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Superfoods – Food for thought?

By Thea McCarthy, Wangaratta

The word ‘superfood’ has become popular in the past few years. From goji berries to acai, chia seeds and quinoa, every day there seems to be a new ‘superfood’ hitting the supermarket shelves.

It appears to be marketing jargon for a food that is particularly nutrient dense, with more antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, enzymes or protein than most of the foods we are accustomed to eating. So does it mean very much at all?

Apparently it does.  As consumers, we like to feel that we’re doing something good for ourselves.  When a particular manufacturer of fruit and nut bars replaced the word “seed” with “superfood” on the packaging for its Blueberry Seed Nut Bars, sales doubled.  Perhaps people think;  “a superfood is going to be really good for me”.

The recent boom in the use of quinoa, a high protein grain that comes from the Bolivian Andes where indigenous peasants have traditionally grown it for thousands of years, is an example. Our appetite for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia can no longer afford to eat it. This region also faces decreased soil fertility because it encourages monoculture farming.

Coconut products have also recently seen a boom in worldwide demand. Again monoculture farming has become an issue, leading farmers to turn to chemical fertilizers to boost their productivity. Indonesia, the Philippines and India are the leading producers of this commodity.

Food transportation is quickly becoming one of the world’s fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. However, not everyone is willing to dismiss international crops entirely.  Here are a few simple tips to make your choice an environmentally-friendly one:

  • Buy organic foods. This helps ensure that the local ecology and people aren’t put at risk from chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Buy Fair Trade. This not only enables farmers to receive ample compensation, but also encourages sustainable farming methods.
  • Get educated. Research the company or companies and find out whether or not your moral concerns are in line with their business practices.

Fortunately we don’t need to purchase quinoa from overseas as it is grown organically in north west Tasmania.

Consumers don’t need to base their grocery shopping around the superfood label as the “non-super” alternatives are often equally healthy. Simply buy fruits and vegetables in season and they will be usually cheaper and better quality.

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