Please Explain: Superfoods

Friday, March 01, 2013

This week’s Please Explain is all about so-called superfoods—natural, whole foods that are superior sources of anti-oxidants and essential nutrients. Dr. Drew Ramsey, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, and co-author of The Happiness Diet and the forthcoming Fifty Shades of Kale, explains which foods are healthiest—from nuts to fish to olive oil to grass-fed beef—for our bodies and our brains.


Dr. Drew Ramsey

Comments [44]

Drew Ramsey MD from Manhattan, Land of Kale

Hi Noach
Nice to see someone saw my response ;)
So oxalic acid binds to calcium which limits the absorption. But check out this link...kale is virtually FREE of oxalic acid. I don't know what references you have about health effects? For the most part from what I have read oxalic acid is broken down by cooking in foods like spinach so the issue is a few raw foods.
Here is a USDA list of oxalic acid content.

Mar. 04 2013 10:26 PM
Noach (Independent, Anti-Corporate Traditionalist) from Brooklyn

Wow, look at that! Dr. Ramsey actually came back and replied to posts. I always appreciate when a guest does that, which seems extremely rare. Unfortunately, I doubt most of the people who Dr. Ramsey responded-to will even see his post; it seems that once a segment has ended, very few of the people who had posted comments on it return to the page. I would therefore suggest that Mr. Lopate alert people to this post of Dr. Ramsey's by mentioning it on the air. Some mention on the home page and/or one of the main/gateway pages for the Lopate show also seems warranted.

Now some follow-up comments of my own:

1.) Having now listened to the mp3 of the entire show, I must say that I found Dr. Ramsey quite reasonable.

2.) I'm still not quite comfortable with the term 'superfoods'. Even if the term can be legitimately explained, it still has the _ring_, at least, of the very type of hyperbole and misleading hype/claims that Dr. Drew correctly condemned in the interview.

3.) Regarding taking fish oil capsules vs. eating actual fish, toward the very end of the segment Dr. Ramsey said what sounded like essentially the same thing that I described in my previous comment as having heard from Michael Pollan: If at all possible, better to eat the actual fish.

4.) Let me also note that Dr. Ramsey's position on nutritional supplements sounded completely consistent with the one that I have heard articulated by both Michael Pollan as well as Marion Nestle.

(Namely, that nutritional supplements should only be taken by those with a specific, actual medical need for them, as there is no evidence that any of these products provide any benefit to healthy people and some evidence that that they may possibly cause harm.)

In fact, I don't know if Michael Pollan would disagree with anything that Dr. Ramsey said in the interview-- other than, perhaps, also taking issue with the very term "superfoods".

5.) I was disappointed not to hear any mention of the oxalic acid concern I had brought-up in my comment dated Mar. 01 2013 01:52 PM. Unless oxalic acid is _not_, in fact, a concern (which would mean everything that I had read and heard about it was all wrong), is it not irresponsible to tout kale to the extent that Dr. Drew did on the show (and by all indications is only continuing to do, with the forthcoming book and all)-- including specifically endorsing it as a /salad green/ (where, obviously, it would be consumed raw) without so much as mentioning its high oxalic acid content?

6.) On the topic of essential fatty acids: Dr. Ramsey spoke of Omega-3's and Omega-6's but I heard no mention of Omega-9's.

Mar. 04 2013 05:57 PM
Drew Ramsey MD from Manhattan, Land of Kale

Lots of great comments and questions - I wanted to address a few. Thanks so much for listening and keep eating to build a better brain!

Ruth from NYC - A great alternative to blueberries in any season for any budget are small red beans - they rank the highest on the ORAC scale which measures antioxidant status. Black beans great too. Another tip are spices and allium veges like curry, ginger, garlic, onions.

John - Fructose, glucose, and sucrose are actually three different molecules. You are certainly correct that fructose, especially eating lots of fructose, is a major concern and that sucrose is made of a molecule of glucose and fructose bonded together. They are three related but different molcules....there are much better things to bust my chops on ;)

Antonio from Bayside - I love cheese too. There are concerns from the vegan camp based on research by Cambell that a protein in milk products activates cancer. First these are mouse studies. Secondly, this means mammals start their life drinking something that causes cancer? This has struck me as odd. Breastfeeding causes cancer?! Thirdly, were is the clinical data? Go grassfed and read about the benefits of a fat CLA, and mix it up with goat and sheeps cheeses - very interesting medium chain fats.

Dorian - I avoid most processed foods, but I like a little ice cream. I try to support local dairies, eat it with nuts or berries, and I buy small pints. Yes, Ice Cream has lots of sugar.

