety of natural foods.

With that constant always in mind, today I’ll continue with my list of foods the “natural health” media likes to “over-hype.

Kale

I often write about the benefits of a diet filled with green, leafy vegetables. And kale is a great one. But I’d hardly call it a “superfood.” And I’d hardly recommend eating it with every single meal. Much less as a baked, salty chip.

But some nutritional gurus endow kale with nearly supernatural powers. And they’ll tell you to do a kale “cleanse” or “detox” because they swear it will cure anything that ails you.

The truth is, excess kale consumption can actually cause health problems such as thyroid toxicity.

You see, kale and other cruciferous vegetables taste bitter to some people because of the presence of a chemical compound called phenyl-thio-carbamate (PTC). Interestingly, this substance can also cause a goiter.

But not everyone can taste the bitter compound. Some humans lack the gene for PTC-taste sensitivity.

Years ago, medical anthropologists tested this concept in the Andes Mountains, where goiter and iodine deficiency is a problem. (A lot of iodine comes from sea salt and seafood, which is not available in high-altitude, inland areas like the Andes. It’s also a problem among poorly nourished populations in the U.S. And among  people who have scrupulously followed government misguidance on salt restriction in an effort to control blood pressure. Yet more research shows that salt is not the culprit, as I will report later this month. Most people who don’t get a lot of seafood have to rely on iodized salt to get their iodine–unless the government’s unscientific, anti-salt guidelines have derailed them.)

In the Andes, people who do not have the PTC-taste gene can’t tell when edible plants are high in bitter goitrogens. These men and women also have higher levels of goiter and the complications of thyroid deficiency.

However, if you follow a balanced diet and get enough iodine from sea salt, seafood, and healthy meats, kale shouldn’t cause problems. And you can eat it in moderation, as with all healthy foods.

Kale, like other cruciferous vegetables, has many healthy constituents such as antioxidants, carotenoids like lutein, calcium, fiber, and vitamin C.

On the other hand, a kale “cleanse” is probably one of the most misguided, unsound, and unhealthy fads to which you could subject yourself. The mythical purpose of undergoing a juice-cleanse is to boost the immune system and prevent diseases by denying food to the body.

But the body continually cleanses itself by metabolizing and clearing wastes by the liver and kidneys. And depriving your body of calories and nutrients does not make this metabolic process go any faster. Plus, starving yourself this way is not a healthy way to lose weight either, since it shuts down the metabolism.

You can pay up to $90 per day for a “cleanse” that doesn’t have any proven health benefits. Instead, fatigue, headaches, dry mouth, nausea, and disordered digestion may be your only result.

Quinoa

Some nutritionists call quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) the “miracle grain of the Andes.” It supposedly provides a complete protein source for vegans. And the Manchester Guardian (UK) recently called it “a healthy, ethical addition to the meat- avoider’s larder (no dead animals, just a crop that doesn’t feel any pain).”

(Before jumping to conclusions about what plants may feel or not feel, you’ll want to read my upcoming Dispatch later this month.)

Ultimately, quinoa’s soaring popularity in the West has increased demand and pushed up the prices in the Andean mountains. But the poor people in the Andes–who really need the added nutrients–depend on this grain as a staple food. And many of them can no longer afford it.

So now, many well-intentioned consumers in the West–who bought quinoa because they simply wanted a healthy, sustainable food–unknowingly contribute to poverty and poor nutrition in the Andes.

If you want a truly healthy, sustainable grain, go for simple short-grain brown rice instead.

Edamame

Raw, organic soybeans in the pod–called edamame–won’t hurt you if you only eat them occasionally. But always make sure you buy organic, as the vast majority of regular soybeans grown in this country are genetically modified.

But don’t make raw soybeans–organic or not–part of your regular routine, as they can disrupt digestion, as I’ll explain in a moment.

And bigger problems happen when food manufacturers grind up the GM soybeans and add them to processed foods. Soy adds texture, bulk, and protein to their products. So, you find GM soy protein hidden in lots and lots of processed foods–from cereal bars to corn chips to chicken nuggets.

But even whole, organic soybeans can eventually cause problems if you don’t properly prepare them.

You see, your body needs trypsin, a vital digestive enzyme, to break down and digest proteins from the saliva to the small intestines. But soybeans, if not properly prepared, contain an anti-trypsin factor that blocks trypsin. This can interfere with digestion, and rob your body of nutrients. Over time, it creates a condition similar to what people with cystic fibrosis suffer in the gastro-intestinal tract. The body simply cannot absorb the nutrients it takes in.

Of course, soybeans have been the leading source of protein in the Asian diet for generations. But they learned long ago how to get rid of the anti-trypsin factor.

In Asia, they mainly consume soybeans as bean curd. They boil or roast the soybeans with calcium or magnesium. The anti-trypsin remains behind in the liquid, which they discard. Then, they press out the remaining water, leaving the protein “meat” of the bean as curd.

People in Korea, Japan and China have been using this process for thousands of years to prepare doufu or tofu (soybean curd). They make doufu using natural sources of calcium. And tofu uses natural sources of magnesium salts.

In Indonesia, they use a natural mold (Rhizopus) to ferment the curd into tempeh. Natural molds deactivate the anti-trypsin factor. They also enhance the production of vitamin B12, which is frequently lacking in vegetarian and vegan diets.

They also use soybeans to make soy sauce. Here again, they ferment the soybeans with mold to remove the anti-trypsin factor. And then they add the condiment to rice and vegetable dishes. It provides some protein to the meal. And helps with vitamin B production.

Soy is deficient in the sulfur-containing amino acid methionine. However, rice is high in methionine. So that’s why you will often see soy sauce and tofu paired with rice in traditional Asian cooking. Together, they provide a nutritious, balanced meal that is also safe to eat and digest. Other traditional uses of soybeans include sprouting.

Just don’t get fooled into buying the supposedly “healthy” veggie burger or soymilk made with GM soy. That’s the kind of soy you’ll want to avoid at all costs.


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