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What Are Superfoods?

As a lover of Real Food, I’m no fan of supplements. I believe that if you can find food grown in naturally nutrient-rich soil (or meat from animals fed their natural diets), you are pretty much guaranteed to have the right balance of vitamins and minerals to not just survive, but thrive.

But let’s be honest. How many of us are able to stick to that diet perfectly? Furthermore, how many of us can say with certainty that our food isn’t grown in depleted soil (even if it’s certified “organic”)?

Enter Food Renegade Newbie Tip #5: Eat More Superfoods.

What Are Superfoods?

According to the Weston A. Price Foundation:

Superfoods — as opposed to vitamins or supplements — are foods that naturally concentrate important nutrients. Unlike dietary supplements, or vitamins taken in isolation, superfoods provide many nutrients that support each other and prevent the kind of imbalances that often occur when vitamins are taken singly.

Isolated vitamins and minerals do not occur in nature, and can not be considered traditional or Real Food. Superfoods, on the other hand, are foods that traditional people groups have sought out for centuries for optimum health.

Naturally, there are a host of foods that can be called superfoods for one reason or another. But here are some of the basics that everyone really should work on incorporating into their diets:

Fermented Cod Liver Oil

Did you know that the vast majority of us are Vitamin D deficient? 65% of us live in parts of the world where for 6 or more months out of the year, it’s impossible for us to get enough UVB rays from the sun to produce sufficient quantities of Vitamin D. Even during the rest of the year it’s hard to get sufficient Vitamin D because we typically spend too much time indoors, or too much time behind glass windows (which blocks UVB rays and increases exposure to Vitamin D leaching UVA rays), or we shower too frequently and remove the Vitamin D oils before they’ve had a chance to be absorbed into our bloodstream through our skin.

Traditionally, people overcame the seasonal nature of natural Vitamin D production by eating foods high in Vitamin D — eggs from pastured hens, lard from foraged hogs, and yes, fermented cod liver oil. Also, traditional peoples ate a diet 10 times higher in Vitamin D than the standard American diet (SAD).

Fermented Cod Liver Oil is an excellent source of Vitamin D and Vitamin A, and also a decent source of Omega 3 fatty acids. If you struggle with being tired or depressed and you don’t get at least 20 minutes of direct sunlight (no shade, no sunscreen, no clouds, just you, the sun, and lots of exposed skin) between the hours of 10am and 2pm everyday (more if your skin is darker), you really should be taking fermented CLO.

(Where to find Fermented Cod Liver Oil)

High Vitamin Butter Oil

This deep yellow oil from cows eating rapidly growing green grass is rich in Vitamin K2 — an important activator that helps the body utilize minerals, protects against tooth decay and heart disease, and contributes to a properly functioning brain. Without Vitamin K2, your body can’t properly utilize the fat soluble vitamins (like D and A).

If you eat raw butter, milk, and cheese from grass-fed cows, you’re probably getting enough of this in your diet. But if you can’t get these raw dairy products, High Vitamin Butter Oil is a good way to ensure you’re getting enough of the all-important K2.

(Where to find High Vitamin Butter Oil)

Spirulina and Kelp

For those of us not living by the sea or inland waterways, who don’t have regular access to fresh seafood, these superfoods can give us many of the benefits of seafood. Traditional Aztec, African, and Asian cultures have all eaten these foods because they’re easy to dry and transport inland. They’re a rich source of sea minerals, vitamins, and protein.

(Where to find Spirulina & Kelp)

Glandular and Organ Extracts

Eating freeze-dried organs may not sound like your idea of fun. So, here’s a question for you. Do you eat 10% of your meat in the form of organ meats? If you’re like the typical American, the answer is no. But traditional diets prized organ meats and glands, and modern research has shown that eating these nutrient-dense foods can support our own organ and glandular functions.

So, you’ve got two choices. You can start eating more organ meat (a worthy goal), or you could start taking freeze-dried organ/glandular extracts.

(Where to find Glandular and Organ Extracts)

(photo by bizzzarro)

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.