Abby - I don't love the Chia trend because it is a trend and I don't think this is a food people have traditionally eaten much of. Yes Chia has lots of the omega-3 ALA. I think of it sorta like Goji berries. Cool and fun occasionally. BTW Kale is an ancient and traditionally food even though it is now "trendy"

Gebgeb - You are confusing antioxidants in food (pretty good evidence) with antioxidants from supplements. I am pro-food and anti-supplement (unless you have a specific medical condition that merits a supplement).

Larry - per supplements and antioxidants see above. I agree that nutrition should be pretty basic - eat lots of plants, no highly processed foods, get rid of sugar, refined carbs, and industrial fat, eat seafood, pick meat carefully from sources you trust....and enjoy your meals with friends and family!

Mar. 02 2013 08:31 PM
Noach (Independent, Anti-Corporate Traditionalist) from Brooklyn

"jppaison" asked about obtaining sufficient Omega-3 fatty acids without consuming fish.

"dboy" replied by suggesting that he take fish oil capsules.

I reply:

Perhaps that is the best that someone who cannot or will not consume omega-3 rich fish can do but everyone else would likely do better to actually eat said fish often.

I'm all-but-certain that I heard Michael Pollan advise this (either right here on the LL show, or on Lehrer, or maybe even both),saying that eating the actual fish may provide benefits not found in the mere _oil_ that is isolated from the fish.

Vegetable sources such as walnuts, canola and, especially, flax seeds contain _one_ of the Omega-3 fatty acids: ALA. But I believe that only fish (and algae*) contain the other two: _EPA_ and _DHA_. Whether or not it is necessary to consume these two directly, would appear to be the subject of debate.

(*Note that contamination may be a concern with regard to algae)

Mar. 01 2013 04:15 PM
Noach (Independent, Anti-Corporate Traditionalist) from Brooklyn

Let me just point-out, also for the benefit of any other Jews concerned about 'kashrus', that leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, etc., (and also broccoli florets) pose a special challenge because they must be assumed to be infested by numerous tiny insects and worms. These vegetables therefore require meticulous cleaning and inspection before they may be consumed. Because of how time-consuming, tedious and even nerve-wracking such preparations can be, an industry has developed marketing specially grown and/or cleaned versions of these vegetables that carry rabbinical certification that no further cleaning or inspection is required.

I believe that the growing methods used include the use of greenhouses, hydroponics, special netting and even crop-rotation. (At least crop-rotation, is one of the methods employed by organic farmers. Years ago, in response to an inquiry I had made, a representative for a prominent brand in this niche claimed that the use of methods such as crop-rotation in the growing of the broccoli, cauliflower and spinach that he marketed resulted in their having a lower pesticide content than the standard (non-organic) alternatives.

Again, I note all this information simply for the benefit of anyone who might find it relevant or of interest. (And there certainly are other kosher listeners out there)

Mar. 01 2013 03:39 PM
Noach (Independent, Anti-Corporate Traditionalist) from Brooklyn


Thank you for replying. I'll look into it if I have a chance but I cannot accept that something like fructose, in reasonable amounts as part of a healthful diet, could be inherently harmful. You wouldn't have have people just stop eating fruit altogether, would you? (And isn't fructose found in many vegetables as well?)

Mar. 01 2013 03:15 PM
Noach (Independent, Anti-Corporate Traditionalist) from Brooklyn

Coffee was discussed but I did not hear any mention of _tea_, also much much hyped for the antioxidants it is claimed to contain.

I enjoy _green_ tea for the _taste_, which I find more pleasant than the bitter black tea. The minor caffeine boost (green tea having considerably less caffeine than black) is also often welcome. I have yet to try _white_ tea.

For anyone interested, I have found the best value in green tea to be the Bromley brand. A month ago, I got a box of 48 bags on sale at Pathmark for $1.99. (For _decaffeinated_ green tea, the cheapeast I have seen is the "America's Choice" brand, the house label for the A&P family of stores, which includes Pathmark.) I found the quality satisfactory, though I can't say how it compares to more expensive brands.

For the absolute lowest price, look for the "Carrington" brand, which I have found for as low as $1.19 for a box of 20 bags, also at Pathmark. I must say, though, that the quality of the tea from Carrington seems noticeably inferior to that from the _Bigelow_ brand. (and quite likely others as well, such as Celestial Seasonings) I think this is true even when first opening the sealed-bag inside the box but is certainly true over time. This is no doubt due, at least in very large part, to Bigelow's feature of individually wrapping each tea bag in its own sealed foil bag.

For the benefit of my fellow Jews, I would like to note that I have ascertained that pure, raw, unflavored tea does not require any kosher certification. (Whether green, black or white. Same for herbal teas-- as long as they are pure and unflavored.) Same for unflavored coffee. This is according to an expert on 'kashrus' whom I consult. Of course, no one should rely on some guy they see posting comments on the web, so verification with one's own halachic authority is advised.

