Superfoods, supergrains & super hype

I am so sick of reading and hearing about superfoods. 

Here we live in a world with an oversupply of food: food from around the world, available 24/7. And now we can buy superfoods everywhere: in supermarkets, in hip and trendy cafés, online.  

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a superfood as “a food that is rich in compounds considered beneficial to a person’s health. (Note: it says CONSIDERED!!) 

There is absolutely NO scientific evidence for the effect of superfoods and yet millions of people follow this hype without questioning the industry behind it. An industry that is not only earning sh….loads of money with it (so we are really talking supermarketing) … but this drastic increase in production destroys the environment in many places worldwide.  

Did you know that a test by German “Ökotest” found that many of the 22 superfoods tested didn’t provide nearly as many vitamins and minerals as promised. Plus: the tested products were also extremely polluted. They found mosquito repellent and high levels of mineral oils.

We consume superfoods, supergrains and super healthy anything and at the same time demonstrate to save our environment? We claim we shop locally, regionally and seasonally. And then we buy chia, quinoa and treat ourselves to an Açai bowl. Isn’t our behaviour a paradox in itself?

Did you ever ask yourself how this massive increase in demand was possibly met? We want to eat and live healthy. We want to live environmentally friendly.

Quinoa

This pseudo-grain grows almost exclusively in its original region in the Andes. With the hype around the grain, there is no way the worldwide demand is fulfilled with organic quinoa. The latest when McDonald’s started selling a veggies burger made with quinoa, we should have paid more attention. After all, how could a grain that needs to be flown across an ocean be labelled organic? As a result, I am now looking for fair trade symbols on the packaging, and not organic. At least that way the farmers benefit from my purchase. By the way, a domestic alternative to quinoa is millet: it’s also gluten-free, has a comparable macronutrient (carbs, protein and fat) distribution, has the same vitamin E content, and is even richer in zinc and iron than quinoa.

The same applies for other grains, seeds, vegetables or foods. The “superfood” trend, making us believe that foods like chia seeds, Açai berries or avocado do wonders for our health. Did you know that within Europe until 2009 chia was only used as animal feed? And the import of pure chia seeds was only allowed in 2013?

Chia 

These tiny little seeds are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They can aid digestion and, through their swelling, ensure a lasting feeling of satiety. They have also become popular as a binding agent for vegetarians and vegans: when mixed with water, or dairy-free milks, the seeds form a filling gel that can be used in baking recipes instead of eggs, making gelatine and agar-agar interchangeable. But in times of climate change, shouldn’t we ask ourselves whether we can justify such a high carbon footprint of transatlantic imported food? By the way, flax seeds are a great alternative as a binding agent or as a “pudding” because they also expand. Plus, like nuts or other locally grown oils have similar a fat composition with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids and fibre. 

Anthocyanins 

They give red and purple fruit and vegetables their colour: blueberries, aubergines, cherries, blackberries, elderberries, red cabbage, red grapes, black currants.  Anthocyanins have an antioxidant effect, meaning they can help slow ageing processes in cells and inhibit growth of viruses, fungi and bacteria. The anthocyanin in the Açai berry is what turned this fruit into a superfood. Why buy a crushed, dried berry if you can buy (or even grow) local equally good fruit with the same mount of anthocyanin like black berries, blueberry or elderberries.

Wheatgrass juice

Indeed, wheatgrass contains many macronutrients, including B vitamins, vitamins C, D, E and K, and folic acid, minerals and trace elements including iron, potassium, calcium, copper, sodium, magnesium and phosphorus. It also contains a variety of antioxidants and amino acids and has a high proportion of protein. And it contains large amounts of chlorophyll. Wow, you think, there is a superfood. BUT WAIT: our body cannot even absorb most of the chlorophyll from the wheatgrass concentrates and simply excretes anything that’s unused. Oops, gone are the health benefits in our urine. 

Avocado

And my beloved avocado? When it comes to the ecological sustainability of avocado, it is anything but glorious. Cultivating avocados requires approx. 1000 litres of water per kilogram avocado. Additionally, transportation, storage and cooling the fruit uses immense amounts of energy. Nuts, olives, seeds, and their oils provide us with the same amount of high-quality fatty acid as an avocado does. 

Coconut oil

I’ve been using it for a long time, long before the sudden trend declaring it as a superfood, which can even heal dementia (not true, by the way). Palm oil has been demonised for years. But just like oil palm trees, coconut palms grow in the tropics. So without a doubt, tropical rainforests had to make room for the cultivation of coconut palms. At least, the use of coconut palms is a lot more diverse: not only the oil is used, but also the pulp, the ills, the coconut water, the fibres, the shells and even the wood. 

Don’t get me wrong, I do have chia seeds, quinoa and coconut oil in my pantry and I love the occasional chia pudding and avocado on toast (I mean who doesn’t want to be hip and trendy at least a little bit) BUT they are not my exclusive go-to products and I certainly don’t consume them to be healthier. 

Let me repeat: If you eat a balanced diet, you don’t need superfoods.  

Posted on May 29, 2020 by

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