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24 Responses to What Are Superfoods?
  1. Jenny @ NourishedKitchen
    May 13, 2009 | 5:47 pm

    We don’t do a lot of supplements in our home: cod liver oil and high vitamin butter oil from time to time, definitely but not much more than that. Instead, we rely on nutrient-dense foods. I’m considering taking some glandulars as well, but I agree with you that the bulk of our nutrients should come from food – just as they did for our ancestors. We rely almost exclusively on local farms and I feel confident that their soils aren’t depleted; but in the winter months when we begin to rely more heavily on farmed organics I certainly become a little more concerned. I think liver, coconut oil, cruciferous veggies and a host of other foods are superfoods as well.

    Jenny @ NourishedKitchen

  2. Kimi @ The Nourishing Gourmet
    May 13, 2009 | 5:52 pm

    Does anyone have any amazing stories from taking supplements? Not generally. We take fermented cod liver oil (took away terrible teeth pain I was having, ironically caused by another supplement I had been taking), and eat homemade ghee, and try to include liver in diet. :-) I’ve been seriously considering getting some of the freeze dried pills though! We just don’t eat liver enough!

    Kimi @ The Nourishing Gourmet

  3. KristenM
    May 13, 2009 | 6:16 pm

    Jenny — We’re pretty good about relying on local farms with ever-improving soil as well. (Our farm actually tests their soil and lets us in on the results!). That said, I’d bet about 30% of the produce we eat doesn’t come from them. We eat at church or friends’ homes. We eat out. And we buy out of season bananas and apples.

    What prompted me to write this is that I’ve recently learned that I’m Vitamin D deficient. I live in sunny Texas. I get as much sun as the next person. I eat nutrient-dense foods rich in Vitamin D. And YET I’m still deficient. I started on Fermented Cod Liver Oil, and I’ve been impressed. Time will tell if I keep seeing improvements as my Vitamin D level rises, but WOW. There’s something to the fact that traditional foods contain 10 TIMES as much Vitamin D as the SAD. Sure, I get more Vitamin D than a person eating the SAD, but I’d be willing to bet that without the CLO, I wouldn’t come anywhere near the levels I need to be at.

    Kimi — Right. People eating superfoods have watched their PMS disappear (Maca), their chipped teeth remineralize (CLO), their sex-drive improve (Maca & CLO!), the list goes on. I’ve got some of those freeze-dried pills. It’s not a bad way to go. It’s very hard to find enough organ meat from grass-fed/wild/pastured sources, and I wouldn’t trust the organ meat from other sources to be good for me.

  4. Christina
    May 13, 2009 | 7:32 pm

    I had my family on cod liver oil for years for the Omega 3s and Vit D, but recently took them off of it due to this article: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2008/12/23/important-cod-liver-oil-update.aspx.
    I don’t know if FERMENTED cod liver oil helps with the excessive Vit A problem in regular CLO, but now we’re back to just high-quality mercury-free fish oil and as much natural sunshine as we can get for the Vit D.

    There are some supplements that I feel are worth their money. In particular, a high-quality probiotic, COQ10, and a good source of Omega-3s. I also love my chlorella for helping me get rid of a lifetime accumulation of heavy metals — especially all that lovely mercury from my fillings that I just had pulled and replaced. =) Am I crazy for liking these particular supplements?

  5. KristenM
    May 13, 2009 | 7:46 pm

    Christina –

    We read that article on CLO, too. Unfortunately, I think it’s one of the few instances where Dr. Mercola is just wrong. (Remember, not too long ago he used to say that ALL milk was bad. Now, he’s revised his position to argue for raw milk. Same with grains. He used to say they were all bad. Now he acknowledges that sprouted grains aren’t all evil.)

    Read this response to Dr. Mercola’s article and see what you think:
    http://www.radiantlifecatalog.com/downloads/V10N1-CodLiverOilArticles.pdf

    I think supplements are fantastic correctives when need be, so no, you’re definitely not crazy!

  6. Stacy at Completely Edible
    May 13, 2009 | 7:48 pm

    This makes me think of a few things -
    1) I started taking some of these superfoods over the winter. One of them, dessicated liver tablets, I’ve come to really like the taste! They taste really good to me!

    2) it also reminds me of a story from my family reunion last summer. We stayed at a lake house in Michigan and my grandmother got a whole bunch of fish livers. Someone threw them out, thinking they were waste. My poor grandmother was so disappointed! They were a delicacy to her.

