Humanity has long considered food from the perspectives of being nutritious, healthy and inexpensive. A positive recent trend is the consideration of whether it is sustainable to produce or whether it is necessary to transport it thousands of kilometres. Within this, the so-called superfoods represent a separate category. What they have in common is that they have beneficial properties and marketing has also hyped them. But are superfoods really all that good?
In an ideal world, everything that is healthy is also sustainable, but unfortunately, this is far from reality. Quinoa, cashews, avocado, chia seeds: we couldn’t claim that they are unhealthy, but there are some problems with them. Let’s discuss them!
No one denies that quinoa is rich in minerals and is a great source of protein. By the 2010s, however, it had become so trendy in developed countries that Peruvians and Bolivians could no longer afford it - even though they had consumed it for hundreds of years before us.
Furthermore, also consuming a lot of cashew nuts cause problems and diseases to people in their remote countries of origin. The cashew’s nutshell contains anacardic acid, which is toxic, causing allergies, skin rashes and breathing difficulties. In order for the cashew to reach us packaged, someone has to clean it; the workers in India and Vietnam are faced with serious risks to their health and also often have to work in inhumane conditions.
Avocado is a healthy ancient fruit that is grown mainly in South America. Yet it has become a serious problem because, as a result of its global promotion, the demand for it has risen incredibly fast, resulting in deforestation. The production of a single avocado requires 320 litres of water, so large cartel producers often take away water from smaller competitors. The carbon footprint of the avocado has grown enormously due to deforestation, harvesting, keeping the product itself fresh, and global shipping. So even though this fruit is beneficial, making it a ‘star food’ causes great damage to the environment.
When a type of food becomes fashionable in many parts of the world at the same time, it almost always has dramatic consequences: deforestation, the depletion of arable land and, of course, the staggering extent of the carbon footprint caused by the transportation of a product, for example, from South America to Europe. Superfoods don’t necessarily need to come from thousands of kilometres away: Turkish hazelnuts grown in Hungary are just as delicious as cashews, and flax seeds are no less healthy than chia seeds.
It shouldn’t take many thousands of kilometres for an ingredient to be called a superfood – whatever that concept means. Lentils, for example, are an inexpensive and easily available raw material. They contain protein, vitamins and minerals, and their carbohydrate content is absorbed slowly, and 10 dkg of lentils provides more than 300 kilocalories, making it one of the superfoods of the 21st century in addition to oats and beans.
Oats are an excellent source of fibre and carbohydrates, are high in protein compared to other grains, and also contain important vitamins and minerals. Oats have properties that help keep blood sugar levels in balance, which is one of the most common physiological problems. The use of oatmeal is thus no longer a sign of poverty but a sign of attention to a healthy diet. Oatmeal has been produced since 1990; it is basically made from water and oats, and it has the least environmental impact of the various alternatives to cow’s milk; for example, it is much better than sugary almond milk (which isn’t really milk).
There are also plenty of vegetables that could be called superfoods. Dishes with both broccoli and asparagus are easy and quick to make. They are perceived as modern but actually have cultural heritage dating back thousands of years, originating from the Middle East. Asparagus contains significant amounts of vitamins A, B6 and C, as well as folic acid and potassium, making it one of the most balanced vegetables. Known as a produced version of wild cabbage, broccoli contains a lot of beta-carotene (pro-A), folic acid (B9) and ascorbic acid (C), but it is also high in thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), calcium, and iron.
Mushrooms also have just as many beneficial properties; are rich in vitamin D, potassium and selenium and support the immune system. At least partially replacing meat with mushrooms, would benefit both the planet and us.
So, flaxseed is not the only ingredient that has so far undeservedly escaped the attention of superfood fanatics. But if we take into account the consequences of the sudden rise in demand as a result of marketing, such as packaging, shipping, and rising prices, it might not be such a bad thing.
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