It seems like the term “superfood” has been thrown around the nutrition world a lot lately. And indeed, the superfood industry generated more than $10 billion in 2011.
But what is a superfood? And is it necessary to incorporate goji berries, acai, chia, colostrum, spirulina and chlorella into our meals every day?
I decided to go on a little quest (to the local Whole Foods) to figure out what a superfood really is.
First of all, a superfood is really just what it sounds like: An elaborate term for foods that have more antioxidants, vitamins, etc., than most foods.
So yes, all those alien-sounding foods are indeed superfoods, chock-full of vitamins, minerals and other health-promoting qualities.
However, roaming through the aisles of Whole Foods with the “SUPERFOOD” label jumping out at me every 5 feet, I realized how much of a toll this experiment could take on my bank account if I let it become my normal lifestyle.
Many of the more familiar superfoods, like blueberries, quinoa and cherries, are a little pricier than average produce. But it’s when you start getting into the imported, hard-to-find supplements that the cash really hits the roof: Goji berries run up to $30 a pound, and the acai juice I found at Whole Foods was a whopping $42 a liter!
Moreover, some of these supposed miracle foods sound — I’m just going to say it — gross. Spirulina and chlorella are algae, and colostrum is actually the yellow pus-like fluid produced during the first milking of a mammal after it has given birth.
Delving further into my study of superfoods led me to the question of where these exotic ingredients actually come from. Can you scoop spirulina out of a backyard lake? Could I plant a goji berry tree?
My grocery store foray quickly ended that fantasy. Goji berries are from China or Tibet, acai and chia are from South America, spirulina is from Mexico, and chlorella is from Japan.
It takes quite a lot of transportation mileage, fossil fuels and carbon dioxide emission to get these foods to the Chapel Hill Whole Foods. And a diet of imported products can use four times the energy and produce four times the emissions of an equivalent domestic diet. So while we (might) be improving our bodies, we’re destroying the health of the planet. Longevity really won’t matter if earth starts resembling “The Day After Tomorrow.”
So after sampling unfamiliar fruit, suspicious seeds and even an algae smoothie, I have come to a middle ground. The superfood trend is not necessarily wrong: Some foods are nutritional winners. But I also realized that much of what I already eat and love, basics like sweet potatoes, avocados and oatmeal, are also superfoods.
So keep buying these affordable and healthy staples. If your wallet can stretch, grab some quinoa and blueberries too. Acai, chia and spirulina — my gut tells me I’ll probably be just fine without. And colostrum?
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