    Since taking cod liver oil, I haven’t gotten sick. despite being exposed to sick people. That isn’t totally true – I’ve been sick twice, both times are when I went lax on taking the cod liver oil regularly. I don’t plan on making that mistake a third time!

    Stacy at Completely Edible

  7. Annie - Hip Organic Mama
    May 13, 2009 | 8:09 pm

    I agree to go with whole foods over supplements. Great post and information! We do however add chia seeds to our morning smoothies of fruit and milk. Filling, fiber, and omega 3s.

    Annie – Hip Organic Mama

  8. Giovanna Miller
    May 13, 2009 | 8:58 pm

    I was just having a conversation with some friends about supplements and if they are necessary. I trained at the Natural Gourmet Institute and the founder of the school doesn’t believe in supplements. She believes, like you, that you should be able to get every thing you need from eating healthy food. I held this belief as well until I was sick for 3 months during my first winter season in New York City. I had constant congestion, and I tried my hardest to eat very well balanced meals to knock out the congestion. Nothing was working!!! After a kitchen pharmacy class, I took grapefruit seed extract and Amazing Grass Superfood Green Powder mixed with orange juice and in a week the congestion stopped. I became a believer! I still don’t think supplements is necessary on a regular basis, but taking or eating superfoods in a concentrated form can definitely boost your immune system.

    Giovanna Miller

  9. Kelly the Kitchen Kop
    May 13, 2009 | 9:10 pm

    Christina, I second what Kristen said about the Mercola article. There are a lot of myths surrounding CLO, actually I shouldn’t say “myths” because some are true depending on the BRAND you buy. Green Pastures has the only Fermented CLO and it is way above any other brands because it isn’t processed at all, it is a raw, fermented food, and it is full of even more nutrients than the omega 3′s and vit. A & D in typical CLOs. Thankfully they offer liquid AND capsules, because only half my family can take the liquid!

    Kelly the Kitchen Kop

  10. Christina
    May 13, 2009 | 9:41 pm

    I think it comes down to where your produce is grown. If it’s grown in poor soil under the hand of greedy agricultural practices, then supplements might be necessary. I heard recently that they can now grow an orange with 0% Vit. C. Crazy.

    Giovanna, that grapefruit seed extract helps knock out yeast. Do you think that’s what your problem was with the congestion?

    Kristen, thanks for the link to the rebuttal to Mercola. I’ll check it out. I know Mercola has revised his position on some things, but I respect him for it. I like to see the health authors I read occasionally revise their positions as new studies come out that provide new information. It makes me trust them more. Also, I hope your rebuttal article makes me become a believer in CLO once again as it is SO hot here in Houston
    and very unpleasant to get outside to get that Vit. D in sufficient quantities. :P

    Great discussion!

  11. Lolaloves13
    May 13, 2009 | 10:05 pm

    Speaking of Super Foods I have to say the FCLO and Butter Oil are wonderful! My daughter and I have been taking them for over 6 months now and have had great results. I just started my son on them about a month ago. He is 3 1/2 and was not talking much and seemed like he was never going to go to the bathroom on the toilet! I decided to start making him take both of them. (He gave me such a hard time, but now he takes just fine.) Within a couple weeks he was talking more and now he is almost potty trained completely. He actually goes up to people at church and wants them to hold him. He would NEVER do that. One question, does anyone have a suggestion for me. I started taking the Healthy Trinity probiotics a couple months back and I felt so horrible (die off, right?) I took for one month and decided to stop taking. It was exspensive and I was not being very faithful to what needed to be eliminated. I still feel horrible still and now depressed! I was at least exercising before that and now I am ready to sell off my dvd’s! I also am taking coconut oil. Does anyone have a suggestion? Thanks so much!

