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Are Superfoods Always Best?

Plenty of people hate kale.

It doesn't matter that it's a so-called "superfood." (Yes, it is pretty super.)

After all, you can't help what you like... or don't like. But should your force down a "superfood" even if you detest it? Not necessarily.

While it's popular to put some foods on a pedestal above others, there's more to healthy eating than just the nutrition facts. Context matters. Preferences matter. Goals matter. It's never just as simple as "good" vs. "bad" or "healthy" vs. "unhealthy."

Some examples of five celebrated superfoods and their sometimes demonized counterparts include:

  1. Nutrient-packed kale vs. basically just water iceberg lettuce

  2. Power grain quinoa vs. plain old white rice

  3. Cancer-fighting blueberries vs. starchy bananas

  4. Trendy coconut oil vs. kitchen staple olive oil

  5. Fat-fighting egg whites vs. cholesterol-boosting whole eggs OR perfectly-balanced whole eggs vs. woefully incomplete egg whites, depending on your point of view

It's often more empowering and impactful to choose your foods depending on what's most important to you, not just an arbitrary list of food rules.

Let's take a closer look at olive oil vs. coconut oil.

The claims of olive oil: rich in vitamins, anti-inflammatory, a healthy fat

But it's "old news."

The claims of coconut oil: the "superfood" because it contains metabolism-boosting medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs)

Extra Virgin Olive Oil by the numbers (per tablespoon):

119 calories

13.5 grams fat

1.9 grams saturated fat

9.8 grams monounsaturated fat

1.4 grams polyunsaturated fat

103 Omega-3 fatty acids (mg)

1318 Omega-6 fatty acids (mg)

10% daily value Vitamin E

10% daily value Vitamin K

7% daily value Iron

Extra Virgin Coconut Oil by the numbers (per tablespoon):

116 calories

13.5 grams fat

11.7 grams saturated fat

0.8 gram monounsaturated fat

0.2 gram polyunsaturated fat

0 Omega-3 fatty acids

243 Omega-6 fatty acids (mg)

0% Vitamin E

0% Vitamin K

0% Iron

Olive oil is rich in:

Oleic acid - provides heart health benefits and may fight inflammation and cancer

Phenols - powerful antioxidants with many potential benefits including fighting inflammation, viruses, and tumors

Coconut oil is rich in:

Lauric acid - may have antibacterial and antimicrobial benefits


Olive Oil might be the better choice if you:

Want to minimize saturated fat or prioritize heart-healthy fats

Are looking for a plant-based replacement for butter

Want to replace other vegetable oils in salad dressings or for oven roasting

Coconut oil might be the better choice if you:

Don't get much saturated fat from other sources

Are looking for a plant-based replacement for butter or shortening in baked goods

Want to add a coconut flavor to a savory dish

The takeaway:

Olive oil wins out over coconut oil nutritionally, but the best choice depends on your overall fat intake and how you are cooking.

Essentially, how "super" a food is depends on your:

  1. goals

  2. individual body (allergies, intolerances, illnesses, medical conditions, etc.)

  3. priorities

  4. preferences

  5. current eating style

This is why I do not deem foods "good" or "bad." It's about choosing more or less optimal foods for YOU.

No single food will transform your eating patterns, but these tips might:

  1. Eat slowly to 80% full.

  2. Eat a wide variety of minimally-processed foods.

  3. Consider how food preparation may affect nutrition.

  4. Think in terms of "a little bit better."

Small improvements, done consistently, add up.

How can you reframe your thinking about your relationship with food, your wellness habits, and your eating patterns and priorities?

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