The newest buzzword – “power foods”

What is a power food and what is all the hype?

We are hearing a lot about power-foods. But do foods really have power? Why are so many organizations and diet industry leaders talking about power-foods? Are power-foods brand new or have they been around for years?  These seem like simple questions. Certainly the term power-food has caught our attention. Michigan State University Extension says that what first needs to be understood is that buzzwords are used to do just that, catch our attention. They turn a tag line into something new and interesting and most buzzwords aren’t real words at all.

All foods can have an impact on our bodies. One thing research concludes is that it’s not the power of the food itself but rather the effect the food has on the body. For example, the food’s nutrition value, energy levels, mood and psychological feelings and other physical symptoms like bloating and cramps. 

There is no doubt that food affects us in a variety of ways:        

  • Foods to boost energy – Red meats, fish and poultry, soybeans, lentils, spinach and fortified cereals.
  • Foods to help us feel calm – Too much caffeine can be a culprit in anxiety and the jitters. Spikes in blood sugar can also affect our moods.
  • Foods that cause spikes in blood sugar – To help prevent drastic spikes and drops in blood sugar, your meals and snacks should be based around lean protein, healthy fats and unrefined carbohydrates. That means loading up on brown rice, whole-grain bread and pasta, whole oats and of course, fruits, veggies and legumes.
  • Help us be sharp – Omega-3’s are loaded with fatty acids that help promote well-functioning synapses which keep neurons in the brain firing more effectively. Fatty, omega-3-rich are found in fish like mackerel, trout, herring, tuna and salmon.
  • Make us feel bloated or experience gas –Veggies and legumes are great for you. But certain ones like beans, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower can produce gas, leaving you with major bloating. Carbonated drinks can also increase bloating
  • Curb cramps – If you’re low on electrolytes like potassium or magnesium, you may experience cramps.  For magnesium, try raw spinach, mackerel, squash or pumpkinseed. To boost potassium try sweet potatoes, tomatoes sauces and purees, beat greens and yogurt. Calcium from low-fat milk as well as tofu can help too. In addition, dehydration can cause cramps, so be sure to stay hydrated.

What’s most important about food is learning about its nutritional value.  According to MyPlate there is not one specific group of power foods. Instead, foods are based on nutritional value, which need to be included in a healthy, balanced diet.

MyPlate food groups:

  • Fruits – focus on fruits
  • Veggies – vary your vegetables
  • Grains – make at least half your grains whole grain
  • Proteins – go lean with protein
  • Dairy – consume calcium enriched foods
  • Oils – Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, like the vegetable oils used in cooking. Oils come from many different plants and from fish. Oils are not a food group, but they provide essential nutrients. Therefore, oils are included in USDA food patterns.

Foods grouped into power foods might not be ‘one size fits all.’ We may not all have the same daily nutritional requirements. For those with specific nutritional needs or those with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, food is both a nutrient and a source of remedy. Also, different age groups have different and more specific nutrition needs.

First and foremost, check with your health care provider to learn about your individual nutritional needs. Become a label reader; understand food packaging to identify portion size, fats and other ingredients. 

To learn more about nutrition and chronic disease visit http://www.choosemyplate.gov/  and http://msue.anr.msu.edu/. 

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