    • Orrie
      January 16, 2011 | 7:27 pm

      I’d finally found a source of Kefir grains. I processed them according to directions. The result was a 12-14 hour intestinal cleanse. (I thought I’d done something wrong.) NOT as the probiotics accomplished what had never been before. The next day I had normal “movements.” In the interim, I’ve been learning to listen to my body’s signals. Sometimes I want to eat grass fed meat and other times vegetables, all of which are accompanied with Good Fats. My carb intake is minimal. Have been losing weight without trying.
      I’m now able to process my Kefir and use the whey for fermenting veggies and fruit.
      I wish to start making sour dough bread as I cannot digest regular bread without discomfort. I think it’s most important to listen to our bodies’ “hints.”
      A quick example is I used to use regular salt, but only a little bit. When I started using Himalayan salt I couldn’t get enough for about 8 months. Then, all of a sudden I couldn’t stand eating as much salt. Conclusion? My body was telling me that it was finally “full” of the micro nutrients it needed. It could use some now but not as much.
      In the past, I’ve found this to be true for other foods/nutrients.
      If we choose to listen carefully, our God-given/created bodies will help us to discern what is needed. Kindly note that I sincerely appreciate the research of alternative doctors.

    • Orrie
      January 17, 2011 | 12:28 am

      I’d finally found a source of Kefir grains. I processed them according to directions. The result was a 12-14 hour intestinal cleanse. (I thought I’d done something wrong.) NOT as the probiotics accomplished what had never been before. The next day I had normal “movements.” In the interim, I’ve been learning to listen to my body’s signals. Sometimes I want to eat grass fed meat and other times vegetables, all of which are accompanied with Good Fats. My carb intake is minimal. Have been losing weight without trying.
      I’m now able to process my Kefir and use the whey for fermenting veggies and fruit.
      I wish to start making sour dough bread as I cannot digest regular bread without discomfort. I think it’s most important to listen to our bodies’ “hints.”
      A quick example is I used to use regular salt, but only a little bit. When I started using Himalayan salt I couldn’t get enough for about 6 months. Then, all of a sudden I couldn’t stand eating as much salt. Conclusion? My body was telling me that it was finally “full” of the micro nutrients it needed. It could use some now but not as much.
      In the past, I’ve found this to be true for other foods/nutrients.
      If we choose to listen carefully, our God-given/created bodies will help us to discern what is needed. Kindly note that I sincerely appreciate the research of alternative doctors.

      • jack gott
        September 26, 2011 | 4:56 am

        ….or maybe your body’s telling you your mind is nuts…

  12. Christina
    May 13, 2009 | 11:11 pm

    Just read the rebuttal article to Mercola. I do now have hope that perhaps I can start up my old cod liver oil again with certain brands. There was a quote in the article that sums up my current state of mind in the midst of this debate:

    “What

  13. KristenM
    May 13, 2009 | 11:19 pm

    Christina — Really the only brand of CLO I trust is also the only brand of fermented CLO (fermented basically means it’s all cold-processed, raw, has a higher Vitamin D to A ratio, and has other awesome nutrients too like Vitamin E, etc). It’s Green Pastures’ Blue Ice Fermented Cod Liver Oil. I get mine from http://www.gapsdiet.com.

    Lolaloves13 — Without more information, it’d be hard to say. Perhaps you can contact me off-blog (just check out the CONTACT tab in the top nav bar)?

  14. Vin | NaturalBias.com
    May 14, 2009 | 8:28 am

    Hi Kristen,

    I completely agree, it’s best to get our nutrition from whole foods, but as you said, the soil they come from isn’t what it used to be. In addition, many of us live much more physically and mentally demanding lives than we did just a century ago and this increases the need for additional nutrients as well.

    What’s nice about superfoods, even the ones that are processed to some extent, is that they still originate from a natural source rather than being completely synthetic as many supplements are.

    Vin | NaturalBias.com

  15. Laura
    May 14, 2009 | 11:17 am

    “…or you could start taking freeze-dried organ/glandular extracts.”

    Like? I was taking some freeze-dried liver supplements because I just can’t do liver. I know should, but I just can’t eat it. But what else? I’m very curious. Thanks!

