De-Mystifying Fat, Superfoods + Clean Eating by a Registered Dietitian
Fat bombs, superfoods, and clean eating. When did our culture start coming up with such hyperboles for the foods we ate?
Even as a nutrition student, I don’t remember there being a time when the world around me was quite as into food as it is today. Although as a “foodie” myself I don’t mind it, as a mom to young kids I use such catchphrases around the foods I feed my family very carefully.
In this article, we will review these three terms (fat bombs, superfoods, and clean eating) and how you as a parent can better understand each to make more informed decisions as the nutritional gatekeeper in your home.
1. Fat bombs
Do you understand where the term “fat bomb” comes from?
Well, my dietitian-mom explanation is this:
Fat has more calories than both protein and carbohydrates (making up the three “macro”-nutrients in our diets, i.e. those our body need more of and that contribute calories to our diets). Since fat has more calories and thus “energy,” these “fat bombs” are synonymous with another hot trend known as “energy bites.” The point with these is to pack as much “energy” or “calories” into each “bomb” or “bite" as possible. Get it?
While “fat bombs” or “energy bites” are healthy options for adults who need a nutrient-packed snack option as well (especially moms who are pregnant or nursing!), fat bombs and energy bites can also be a great option for children. That’s because kids have smaller stomachs and thus, can’t eat as much at one time. Since we know kids need a significant amount of calories in their diets specifically from fat, energy bites (or fat bombs) become an ideal opportunity to put a ton of fat, calories, and nutrient-dense ingredients into a very small, bite-sized package.
So where do “superfoods” fit in with this?
Superfood is a sexy marketing term meant to elevate one food above the rest. While these products may often sound more exotic or be positioned as more expensive because of marketing gimmicks, I want to bring some dietitian-mom myth busting to this topic as well.
There is no official definition of a “superfood” from a labeling standpoint. That’s why I like to remind parents that superfoods are amidst everyday foods like whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. They can be affordable and accessible in your existing food budget because usually what makes them “super” isn’t the label that’s slapped across the front of its packaging. Instead, it’s the nutrition that is tucked away within each of these foods.
What elevates a superfood above any other food when it is “king of its category,” as I like to say. Just as we know salmon is a top source for omegas in the diet, we can also look to foods like blueberries, kale, and sweet potatoes as foods with high amounts of vitamins and minerals (i.e. the “micro-”nutrients our bodies need in smaller amounts). Because such foods provide more of these micronutrients than many other foods in their categories, we can consider them “super sources” of a particular vitamin or mineral.
One thing to point out here is that many superfoods don’t come in a package at all. Or if they do, they are what they are and should require little to no sexy marketing terms to sell. So if you are wanting to include more superfoods in your family’s diet, consider how you might be able to stock up on some everyday superfoods and make them new staples in your home without falling for the most exotic sounding or more expensive options.
A great way to do this is to consider each food group (fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, meats/protein, and fat). Within each, pick a few new superfoods that are “king of their category.” While there is an endless number of new superfoods you could include, this makes a fun way to find new favorites within each food group that may be higher in vitamins and minerals than the options you were buying before.
3. Clean Eating
While very few dietitians I know like the term “clean eating”, the premise of this movement I do believe is well intended. Similar to the superfoods addressed above, what makes a diet “clean” isn’t based on how an item is marketed or packaged. Instead, it is looking at the item itself and any associated ingredient list to identify if anything is there that maybe “shouldn’t be” as it would or could occur in nature.
While eliminating “processed foods” is an oversimplification on what it means to “eat clean,” it is important for parents to start looking at the foods they are eating, their source, and what, if any, processing the food goes through prior to consumption. Processing food is often necessary and even helpful for establishing a healthy diet especially in the busy world we all live in. The idea of reducing the amount of processing in our diets to include more whole foods in forms closer to their natural state is where clean eating can best be found.
Since no one has a “spotless” diet (myself included), focusing on healthy recipes made with wholesome ingredients (like superfoods) is a great starting place for moving our families towards eating in more all-natural ways. Using the example of “fat bombs” or energy bites, these snack options are even more attractive in a “clean eating” culture because of their use of “superfoods” like oats, nuts, seeds, and fruits. Compare these to a more “traditional” snack food for kids like processed snack crackers or “fruit” snacks, and it becomes more obvious how one food is “cleaner” or more natural than the other.
So although I don't encourage families to spend an exorbitant amount of their food budget on specialty items marketed as "superfoods" or become so obsessed with “clean eating” that it raises children in a hyper-food-focused feeding environment, I do think that any way to optimize the nutrition in each bite we offer our kids is important.
What will you implement first?
I encourage you to try this recipe I made for Sneakz for Simple Superfood Bars, for a “fat bomb” that can fill your child’s tummy far more than other “less clean” snack options. You can cut it into bars, small cubes, or roll them into “bites” or “bombs” if that’s more your style too! Whatever you choose will be a win, because when you buy the ingredients needed to make this recipe, you will find yourself one step closer to having a pantry full of superfoods to use in a variety of other applications as well!