Superfood Shake

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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    30 Comments
  1. Gena,

    Thank you so much for this post (and the post on REAL superfoods that follows). I am so over the superfood hype… While I do enjoy a fun superfood smoothie (raw cacao is always a favorite ingredient) I generally prefer my food whole, fresh, un-processed and local when possible.

    There are so many nutrient-dense delicacies in our own backyards (so to speak) no reason to trek to deep regions of the Amazon to find them. (Having spent time in the Amazon region of Brasil, and observing the acai industry first-hand, I have some questions and concerns about the standards and methods by which these superfoods are harvested, processed, and transported.)

    Thanks again for reminding us that many of our everyday foods are, in fact, superfoods.

  2. I totally agree with your sentiments on superfoods, Gena. I like to think them as super-pricey, super-fancy foods. Really, all natural, whole foods are “super” in their own right!

  3. i use lucuma and yacon mostly as alternative sweeteners rather than thinking of them as superfoods. i feel the diet of most people is so narrow (even healthy people, because we are limited to what is in the grocerystore) compared to what it could be so adding in more things is a plus. and fun!

    looks like a great shake!

  4. Hi, I love love love your site!!!! So gooooood! So hey you must check out David Favor’s Radical Health site, and then you will fully understand the power of cacao! This guy was on the verge of getting a colostomy when he discovered raw food. It saved his life. He now sustains himself solely on cacao and other superfood concoctions and he is by far the most radiant raw foodie I have ever seen in my life. He is so shiny and full of pure radiant light that I couldn’t tell where his skin began and the shimmer around him ended. Almost transparent. Amaaaaazing story, and detailed data on the benefits of superfoods. You will enjoy it.

  5. Thank you for writing this and showing a balanced view on superfoods! This is one of those articles you’ve written where I think “yes!” to almost every sentence. Kudos. Ps. This goes for the agave article too!

  6. Great comments on superfoods. I agree that if you strip away the label then so many foods that we already eat (and aren’t super expensive) are indeed a superfood.

  7. Great post! It’s nice to see that everyone isn’t buying into the whole “superfoods will make you live forever” thing. It’s just dried fruits and packaged powders, people! 😉

    Swayze

  8. I knew your thoughts on Superfoods but it’s always nice to hear them again…and the very unregulated labeling of them is what bugs me. I was on a website looking for weightlifting gloves the other day and there were tons of supersynthetic, super NOT plant based ingredients in these protein powders that were being touted as superfoods! They maybe contained a “superfood” but as you so dutifully pointed out, kale can be a superfood as can a strawberry. The misnomers and “duping” of many people by the mislabeling really bug me!

    Lots of people are so desparate for a “solution” that they cling to anything; and something called a “superfood” has to be a miracle, right?!

    🙂

    Great shake but can’t afford it. I love how you crossed out very expensive…true! LOL

    xox

  9. You couldn’t have summed up my thoughts on “superfoods” any better! I definitely don’t believe that they are critical to one’s diet, nor do I think they are necessarily more super than whole foods like kale, sea veggies, or persimmons (I’m sure there are some weeds that would prove to be bigger nutritional powerhouses than superfoods). Yet, that being said, you most certainly will find popular so-called super foods in my pantry. Just because they may not be so superior as their name suggests, doesn’t mean that they aren’t delectable, healthful treats. Let’s face it- I like the taste of them! (Fresh lucuma was a favorite of mine while living in Peru- so freaking good!) My biggest problem with them is that they are almost all sourced internationally and shipped here. As a “locavore” who eats probably 90% of her food from farmer’s markets, I definitely struggle with promoting tibetan goji berries over locally grown arugula, or boysenberries. But really, I guess I’ve gone into a whole other topic, so I’ll save that for another day and end this right here.

    In the meantime, I’m going to dig in my pantry and make myself a Gena Superfood Shake!

    • Great Article on Agave. They recent Hysteria over Agave is excessive & disturbing… Comparing High Fructose Corn Syrup to Agave – is like comparing Orange Soda to Orange Juice. Both have sugar – but definitely not the same chemical makeup.

      I’m terribly sensitive to sugar – and Agave is one of the few sweeteners that I can tolerate. The backlash from this controversy is sad & frustrating. I feel terrible for ethical, fair-trade Agave companies that are struggling to maintain their reputation right now. I’m also disappointed to see so many raw-foodists, health advocates, and companies instantly ban agave from their diet or products without doing any further research. It’s sad that ethical companies still using Agave have to vehemently defend themselves via lengthy articles, trips to the Agave production sites, etc…

  10. Great looking shake! I make one several times a week with very similar ingredients. Will it give keep me young, make me more fertile or prevent cancer? Probably not…..but it taste damn good and it’s healthier than a massive chocolate bar 🙂 A

  11. I don’t actually like agave, but it can’t be worse than a lot of other sweeteners out there.

    Superfoods make me laugh. I mean, really, isn’t everything fresh and natural a superfood?

