Take for example goji berries, raw cacao, maca powder, meringue extract, green powder and acai: What do they all have in common? Well, these items are very likely considered “superfoods”. Indeed, the word “superfoods” sounds smart and fancy. But are superfoods – as we are made to believe – really “better”, “more potent”, “more nutritious” and “ideal for boosting our health”?
Most of these “superfoods” are either sourced from faraway places (hence, less known and less common in Western European diets) or they are categorized as “elixir, extracts and concentrates” (for the extra enhancement?). Hence, shouldn’t we ask ourselves whether superfoods are really more nutritious (compared to what?) and indispensable for an optimal and maximized health?
It seems to me that above mentioned items (and these are just a few examples) are called superfoods only in the Western world, where the consumption of them was neither popular nor a habit until recently. Camu camu berries, for example, are not rare in the South America Amazonas, neither are goji berries in Middle Asia. Yet, only here do we label them “superfoods”. Could it be that smart marketing has influenced the creation of this “new” food category called “superfoods”?
This is not about blaming marketing. I myself worked numerous years marketing products. Marketing has the vocation “to serve a market (its consumers and needs)”, but may also “create a market or augment a potential market segment”. Hence, here we are at the core of the discussion: More or less subtle messages are used to make us believe that superfoods are “superior” to anything else we eat – even compared to healthy food.
Superfoods are most often praised for one particular micro-nutrient contained in a very high amount. Let’s take as an example dried goji berries (poor goji berries…) that are praised as an excellent source of vitamin C: 100gr goji berries contain about 48mg vitamin C, whereas 100gr kale contain 120mg vitamin C. Hence, do I really need goji berries for boosted vitamin C supply?
Less often we talk about potential negative effects on our biological systems. In the case of the beloved chocolate, a high magnesium content is praised. Though, hardly anybody ever mentions that cacao also contains high amounts of theobromine and caffeine (amongst others) that have the capacity to stimulate (overstimulate) our central nervous system (us feeling alert, awake…) and adrenal glands (both not recommended).
What about the idea of “superfoods” as a booster for health? Well, on a poor average eating lifestyle, one may suppose, adding superfoods will be (marginally?) beneficial – according to the motto “better than nothing…”. Yet then, superfoods become the equivalent of taking a pill to erase symptoms – the often appreciated “quick-fix” solution. Said more bluntly, there might be an attitude of “as long as a I add superfood to my diet, I don’t really have to worry about what I eat”. Eating “superfoods” as a mean of handling bad consciousness of eating unhealthily?
I am certainly not against consuming “superfoods”, I regularly consume some of them myself. I am just suggesting to buy, eat and appreciate them for the good reasons. Because they taste good, because they create excitement and diversity, because I want to experiment with new flavors and textures, because I want to support overseas suppliers and fair trade… there a plenty of wonderful motives!
There is another question which is key: If we continue using the term “superfoods”, how come that sprouts and algae are hardly ever considered? Both food categories are among those with the highest concentration of easily absorbable nutrients, particularly micro-nutrients (minerals, vitamins, enzymes,…)! I would even go as far as to say that if there is any food category worth being labelled “superfoods” it should be both sprouts and algae! That said, I understand that more “exotic and sexy” food (including chocolate) can be marketed more easily…
I plead for a more complete reconsideration of what we eat, instead of easily being seduced by health benefits of exotic superfoods. There is plenty of “high potent” food in our daily reach, such as dark leafy greens, vegetables of all sorts, grains, seeds, legumes, nuts,… as well as sprouts and algae. All of them together easily give us access to all essential nutrients (precision: with the exception of vitamin B12 and vitamin D3).
I reckon that, firstly, one needs to get a basic understanding of how nutrition works, what is recommended and what is not, how to get started and to understand where potential pitfalls are. After that, healthy eating becomes simple and nutritional choices can be made more responsibly – above all more independently from smart communication, marketing and false beliefs.
©The Vibrant Factory
About Stefan Lehner: Nutrition Coach & Educator based in Paris, available worldwide. He previously worked in management in an international corporation. Advocates the tremendous impact of food and lifestyle choices on our health and wellbeing. He puts his focus on durable transformations and challenges quick-fixing.
http://www.thevibrantfactory.com, on Facebook and Instagram