Mar. 01 2013 03:03 PM

I would also like to know more about oxalic acid in green leafy veggies. I eat lots of raw kale, spinach in my smoothies, etc. Thank you.

Mar. 01 2013 02:35 PM
John from Bklyn

@ Noach:
What are the destructive effects that you claim are particular to _fructose_?

Google: Lustig Fructose

Bittman's recent NYT article is also good.

Mar. 01 2013 02:30 PM
Noach (Independent, Anti-Corporate Traditionalist) from Brooklyn

@Melanie, 1:51 p.m.,

"Can you wash non-organic fruit with vinegar and remove the pestiside?"

1.) My understanding is that many, if not most, pesticides are applied to the crops _systemically_ and therefore not possible to remove.

2.) Any surfactant (I believe that's the word), such as ordinary dish detergent, should remove whatever topical pesticide residues may be present on the surface of produce, as well as any other contaminants, such as microbes.

Whether and to what extend one need be concerned over whatever residue of a surfactant such as dish detergent that remains on the produce (even after thorough rinsing), I do not know.

@John from Brooklyn, 1:53 p.m.:

What are the destructive effects that you claim are particular to _fructose_?
@Jenny, 1:53 p.m.:

Re: pumpkin seeds:

1.) If I recall correctly, pumpkin seeds, while rich in beneficial nutrients in their own right, are nonetheless considerably lower in minerals such as calcium and magnesium than a nut such as the almond.

But, obviously, if one is allergic to tree nuts, it doesn't matter how rich in nutrients or otherwise healthful they may be.

2.) As someone who remembers walking through pumpkin patches as a child, right here in the great state of NY, I was appalled when I discovered that pumpkin seeds are now imported from China. I have yet to find an exception.

When you consider the environmental impact, the concerns over safety and all of the _Americans_ desperately in need of work, shipping something available in abundance right here, such as pumpkin seeds, seems nothing short of unconscionable.

Mar. 01 2013 02:16 PM
HM from work in jersey

The China Study was far from anecdotal. Data is out there. Plant based diets are healthier.

Mar. 01 2013 01:59 PM

We are omnivores. Eat a little bit of everything, not too much of one thing, and you will be healthy.

And as I mentioned in an earlier comment, there is very strong scientific evidence many of his claims are specious- please bring in a counter view.

Mar. 01 2013 01:58 PM

I've been served copious amounts of olive oil - salmon swimming in pools of oil; a loaf of bread and crudite to dip in tureens of olive oil;

Mar. 01 2013 01:57 PM
Noach (Independent, Anti-Corporate Traditionalist) from Brooklyn

Please address the comments that have been made on this page challenging the benefit of antioxidants!

Mar. 01 2013 01:56 PM
Kathryn from brooklyn

What about coconut oil?

Mar. 01 2013 01:56 PM
Dorian from New york

The doctor twice mentioned ice cream. Isn't that the sugar-laden processed food he warned against?

Mar. 01 2013 01:56 PM
Bonnie Brady Wyman

What about eating an anti-inflammatory diet?

Mar. 01 2013 01:56 PM

I recommend Valhrona dark chocolate bar, the one with the purple slash has 5 grams of sugar. It has just enough sugar and it is delicious.

Mar. 01 2013 01:56 PM


The Kult of Vegan!!


Mar. 01 2013 01:54 PM

How about pumpkin seeds as a substitute for tree nuts?

Mar. 01 2013 01:53 PM
John from Bklyn

Sorry, but anyone who thinks fructose, glucose and sucrose are three different sugars cannot be the nutrition expert he pretends to be.

Sucrose (table sugar) is half glucose - half fructose.

This is important because of the destructive effects of fructose.

Mar. 01 2013 01:53 PM

Amazing show! Please have Dr. Drew Ramsey on more often.

Mar. 01 2013 01:52 PM
Noach (Independent, Anti-Corporate Traditionalist) from Brooklyn

Doesn't have kale have oxalic acid?

Oxalic acid blocks calcium absorption, and, if I recall correctly, may contribute to kidney stones.

Oxalic acid is broken-down by cooking, however, so consumption of raw kale, including juiced, should be restricted.

Spinach is also high in oxalic acid.

There are actually a number of vegetables that contain naturally-occuring substances that are undesirable or even toxic. Many (though not all) of these are broken down by cooking, so not all vegetables should be consumed raw-- at least no more than in great moderation.

Green beans are one example that many people are completely unaware of.

Re: Egg-yolks:

The yolk does indeed contain all of the valuable sulfur-containing elements, as well as amino acids, copper, selenium, iodine and more.

