Stop Worrying About “10 Foods Healthier Than Kale”

I know, I know, it’s that time of year. The time the diet industry goes into overdrive, salivating over the guilt-ridden masses vowing to finally, finally make that change. Hire that trainer, start that diet. And, by the grace of god, be bikini-ready by May. (Here’s a secret: got a body? Like bikinis? Congrats! You’re bikini ready!)

So it’s no wonder that everywhere you turn you’re hearing about super foods, fallen super foods, new food trends, old food trends, food trends to watch out for. And, my favourite: 10 Leafy Greens Healthier Than Kale.

Kale is pretty darn healthy. It’s got boatloads of fibre, it’s got tons of nutrients, it’s got a surprising amount of protein per calorie, it’s got a high volume:low calorie ratio which helps fill you up if you’re seeking weight loss or maintenance. Yeah, maybe chicory’s got a few more per polyphenols (which do what, exactly?) than kale, but so what? Are you finding chicory in your grocery store? Would you know what to do with it?

Much like with exercise (the best one is the one you do), the best leafy green is the one you eat. Anything more than that is veering into nutritionism. 8% more calcium or twice as many polyphenols doesn’t mean anything if you don’t like it, can’t find it, can’t afford it, or just won’t eat it.

These types of articles that focus on the micro-micro-micro level (the micro level being individual behaviours and choices, the micro-micro being eating behaviours, and the micro-micro-micro being this particular plant for that particular nutrient) do us all a real disservice.

The reality is that most of what impacts our health is essentially beyond our control: poverty, infrastructure, agricultural subsidies, structural racism, pollution. And those things that are within our control (for those of us privileged enough to have such control)? They’re really simple. Dead simple. Embarrassingly simple (which is certainly not to conflate simple with easy): eat lots of plants, eat a diverse diet, don’t eat too much, move as much as your body and lifestyle allow, ditto sleep, don’t drink pop, don’t smoke, floss your teeth.

That’s about it. But how many articles can you write about that? How many diet pills does “eat food, not too much, mostly plants” sell? How many clicks does “move your body every day, lift heavy stuff sometimes” get versus “the 19 fat-burning secrets THEY don’t want you to know!!”?

And, moving beyond that, what advertiser is going to pay for “Poverty Larger Risk for Diabetes Than Diet” with their right hand when their left hand is in Washington lobbying against raises to the minimum wage?

Rather than worrying about the precise micronutrient makeup of our diets and which “superfood” is trending highest (for the record, goji berries taste like literal dirt), or wading into online-fights about CrossFit, why don’t we all try to hit those basics: fresh food, lots of plants, adequate sleep and movement, lowered stress, good oral hygiene, and then spend some of that time and energy working on ensuring that those are available for all (write your representative, get involved in elections, volunteer at the community garden, organize for a living wage, donate your garden’s excess to shelters and food banks, stop supporting magazines and TV shows that peddle harmful crap).

And a friendly reminder that a lot of food banks and shelters are hitting hard times this winter. If you can contribute food or personal goods (socks, hats, mitts, scarves, toiletries and menstrual products are always needed) or even better, money, that is one small, concrete thing you can do to help the health of someone else.

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