Brenda Valadez power-walks through brightly-colored displays of produce at Sprouts Farmer’s Market, coming to a rest at a small basket near the apples and potatoes.
She pulls out a small, brown, bulbous root, one of their newest health-food items.
"It looks very much like ginger,” said Valadez, cracking open the turmeric root to show the bright orange coloring on the inside.
Valadez says that the health-food store always carried turmeric in a supplement form, but only recently started seeing demand for fresh, organic, whole turmeric roots.
“They’re very good for inflammation. They help people feel less pain,” Valadez noted. “They’re a great antioxidant.”
Just a few feet away lies the “superfood” aisle, filled with small jars of supplements with what appears to be supernaturally high nutritional value.
The two trending ones right now are the little green jars.
"Spirulina and chlorella, those are algae's,” explained Valadez, who added that they’re best known for their high protein, Vitamin B1, and iron content.
Sprouts Farmers Market is a Mecca for health foodies. So, when a new "superfood" becomes in-demand, they're the first to know. And Valadez says that demand can change quickly when it comes to trendy new foods.
Whereas kale and acai berries were popular long ago, now it’s algae’s, watermelon seeds, and macha.
"That's how we are,” Valadez said. “We want something faster and better, and the superfoods do that."
Jan Tilley, a dietician and owner of JTA Wellness, says that superfoods are indeed called that for a reason: They really are nutritionally dense.
"Superfoods are a great way to enhance your health,” Tilley said.
But she says that she’s skeptical of new trends, which tend to be exciting but impractical, and only last so long before a new trend takes their place.
“A lot of people think they're a magic bullet, and they're not,” Tilley said. “I would much rather you have a thing like almonds, and spinach, and blueberries, and things that you already have in your kitchen."
Tilley says that, in reality, a lot of foods are super. While algae may have a high nutritional density, it’s also far more expensive gram-for-gram than some of the healthy vegetables found in any produce section. She also says that trendy superfoods are harder to incorporate into one’s diet, compared to more mainstream nutritional items like yogurt or avocados.
That’s a lesson one of her clients, Maryanne Toepperwein, took to heart. She lost nearly 100 pounds in less than two years. And she's kept it off.
“She told me she wanted me eating 1600 calories,” Toepperwein said. “A lot of vegetables, a lot of salmon, healthy oils.”
Toepperwein’s refrigerator includes an array of items many have in the kitchen. She meal-preps in advance, making a large bowl of salad with lettuce, spinach, grapes, and other tasty items. Her fridge is stocked with everyday things like eggs or humus, as well as trendy foods like chia seeds, apple cider vinegar, and macha.
She says that knowing what is healthy is easy, but actually finding something you’ll eat is a lot harder.
"Knowledge doesn't translate into behavior change,” Toepperwein noted. “Taste is important. You have got to enjoy what you're doing."
Tilley says that’s one thing she likes to impart on everyone: The best diet is the one you’ll actually eat -- whether that’s algae, almonds, kale, salmon, or some other whole and healthy food.
She says that the best way to start a diet is to focus on the basics. Eat more regularly throughout the day to keep constant energy levels. Focus on eating 40 percent healthy carbohydrates, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent healthy fats, unless you have a condition like diabetes that would require special considerations. Cut out smoking and keep alcohol to a minimum. Exercise regularly, and get lots of sleep at night.
Given how much work it takes, Tilley says that the least you can do is make it taste as good as possible.
Those who want handy tools to track their eating habits, look up nutritional values, and manage weight loss goals can do so by accessing the USDA SuperTracker website here.