Whether it’s stress, or fad and faux foods, many of us have too much on our plate. The fix makes a whole lot of sense, discovers Terri Dunn.
Superfoods have been copping a bit of a bad rap of late. The calories they contain compared to everyday alternatives don’t exactly make them a logical proposition, nor does their equally hefty price. So should they really be part of a healthy diet, or are they merely a marketing tactic to drive profits? Let’s remember that the Portobello was just an unwanted overgrown white button mushroom until a clever marketer gave it a fancy name and upgraded the cost…
Not so super?
Superfoods make nutrition sound simple, and that’s hugely appealing in this time-poor world, in which many of us are experiencing less than optimal wellness. What’s concerning, though, is how many people are willing to spend copious amounts of money on them, with little result other than a rising number on the scales.
So, what gives? When we introduce foods such as coconut oil, cacao powder, smoothie blends and dairy-alternative milks into our diet, we’re ingesting a whole lot of nutrients that we wouldn’t otherwise have gained from traditional meals, which is great! But what we often don’t realise is that although they’re full of nutrients, they’re also packed with calories.
Food as medicine
Before you throw up your hands and chow down on that Mars bar, because, let’s face it, it probably contains fewer calories than a couple of bliss balls, understand that not all calories are created equal. Unprocessed wholefoods (superfoods included) are full of the health-promoting nutrients our bodies need to function Well. Processed foods, on the other hand, fill us with loads of synthetic substances that can cause fundamental processes, such as hormone production, to get out of sync. Hello weight gain, acne and mood swings.
“Given that wholefoods are close to their natural state, they’re often brimming with nutrients that support our health,” explains nutritionist Danijela Unkovich. Plus, “they’re much more affordable than superfoods”. If we persistently hammer our bodies with processed foods, refined sugar, caffeine and alcohol, we also run the risk of overloading our liver. “Adding more liver-loving nutrients to our diet, such as broccoli and rosemary, can help our liver to rid the body of toxins and support weight loss,” says clinical nutritionist Ben Warren. Your takeaway? Superfoods definitely have their place, but good old-fashioned wholefoods can be super too.
You do you
Due to factors including genetics and lifestyle, everyone has a unique macronutrient profile, says Ben. He believes this dictates whether we can digest complex carbs with ease, chomp on meat and fat without a problem or, like many of us, be our healthiest somewhere in between (take the free macronutrient profile test at here to discover yours). It’s also why it’s important not to just follow fads or what our friends are doing. Ben says eating according to your macronutrient profile can help you to work out which foods your body thrives on — these being the ones that “give you the most energy, stabilise your blood sugar and keep you full the longest”. “Be it diet or exercise, it’s incredibly important to listen to your body’s unique needs,” says Danijela. “Your body is the best barometer as to whether something is working for you, so listen to the feedback it gives.”
Workouts that work
Doing loads of exercise but just not seeing results? The culprit could be stress and the stress hormone cortisol that’s implicated in weight gain. “Our body doesn’t differentiate between real and perceived stress,” says Ben. So, when we engage in high-intensity exercise, putting our body under a lot of stress, it can lead to a ‘fight or flight’ response. This results in the body ‘holding onto’ weight in case we need to keep ‘running away from danger’.”
If this sounds familiar, low-intensity exercise that calms your nervous system, such as gentle walking or yoga, might be better for your body. HIIT and bootcamp-type workouts can be great, but Ben recommends scaling them back to 20 minutes or so twice a week.
Change your gut, change your life
Be it balancing our moods, losing weight, regulating our blood sugar levels, improving our immunity, achieving a glowing complexion or all of the above, everyone’s looking to get a bigger slice of the wellness pie. But why does it come easier to some than others? New research suggests that it might boil down to the state of your gut.
Our digestive system is responsible for way more than previously thought, including around 70% of our immune system. When your gut is in a bad way, superfoods and miracle creams won’t even begin to mask your problems — #accessdenied. To achieve a healthy digestive system, you need to support the ‘good’ bacteria within it. When the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria that make up our digestive system’s microbiome become unbalanced, we increase our risk of obesity, depression, anxiety, skin problems, a host of diseases and more. Enter gut-friendly foods that encourage a wide range of the good guys to flourish.
“Focusing on consuming plenty of prebiotics [the food our good gut bacteria eat], in fruit, vegetables and nuts, is a great way to support diverse gut bacteria, as is consuming probiotics [the good bacteria itself] in probiotic yoghurt, kombucha and sauerkraut,” says Danijela.
The bottom line?
Consider the bigger picture and your overall health. There’s a misconception that certain superfoods will remedy your wellness and weight-loss woes overnight, when in reality, your needs are unique and, as Danijela says, “no supplement is going to compensate for a poor diet”. Forget looking to superfoods to magically erase the fact that you’ve been hitting up the bakery on the reg, and instead aim to make sustainable gains by prioritising wholefoods, giving your gut what it needs to digest them, and taking the time to find out what really works for you.