Are Superfoods Really Superbad?

we've discovered your Kryptonite, kale.

kale kryptonite.

“Quinoa. Kale. Quinoa. Kale. Quinoa. Kale. Are you getting sleepy yet? Yes? Good. Now, whenever you go to a restaurant you will request these two foods…”

This is what I feel like tastemakers and “health experts” have done to the people of my city: hypnotized them with the above mantra. I know this will sound like an exaggeration, but it’s almost impossible for me to find a restaurant in the Los Angeles area that doesn’t heavily feature these two foods, or at least incorporate them somehow into the menu. Why? It seems like everyone is on a health kick lately and quinoa and kale are essentially 2014’s Holy Grail when it comes to the search for the most super of foods. They hold the keys to the antioxidants, proteins, vitamins and all of the other essentials of the health crazes we know and love and the ones that we aren’t even obsessed with yet. I can’t ask a friend what they’ve had to eat at a restaurant or what they’ve cooked for dinner the past week without hearing the words kale or quinoa come out of their mouths. But have we all been duped?

That’s the question. Prepare to have your world come crashing down around you because it seems that kale and quinoa are as deceptive as a Real Housewife at a reunion special. Before you partake of that delicious forkful of vitamin-packed kale and cranberry salad, be aware that you are about to shovel some very dangerous plant toxins into your mouth. Didn’t know? Yeah, neither did I. You might want to put your fork down for this one.

Kale contains high levels of oxalates, an organic compound occurring in certain foods that interfere with calcium absorption by the body. The inability to properly absorb calcium causes it allow calcium to crystalize, turning it into kidney stones. Oxalates themselves can also crystalize in tissue, exacerbating the production of kidney stones and causing arthritis symptoms. Well, that seems like one point for In-N-Out Burger if you ask me. Quinoa, on the other hand, contains saponins. Not only does it contain saponins but it contains very high levels of it. What is a saponin, you ask? It’s a chemical compound found in abundance in certain plant species like quinoa, and can disrupt epithelial function, interfere with thyroid function, and has been linked to the possible damage of the production of red blood cells and their ability to transport oxygen through the body.

The burden of staying informed as a consumer falls squarely on my shoulders.

What really curdles my whey is that no one talks about the fact that these “superfoods” contain these compounds! It almost feels like an insult:  marketers think that just because they slap the words “healthy” and “organic” and “superfood” on an item, they’re released from the obligation to be transparent about their products and that we consumers will blindly fall into line to purchase and consume them. What’s sad is that this actually seems to be the case a lot of the time. It’s made me realize that I can’t depend on other people who have their own vested interests to give me accurate information – the burden of staying informed as a consumer falls squarely on my shoulders. You can bet that the next time a new item is touted as the “next big thing,” I’m going to Google the heck out of it before I let it pass my lips. Ain’t no one gonna trick me into poisoning myself!

Okay. Maybe I’m exaggerating. Kale and quinoa are not poison. While I feel that the above information should be something to definitely take into consideration, it’s not a reason to raid your fridge and throw all of your kale and quinoa away. As with everything in the dietary realm (and in life, really), everything is okay if you indulge in moderation. If you eat these foods once or twice a week, you most likely will not develop a case of arthritis, but like with any food, healthy or not, overdosing on them is no better than eating fast food everyday.

So: what are we supposed to do now that these superfoods aren’t quite so super? You already know the answer. Balanced diet, moderation blah blah blah. On the bright side, though? With kale and quinoa suddenly falling from grace, it makes you feel a little less guilty when you wanna, in the immortal words of Tom and Donna from Parks and Recreation, treat yo self. And for that, I highly recommend animal-style fries at In-N-Out.

If you’re gonna go, you might as well go hard.

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