This is the dark side of the superfood hype

Nobody wants to spoil your appetite for an avocado bread, because we love superfoods too! By definition, a superfood is “a nutrient-rich food that is considered particularly beneficial to health and well-being” (Oxford English Dictionary). Moreover, they usually come from far away because they cannot (or only poorly) be grown in our country and are advertised as a miracle cure by a huge marketing machine.

The only question is whether superfoods are also good for the environment and the people in the countries of origin.

Superfoods vs. local food

The thought suggests itself that the great demand for avocados and chia seeds from Mexico or goji berries from China must also be good for the respective inhabitants. After all, they sell more and make more profit. Unfortunately this is only partly true. Often the boom in superfoods and the resulting profit motive lead to dangerous predatory exploitation and other problems.

In this article:

  • So Mexico is suffering from the avocado boom
  • Quinoa: The “gold of the Incas” becomes a curse
  • Small chia seeds, big burden for the environment
  • Local food instead of superfood
  • Reaching for organic superfoods and local food

How the avocado boom is destroying Mexico

More than 5 million tons of avocados have been harvested worldwide each year for the last 3 years. The largest part of this is exported to the USA and exported to Europe. According to the World Avocado Organization, Europeans alone consumed more than 460 million kilos of avocados in 2016, in 2017 it will be about 480 million kilos, and for 2018 it is even predicted to reach 550 million kilos.

The organization is doing its best to promote avocados with e-cookbooks, advertising buses and cooperation with retailers and discounters.

Fatburner Avocado We don’t want to take the avocado off your bread, but we do advocate a more conscious approach to superfood © Elena Elisseeva / Shutterstock.com

Big profits thanks to avocado cultivation

But what does the country of origin gain from the boom? Around 90 percent of Mexican avocados are grown in the state of Michoacán in western Central Mexico. As a result, more and more forest areas are being cleared for avocado plantations. And this, although avocados are almost an investment in the future, because new seedlings can be harvested for the first time after 7 years at the earliest. But it is worth it.

Just owning around 1000 avocado plants can bring in a profit of half a million dollars per year. With an average annual income of around 10000 dollars, this arouses desires. But there are also massive ecological effects.

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An avocado plantation uses twice as much water as a pine forest

More and more pine forests have to give way to avocado plantations. And the water consumption is enormous. “Around 1000 liters of water are needed to produce 1 kilo of avocados,” explains Dr. Wilfried Bommert, spokesman for the Institute for World Nutrition ( IWE ) in Berlin. For comparison: In Germany only 8 litres are needed for 1 kilogram of potatoes (if it rains normally). “If the demand for avocados stays this high, more and more are produced in environmentally harmful plantations.”

Die Avocadoernte Avocados can be harvested for the first time after 7 years © pokku / Shutterstock.com 35 clever potato recipes

For comparison: In Germany only 8 litres are needed for 1 kilogram of potatoes (if it rains normally). While in Mexico, the many-eating avocados lead to a water shortage that also affects all other farmers, the use of pesticides simultaneously suffocates the country.

Quinoa: The “gold of the Incas” becomes a curse

In times of the hype about products without gluten and co., the protein-rich pseudo-cereal is very popular with athletes and fitness freaks. From 2009 to 2013 the price has increased tenfold. When the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO ) 2013 as the International Year of the Quinoa, nothing could be stopped.

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Quinoa cultivation is anything but “super” for the population

What is a boom for the farmers with land ownership is a medium catastrophe for the population of the Andes, especially for Peruvians and Bolivians. Their countries cultivate most of the quinoa. As a result, there is a shortage of land for basic foodstuffs. The consequence: The price of these foods is rising and the population is forced to buy cheap but nutrient-poor pasta, bread or potatoes that fill the stomach.

Quinoa ist ein Pseudogetreide Quinoa can be processed like rice, but contains more protein © Elena Veselova / Shutterstock.com

“Quinoa is traditionally cultivated in the highlands of the Andes, where the clay soils offer ideal conditions,” explains expert Bommert. In order to increase the production volume and meet demand, the areas under cultivation are migrating further and further into the plains of the country. “There, the soil is much poorer in nutrients, less clayey and takes much longer to regenerate”.

But: “Yields are reduced as a result, and farmers also have to fight pests that are not active in the heights of the Andes.” Another consequence: soil erosion, as bushes have to give way to the plantations.

Small chia seeds, big burden for the environment

Chia seeds have also undergone rapid development in the last 5 years – especially in Europe. Until 2013, they were only allowed to be used as an ingredient in baked goods until EU finally, the authorisation for the sale of Chia products was considerably extended.

In 2014, the market literally exploded, and since 2015, the small grains have also reached the last discount store.

