Monday, February 18, 2013

The Superfood Challenge

Dear Friends,
Finally, the cold is gone! I’m (relatively) free from burning chest pain and a hacking cough. I started chronicling my journey to recovery at the end of the duration of this cold, so an instantaneous revival of health was not strictly due to the addition of superfoods to my diet. The illness had run its course. Then again, my choice of meals may have had a greater effect than I thought.
Last week, I asked a few friends if they would join me on this health detox. I realized that their diets are already quite different than mine, and none of them seem to be currently suffering from a cold. One of my friends is on a weight loss diet before her big formal dance coming up, one obsessively takes vitamin supplements, another is going gluten free to practice for Lent, and my roommate already eats vegetarian. (I'm beginning to wonder: is this the new normal?) So, I continued the adventure independently.
As I began the first days of incorporating a super-meal (quite opposite to a McDonalds happy meal) into each day, I realized I needed to shop for ingredients. The Cellar market at Santa Clara offers many organic and natural food options. I picked up snacks there, including a Bobo’s Coconut Bar, chocolate coconut Luna Bar, and a mini pack of HALLS Defense. I admit, I may have purchased a few other unhealthy snacks like Poptarts and Oreos, but they did not resurface in the meal plan for this week. On the other hand, Safeway proved to be a maze of health products signaling advanced nutritional supplements. I stocked up on all types of berries: blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. However, the acai berry was nowhere to be found in any form. Perhaps I should search in a supplemental store like GNC. Dr. Perricone, Oprah’s nutrition expert, believes the acai and goji berries retain certain properties beyond antioxidants that help to combat viruses and sometimes even shed extra weight. I find myself making the mistake of preserving my berries for too long and then, unfortunately, they spoil. With lists on lists of superfoods out there from plenty of nutritional experts, it is difficult to ascertain which is superior. Most lists include these foods for their enhancing nutritional properties: oats, salmon, blueberries (and strawberries), broccoli, spinach, pumpkin, grapefruit, nuts, green tea, quinoa, kiwi, buckwheat, yogurt, soy, black beans, and kale (SELF Magazine). My goal was to integrate three of these items into a meal for three different days.

My aversion to sushi is inconsistent with my affinity for seafood. An adventurous friend encouraged me to try to the Bistro’s lunch specialty. On Monday, I ate the lion king sushi roll from the Benson cafeteria. Its main ingredients were salmon layered on a rice roll, oozing with avocado (not my favorite) and crab meat, and drowning in spicy mayonnaise and teriyaki sauce. I was surprised by its unusual flavor, declaring that it tastes “like nothing”. After the food digested hours later, I didn’t feel any better. I was still congested and heavily coughing, my health level at a solid 6. I continued to have the same sushi roll the next week!
Tuesdays are my traditional weekly lunch date to eat and converse with my best friend from high school, Caitlin. I usually get the Bronco Salad from Fresco, but instead I opted for my own salad concoction from the salad bar. The main ingredient was spinach leaves and a heaping pile of quinoa. My salad also featured dried cranberries, egg whites, broccoli, carrots, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. I had tried quinoa before and knew that it was tasteless to me. As I was finishing the creation, I was majorly disappointed when I spilled vinegar on my leather boots, so I grabbed a napkin to blotch it up quickly. Why do I have such bad karma if I’m trying to eat healthily? At the end of our lunch, Caitlin offered me half of her RiceKrispy treat, but I hesitated. She had been fiercely coughing since we sat down, and I was afraid of catching her germs when I was already trying to get over mine. She insisted that I was already sick, and I caved because I can’t resist dessert. 
After the quinoa salad, I felt full for the rest of the day. However, before dinnertime, I found myself snacking on oranges. This whole grain protein did improve my health level to a 4, and I felt like I had more energy--enough to attend a kickboxing fitness class. Since I’m such a picky eater, it’s lucky when I find something I enjoy such as quinoa that also has so many benefits. On Wednesday, I attended an early morning class. I needed sustenance to keep me awake. Take note, readers: At an early hour before the sun is up, be careful not to accidentally microwave oatmeal without water and burn the oats, wasting precious time and resources. Don’t worry, the crisis was averted when I made a new bowl and added blackberries. I was able to enjoy my steaming Quaker Oats brown sugar oatmeal, and pangs of hunger didn’t even start until hours later, compared to immediately after class when I eat cereal. One beloved nutritionist for stars such as Hilary Swank and Naomi Campbell, Oz Garcia, encourages breakfast as the most important meal, and he recommends adding a special dietary superfood to increase chances of eating healthier throughout the day (Time). It appears I was following Oz’s directions already. By the end of three days, my health level improved a considerable amount, and I felt that the food’s natural proteins provided more energy than I would have had without those additions.
Oatmeal with Berries
All in all, my week of superfoods has left me “unsick”. Unlike medicinal supplements, superfoods are often taken to prevent illness in the first place. In the worst part of the sickness, I took Emergen-C three times a day, which is a dietary supplement that replenishes electrolytes, not approved by the FDA. Patricia Karney, executive director of non-profit organization EarthSave, reinforces the idea that it is easier for our bodies to digest unprocessed foods because machines haven’t altered them, expending less energy. EarthSave, based in California, offers an education program to underserved individuals about changing health habits and sticking to a plant-based diet (Earthsave). While I followed a similar meal plan, my health seemed to be improving after these couple of days. Is it a coincidence? I do not believe so. We will see if I stay healthy when I continue to eat superfoods, and see which ones have a larger impact. So far, the superfoods made me feel generally better. But I can’t ignore other factors like time spent exercising, lowered stress levels on weeks without exams, and a more exciting social calendar that could have lifted my spirits. All in all, I am happy that I am feeling better no matter the reason.
I’m going to resume my superfood experiences next week. Have you been as lucky as I was to recover from illness quickly? What have you heard is the best superfood out there? I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Works Cited:
Danziger, Lucy S. The Drop 10 Diet Cookbook: More than 100 Tasty, Easy Superfood Recipes That Effortlessly Peel off Pounds. N.p.: Ballantine, n.d. Print.
"EarthSave - Food Intervention Programs to Achieve Health Independence." EarthSave - Food Intervention Programs to Achieve Health Independence. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2013.
Sifferlin, Alexandra. "What's the Healthiest Breakfast? Here's What the Experts Say." Time: Healthland. Time Inc., 13 Apr. 2012. Web.