Seems like it's been well over a decade now since the cholestoral scare about egg yolks has been reversed/debunked.
@Larry from Brooklyn, 1:33 p.m.:

"Isn't the idea of a superfood overly simplistic?"

That is my exact reaction when I hear terms like "superfoods".

Mar. 01 2013 01:52 PM
Ruth from NYC

It's true, organic blueberries do cost less in season, but they are still too pricey for people who are "financially challenged" -- even those, like myself, who shop at a co-op. Are there any alternatives that offer similar benefit without the HIGH price?

Mar. 01 2013 01:51 PM

Can you wash non-organic fruit with vinegar and remove the pestiside?

Mar. 01 2013 01:51 PM
andrea from nj

Is there a limit to the amount of fat one should eat each day or over the course of a week. Confusion arises when we hear the words essential fats or beneficial fats.

Mar. 01 2013 01:49 PM

I like almonds, but especially after roasting in the oven for a few minutes. Does this diminish their health benefits?

Mar. 01 2013 01:48 PM
Nancy L from Vernon NJ

My daughter became vegan after seeing Forks over Knives and reading part of The China Study. I am concerned

about the lack of clinical studies and concerned the my grand children are not getting a balanced diet.

Mar. 01 2013 01:47 PM
Janine from NYC

After I started middle age, my gastrointestinal system was up and down. I then incorporated many types of greens in my daily eating habits. Everything changed for the better after that.

I'm completely obssessed with broccolini and kale. They're not only healthy but taste SO good too.

Mar. 01 2013 01:46 PM
Mo from NYC

If dietary cholesterol doesn't effect blood cholesterol, what can you do to help lower your blood cholesterol (naturally). I recently developed xanthelasmas on my eyes which are essentially cholesterol deposits under the skin. My docs have offered to solution other that to laser them off which can leave scarring.

Mar. 01 2013 01:46 PM
Charlotte from Port Washington

How does Dr. Ramsey feel about the Paleo diet?

Mar. 01 2013 01:45 PM
John from Clinton Hill (Washington Starship Cooperative)

For all this Kale Kraziness these days (and my 11 housemates and I eat it nearly every day!), where was kale 15, 20, 25 years ago? It seems like such an american kind of vegetable staple these days. If it's so hardy, easy to grow in the spring and fall, why did it take so long to catch on. I was surprised to go to Scandinavia, probably a perfect place to grow it and not a single person knew what it was!

Mar. 01 2013 01:45 PM
antonio from baySide

I love cheese. Can the guest shed light about the supposed negative effects of eating cheese and other milk based products... I hear folks rail that we are the only beings who eat milk products from other animals? SO what's the truth?

Mar. 01 2013 01:43 PM
Ken Druse from Newton, NJ

What if you have too much iron in your blood, which I have been told I have and apparently is not that unusual.
I've been told to stay away from dark green vegetables?

Mar. 01 2013 01:43 PM

FANTASTIC segment!!!

Mar. 01 2013 01:40 PM

jppaison ~

I like Carlson's:

Mar. 01 2013 01:39 PM
ann Megyas from Washington Heights

GREAT SHOW! (Please don't stop after 10 weeks.)

Please talk about COCONUT OIL. It's a saturated fat, but I understand it's a GOOD saturated fat? I've been cooking and recently baking with it.

(And that's only INternally! - lots of great uses for it externally as well!)

Mar. 01 2013 01:38 PM

I dislike fish very much although I do like shellfish. I am given much grief for not eating fish. What would be the optimum substitute to get more Omega 3 in my diet?

Mar. 01 2013 01:35 PM
Larry from Brooklyn

Isn't the idea of a superfood overly simplistic? Shouldn't people just eat a better, lower calorie, higher fiber diets? Oxidation is a required biochemical reaction... what about the evidence that higher anti-oxidant consumption is associated with higher mortality (see Bjelakovic et al, 2007, in JAMA)?

Mar. 01 2013 01:33 PM
Noach (Independent, Anti-Corporate Traditionalist) from Brooklyn

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
~ Michael Pollan

Mar. 01 2013 01:33 PM

There is no evidence antioxidants are worth seeking out in your diet

The fact is, we need these free-radicals to scavenge up waste products produced by life: the anti-oxidants available in plants are different than produced by the human body, and/or are destroyed by digestion in the stomach.

Mar. 01 2013 01:31 PM

Drew, thank you for a bit of sanity!!

Mar. 01 2013 01:30 PM
Abby from Greenwich Village

Does your guest like the chia trend?

Mar. 01 2013 01:29 PM

By baking powder I meant 100% powdered baking chocolate ....

Mar. 01 2013 01:24 PM

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