Superfoods - healthy eating or just hype?

What are superfoods?

Over the years, research has shown that our genes are not the sole determinant of our destiny. Healthy dietary patterns can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's, heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. Dietary patterns such as the Mediterranean diet, which is mostly plant-based, has demonstrated significant health benefits and reduction of chronic disease.

Chia, goji berries, moringa, quinoa: what are the benefits of superfoods?

The purported health benefits and effects of superfoods were catapulted onto our supermarket shelves in 2014.  They came with a promise of making you slim, happy and healthy but these claims are unsupported and disputed by scientific studies. Superfoods cannot become an alibi food that simply makes up for an otherwise unhealthy diet. Cancer Research UK cautions that they “cannot substitute for a generally healthy and balanced diet”. A diet based on a variety of nutritious foods, including fruits and vegetables remains the best way to ensure a balanced nutrient intake for health. 

 

Healthy doesn't always mean sustainable 

A lot of ingredients in Superfoods come from countries thousands of kilometers away. Quinoa is a good example, among the major producers, is Bolivia where indigenous people have been harvesting the nutrient-rich grain for thousands of years. Its popularity has transformed landscapes into scarce deserts as farmers clear land in a push to maximise yield. 

 

When profits become the priority, short term economic interests override anything else. This superfood monoculture is clearing landscapes of natural vegetation. This is also happening with avocados grown on large farms. In a 10 year period, the area of land for the monoculture of avocados increased by 30 % between 2006 and 2016. Farming these fruits is resource intense- a kilogram of avocados requires 1500 L of water. If you compare this to lettuce and tomatoes the requirement is far less, requiring 240 litres and 110 litres of water per kilo. 

 

Contaminated with Pollutants

Not all countries have the same regulations that safeguard our natural environment and support the farming industry to sustain the rural economy. Some superfoods come from countries where farming regulations are lax and have been contaminated with pesticides and heavy metals. Dr. Dennis Leupold¨s laboratory in Bremen, Germany were able to detect pesticides and traces of heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury in samples of chia seeds, raw cocoa, moringa leaf powder and goji berries. 

 

 

Shop for Local Produce 

There are many local alternatives to overseas foods that don't need to be shipped thousands of kilometers to reach the supermarket shelves. Although perceived as less trendy, local produce such as chives, garlic or leeks are packed with health-promoting nutrients.