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This extreme increase in demand has also caused the price to skyrocket. Even Chia without an organic label was sometimes traded for 10 euros per kilo. In the meantime, however, the price has dropped back to around 2.50 euros because the cultivation has been massively expanded. The area under cultivation in South America has increased by 240 percent within one year. Australia and Africa have also been added as producers.

Pesticides: Chia seeds are often heavily contaminated

If so much more goods are needed in such a short time, counterfeit, inferior products quickly come into circulation. “In the case of chia seeds, the use of spraying agents is a major problem in South America,” says Dr. Bommert. “Although there are also many small organic farmers, their fields are often located next to the large industrial ones and are often contaminated by them”.

Leinsamen Smoothie Chia or flaxseed? Superfood or local food? It’s up to you! © Shutterstock / nadianb

The soil is also usually contaminated by soya cultivation, so that all this ends up in the chia seeds when they are grown as a catch crop. Most importantly, herbicides such as glyphosate, diquat and paraquat are then present in the plants. Sometimes this is so bad that goods that are nevertheless on the market should not actually be sold. Mould toxins, so-called aflatoxins, are also contained in the seeds – these can cause cancer.

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Reach for organic chia seeds

For the end consumer the following applies: Only organic goods are really trustworthy – as Ellen Scherbaum from the Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Office ( CVUA ) confirmed in Stuttgart. Every year, about 400 samples of different organic products are tested there and compared with conventional food. “Conventional goods show clear pesticide residues in about 90 per cent of cases; on average, these residues are 180 times higher than those of organic products,” said Scherbaum.

The residues detected in these products are often caused by drift from other fields or by contamination during processing. And this immense use of poison not only harms the soil, the environment and the end user, but above all the farmers who have to apply the poison to the plants and the people who live in the surrounding area.

Wachmacher Chia-Samen For chia seeds you should always use organic products © Shutterstock / mchin

This is of course not only a problem for Chia, but also for soy, corn and cotton. All fields are sprayed extensively with the herbicides and pesticides and in the surrounding villages suddenly cases of cancer or miscarriages as well as problems with the respiratory tract or the circulation accumulate.

Local food instead of superfood

What distinguishes Superfoods from our local foods is first and foremost its image. Domestic foods are just as healthy, with the same healthy ingredients in similar quantities. But how sexy are flaxseed, kale and broccoli compared to chia, goji and amaranth? They can definitely keep up, as our comparison shows:

  1. Linseed instead of chia seed: Characteristics and ingredients are extremely similar – but linseed costs only a fraction, even in organic quality.
  2. Millet instead of quinoa: Only 1 gram more protein is in the pseudo grain quinoa, plus 2 grams more fat. In addition, millet contains 2.5 times as much iron as quinoa.
  3. Blueberries instead of goji berries: Sugary goji berries are very healthy, but especially in summer, even low-calorie berries provide antioxidants.

  4. Kale instead of pomegranate: This green wonder weapon is a nutrient guarantee. In summer simply to the TK -variant.
  5. Broccoli instead of moringa: The cabbage is available all year round in good quality. Except for vitamin A and E, they are ahead of the rest, one portion even covers the Vitamin-K 1-requirement.
  6. Rapeseed oil instead of coconut oil: Rapeseed oil contains one of the best compositions of unsaturated fatty acids of all.

    If you want it to be more exotic, then you should go for linseed oil and olive oil. They also rank among the oil stars.

  7. Sea buckthorn instead of acerola: Although sea buckthorn contains only half of the vitamin C of acerola, this is still more than enough, because the excess of the water-soluble vitamin is excreted.

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“The price that is added to the image of Superfoods is simply not possible with domestic products, the margin is not so high,” says expert Bommert. “All unprocessed foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds contain a wealth of vitamins, minerals and secondary plant substances that are extremely important for the body. A balanced Central European mixed diet is better than a fixation on a single superfood”.

Superfood vs. Local Food: Ring frei für das Food-Duell um die Welt Local foods are often better (and cheaper) than Superfoods © Elena Schweitzer / Shutterstock.com

Although there are a few active ingredients in extremely high quantities, a few others are hardly ever found. Therefore, a good mixture on the plate is much healthier. If you then follow the season and buy locally, you will save money and also reduce CO2 emissions.

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Conclusion: Prefer organic superfoods and local food

Nobody has to do without superfoods altogether. “But buy sustainable organic products that are also fairly traded,” advises Dr. Wilfried Bommert. “Then the producers and their families also benefit.” However, the market share of organic products is currently less than 10 percent.

Superfoods in check

And forget’ do not: Superfoods only supplement your diet. The effects of your bad habits, such as: a lot of junk food, alcohol, smoking and too little sleep cannot compensate for Quinoa & Co. Your focus should be on local products such as spinach, linseed and berries – preferably organic. Because these are also super-healthy – and cheap to boot.