  16. Raine Saunders
    May 14, 2009 | 11:49 pm

    I definitely think eating foods is the best way to get our nutrients (Superfoods are no exception!), but in many cases, this is not possible on a continual basis. One of the things I know affects this is the fact that I no longer have a gall bladder or appendix. My ability to digest fats and proteins, and many other substances for that matter, is greatly diminished. I know I’m not alone because I know dozens and dozens of people who are without their gall bladder and appendix as well – and I know what brought me and all these other people to this point – poor lifestyle and nutrition. Now that I know better, I eat very well most of the time. I can’t speak for other people, but if I don’t take bile salts, digestive enzymes, and hydrochloric acid, I’d be in a lot of trouble. It wasn’t until I started taking these substances and improving my diet that my health vastly improved. Before that, I was very ill and nearly died, and then was on my way to developing cancer or some other degenerative disease. Another reason I believe supplements work (key on these is the right types) is that even though I feed my family very well most of the time, sometimes they end up eating garbage somewhere else or flat out just don’t eat their food (like my son when he’s at school). To fill in the gaps, I give them supplements every day. This has saved them from health problems on multiple occasions (mostly because we are all pretty healthy a great deal of the time) since they refused to follow my meal plan as carefully as I asked. So I believe that in most cases, we should be getting our nutrients from our food. I just know that realistically, I can’t possibly expect my family to eat as well as I do because they are just plain stubborn and bent on having their way some of the time. Here’s a link to an article I wrote about choosing supplementation…http://agriculturesociety.wordpress.com/2009/03/18/the-importance-of-proper-supplementation/

    Raine Saunders

  17. Pat
    September 24, 2010 | 7:16 pm

    Kristen, I could not locate your qualifications or education on the website. Some of your posts are in direct opposition with M.D.’s, PhD’s, biologists, chemists, dietitions and other scientists who promote natural foods and supplements instead of pharmaceuticals. There are excellent resources written by highly-qualified individuals and I would caution people to be selective in their search for nutritional guidance. Your sources, where I could find them, are questionable.

  18. Jill
    January 20, 2011 | 6:49 pm

    Where would I find freeze-dried glandular and organ extracts?

  19. Phil
    September 1, 2011 | 9:55 am

    So I recently purchased a bottle of fermented cod liver oil based on your recommendation above (Blue Ice by Green Pastures)…

    I have officially found the devil’s own supplement! The smell and taste are beyond description – far worse than regular cod liver oil. The smell is so overpowering it stays with you for hours, on your fingers and on your breath.

    Consuming this stuff is anything but natural. I defy any human being not to be repulsed by this stuff. Even if I was vitamin D deficient (and living in England there’s good chance!) I’d take it any day over consuming this stuff!

  20. Mary Light, ND MH LMT
    May 6, 2014 | 6:52 am

    I see superfoods defined as “nutrient dense”- meaning lots of nutrients for a fewer proportion to calories. At least it is a beginning definition- nutritional yeast, for example packs a nutritional punch for few calories. Cheetos or even an apple offer few nutrients per calorie, even acknowledging the fiber in an apple- the idea here being you can’t do well nutritionally for long on mostly apples.

    All that said, we no longer live in a Natural World. Period. End of discussion. The soils are depleted,(particularly in relation to optimal health) and it takes much work for even individual gardeners to build their soil, and even composting and crop enriching falls short of remineralizing it. Plants have roots to take in minerals and contribute to the food chain. We cannot rely on USDA soil tests to give us the information we need to evaluate this issue, due to their standards and skewed science.

    Most of the posts/arguments I see here are connected to getting rid of pathology , but I see nobody talking about high levels of vitality, rejuvenation, high body system function. I personally cannot get to that level without plant based vitamin/mineral products, and currently I use (but do not sell) Youngevity, bought from amazon. I am also all for eating liver, eggs, and so on. (But not freeze dried glandulars- the idea catapaults me into the “preppers” dynamic).

    So in a perfect world, bring on the superfoods- or even the normal foods- but these particular additional products are making a huge difference, that I have not been able to achieve with mere food alone.

    That said, most supplements lining the isles of health food stores seem to me like expensive, polluting,(containers!) crap, impossible to integrate into a bioavailable whole.

  21. Victor
    June 16, 2014 | 10:35 am

    Hi Kristen,

    The only place where I found fermented cod liver oil (because they say it on the bottle) is “Blue Ice Fermented Cod Liver Oil”.
    Just do a search for that company and it will tell you.
    Thank you for your valuable website!
    I am going on the right path and I always learn from everyone sharing their experiences.

    Victor

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.