  1. As you mentioned, Oz Garcia believes that we should take time to enjoy a healthy breakfast in the morning, but what would be considered a substantial breakfast? Also, I do agree that drinking emergen-C helps refill electrolytes during a sickness, but is it possible to gain those same electrolytes through natural fruits such as oranges? Do you think they would produce the same effect?

  2. I'm interested to know, is there a third superfood in the sushi in addition to the salmon and avocado? I love superfoods, but I've never really heard of them being able to cure a cold or sickness once it has already taken it's hold. I just thought superfoods were really really good for you. But if that's what did it to fix your cold, that's awesome!

  3. I like how you integrate the superfoods into your diet, was it a lot of hard work trying to find the "superfoods" in benson or in dining options off campus? Is there one particular restaurant nearby that would offer a perfect combination of superfoods?

    and on another note, do you think that superfoods can be integrated or added to a normal diet instead of just purely relying on superfoods the whole time?

  4. Zina,

    I'm glad your feeling better and I am definitely going to keep in mind the superfoods you mentioned in your post whenever I get sick. I loved that you included so many examples of different types of superfoods because honestly, I am not that knowledgeable in this subject. You did a wonderful job of making me feel like eating these foods will improve the way I feel. You mentioned the quinoa in your salad and that you remembered it before as not having any flavor to it but when you had it with your meal recently, you found you really enjoyed it. I have never had quinoa so I was wondering if you found it actually does taste really good or its just a good superfood to add to a salad?


  5. Zina,
    I've always heard salmon is a superfood, but I've been a little wary about the mountain of soy sauce and wasabi mayo they dump on top. I think next time I'll probably just ask them to hold it, seeing how many other superfoods are packed into the rolls. Thanks for the information!

  6. Like you, whenever I start feeling sick, I try taking emergency or some sort of dietary supplement that contains vitamins (and primarily vitamin C). But it doesn't always prevent the cold. It's always disappointing. Over the years I've found that if I go work out, and sweat profusely, I start to feel better afterwards. It feels terrible while you're working out, but it really makes a difference afterwards.
    My great uncle also has an interesting story, he says he has not been sick in 30 years. He attributes this to how he has incorporated a lemon in his diet every day, and hasn't been sick since. Would you be willing to try this?

  7. Zina,
    When I start to feel like I'm getting a cold, I start to take a set of multivitamins instead of piling on the EmergenC. I also tend to drink more tea. Maybe you could look into herbal teas, green teas, or even some black teas. Some are known to be superfoods (as my grandmother constantly repeats over and over). Or perhaps look into homemade teas for sickness.