  12. Delicious looking shake. The article on agave was really good. I only use it now and again anyways. I feel any type of sweetener (sugar, honey, agave, etc) shouldn’t be used in excess anyways.

  13. I feel similarly about the whole superfoods craze, but I am also happy about it because more and more people are exposed to healthier options for desserts and the like.

    Your shake looks AMAZING. I am such a shake/smoothie person so I’m really exited to try this recipe!

  14. so jealous about the wolf parade show! i saw sunset rubdown (same frontman) two years ago front row… one of the best shows ever.

    i never make decadent smoothies but yesterday i made hemp milk following your recipe, omitting agave – it turned out wonderfully, with the lecithin added. i think i will be using hemp seeds to use much more now, i’ve never used them before, only hemp protein powder, but they were a concentrated kind and i wanted something much more diluted. thanks for this.

    i actually tried yacon recently – and decided i like yacon MUCH more than agave in terms of how it makes me feel. to be honest i feel that cacao is overhyped (it IS yummy for what it is, though), and as for goji berries… i dont know, my mom made me tea by steeping goji berries and jujubes (they kind of look like dates but are much less sweeter) when i was sick since i was little and i dont know if it’s truly so magical as people seem to think it is… though i’m sure they are nutritionally dense. i agree with you that it’s fun to incorporate them in, but otherwise i am not one to spend money on them. i haven’t even tried maca yet. ahh, i remember the days when flaxseeds were considered a superfood…

  15. It’s one reason I like Ani Phyo–she talks about “regular” fruit and veggies as superfoods. By the way, if you’re curious, I interviewed her for the Houston Chronicle, and the article comes out tomorrow (online and in print).

    I actually do have a random bag of lucuma but I’ve rarely used it. This shake looks delish! What does the yacon add? I don’t have any of that stuff…

    And out of curiosity, what’s your opinion on maca, say in a post-workout shake? I’ve heard it can help repair your adrenals and whatnot, but I’ve never read anything scientific.

  16. That is my take on the superfoods as well – I figure my frequent consumption of kale, spinach and broccoli is already plenty of superfood intake, but I do love love love the flavor of raw cacao, plus it kills my chocolate and sweets cravings quite effectively. My latest favorite combination is maca and cacao in smoothies – delicious desserty goodness. Thank you for your piece on agave. Very balanced and helpful 🙂

  17. yum! I frequently make frozen banana/cocoa powder/date/nut or hemp smoothies. So decadent, especially as you increase the food to ice ratio. I haven’t been particularly seduced by ‘superfoods’- I guess I’m aware enough of the ‘superfood’ properties of many regular plant foods. One book that is really fun and educational on the amazing benefits of many foods is “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth” by Jonny Bowden. Really interesting and brief info on study results demonstrating specific health benefits of each recommended food. One category of superfoods that intrigues me most is sea veggies- they seem to have some fairly unique nutritional profiles.

  18. Oh, the whole media frenzy over superfoods is such a pet peeve of mine. Usually it just involves exoticizing some kind of fruit, vegetable, or grain that’s been pretty commonplace in other continents forever – whether it’s unlocking the ‘mystical secrets’ behind acai, benefiting from the ‘ancient practice’ of green tea cultivation, or tasting the ‘exotic juice’ of the mangosteen.

    Demeaning and nonsensical. Your smoothie looks great, though!

  19. Great perspective. I love superfoods because, like you said, they’re fun! I like specialty ingredients and experimenting, but I don’t think it’s cool for people to feel like they can’t be “healthy” because they can’t obtain superfoods. Plus, I don’t agree that we need to trek half way around the world for food. Quite the opposite actually. The true superfoods are found right in our own backyard.

    That being said the shake does look tasty. Cacao is something I eat daily. 🙂

  20. You have such a great outlook on nutrition in health. I’ve been wondering about this “superfoods” claim so I’m glad someones addressed it. Also – you’re article on agave was very well written and thought out. As you mentioned, health/nutrition has a lot to do with consumption. While some foods (such as agave) may or may not qualify as healthy, taken in moderation they should only have a moderate effect on your body.

  21. Wow, this looks amazing!! So chocolately!!! I use superfoods for recipes that call for them, like you said for taste. But I also use spirulina and maca for the extra benefits. 🙂

  22. Thank you so much for this post! I think that all fruits and veggies are superfoods, even if they are all different. I used to read many blogs that made some of my meals seem so boring, but sometimes I just like more common fruits and veggies.

    I <3 cacao as well!

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