The problem with our superfood obsession.
The rise of the wellness industry has resulted in an explosion of social media gurus preaching that superior health is just an acaí bowl away. Instagram is awash with aesthetically-pleasing assortments of spirulina smoothies, kale salads and quinoa. Is this focus on superfoods really beneficial though?
First off, what even is a ‘superfood’? There’s no proper definition of what constitutes a superfood, as it is purely a marketing term. The EU has actually banned the term ‘superfood’ on product packaging, unless there is a proven health benefit associated with its consumption. Needless to say, there are very few products that say ‘superfood’ on the package now! This, of course, doesn’t stop social media influencers using the term when promoting products.
So is there actually any evidence that superfoods are really that great for your health? Not really. There’s little evidence to suggest that superfoods are as miraculous for health as we are often led to believe. There are very few studies on superfoods, and even fewer show any kind of significant benefit to health. Take chia seeds, for example. Chia seeds are pretty commonplace these days, but were completely unheard of until a few years ago. The health claims range from improving diabetes and cardiovascular disease, to weight loss, improved mood and bone health. There’s plenty of web articles boasting the ‘science-backed’ health benefits of chia seeds. The reality, however, is that there’s very little evidence for these claims. A 2015 review investigating the proposed benefits of chia seeds in relation to heart disease concluded that “The evidence regarding the relationship between chia seed consumption and cardiovascular risk factors are insufficient, and the studies included in this review present numerous limitations.” Promoting ‘health’ foods that have little evidence of efficacy just isn’t cool.
Our recent obsession with exotic superfoods also has consequences for the environment. Agave from Mexico, goji berries from China, chlorella from Japan.. The transportation of this exotic produce has a huge detrimental impact on the environment too. The transportation of food is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions – this latest trend really isn’t helping. Moreover, there are also consequences for the food producers in these countries. Quinoa, for example, once a traditional dietary staple in Bolivia, is now too expensive for Bolivians to eat. They now have to rely on less nutritious grains for nourishment. Not ideal.
My biggest issue with the whole superfood trend, however, is how elitist it is. In case you hadn’t noticed, superfoods like maca, spirulina, goji berries etc. are crazy expensive! The rise of superfoods just propagates the belief that healthy food is expensive, and thus only for those of higher socioeconomic status. Wellness, with its boutique gyms, luxurious retreats and designer activewear, is already out of reach for many – superfoods just worsen the situation.
The reality is, there are no ‘superfoods’ when it comes to health. It would be lovely if the only thing needed for health was the addition of a few exotic berries, but alas, no. Sure, some of these foods are high in micronutrients or fibre – but so are regular vegetables! All foods can have a place in a healthy diet – moderation is what lacking for most, not superfoods. Sure, if you love the taste of goji berries, or like to bake with chia seeds, go right ahead. But if you’re choking down a shot of spirulina you can’t really afford because of its magical powers, it might be an idea to reconsider. Most importantly, just remember you don’t need to buy half a health-food store to have a nutritious diet!