The health food industry has exploded in the past decade. The organic market in the UK is estimated at 1.3 billion per annum, a trend experiencing year-on-year increases. In 2015, the market experienced a 4% sales growth on 2014 figures, as reported by Nielsen.1
Life-extending goji berries from Asia sound much more exotic and extravagant than their distant British cousin, the potato. Cheap labour and exploitation are also an unfortunate side effect of this huge movement in health food.
As knowledge of the influence of healthy nutrition on overall health becomes more and more evident, trend-seeking foodies clamour to discover the next big food. Anti-ageing, fat-burning compounds, antioxidant-boosting are all claims that are made to pull in the consumer. But how necessary are these so called ‘superfoods’ in a healthy lifestyle? Are they really the health-giving elixirs they claim to be or are they merely the result of clever marketing and sales pitches?
The Rise of Superfoods
While the term ‘superfood’ has become somewhat of a buzzword in nutrition circles in recent years, the scientific basis of the word has little basis. Indeed, while there is no concrete definition of the word superfood they are generally accepted to be food, usually fruit or vegetables, which possess particularly large quantities of nutrients. With the media awash with the superfoods varying from cacao to salmon to blueberries, it seems that consuming these foods have huge health benefits to the body. But where do these health-giving properties come from and are the emergence of these foods simply an opportunity for food marketers to hike up the price to consumers in an effort to tap into this exploding market?
The Origins of Superfoods
The term ‘superfood’ first saw an emergence in popular culture at the turn of the 20th century in reference to wine – “He had changed the tenor of his mood, And wisely written wine as superfood…”.2 But the term itself never became popular until the mid-noughties when it signalled the emergence of functional foods or foods lending themselves to boosting health – this particular category of the food industry was worth a staggering $43.27 billion globally in 2013.3 While ‘superfruits’ such as blueberries, açaí berry, and pomegranate were amongst the first to emerge as superfoods in the nineties, others such as chia seeds, quinoa, and cacao, would quickly follow suit.
But was the surge in popularity of these foods fuelled by the food industry as a clever ruse to boost sales in these trendy foods? It would largely appear so!
Let’s take the example of one of the most common superfoods, the blueberry. This popular berry saw a growth rate of 9% in 2013, making it the fasted growing berry globally.4 While blueberries do indeed pack quite an antioxidant punch, other native berries such as blackberries, gooseberries, and strawberries also have a lot to offer and should not be overlooked. In fact sceptics argue that blueberries are favoured by the food industry because they have a longer shelf life than other berries and can be transported more easily than their native relatives such as blackberries.
The word superfood gets thrown around so much nowadays it is difficult to know whether a food is indeed particularly super at all. Clever marketing is all it takes for a food to take off and a frenzy to take place in the health section of your local supermarket. We are constantly bombarded with the latest health food or must have addition to your diet.
Another undesirable side effect of the rise of the superfood is the huge increase in air mileage these foods usually dictate. Life-extending goji berries from Asia sound much more exotic and extravagant than their distant British cousin, the potato. Cheap labour and exploitation are also an unfortunate side effect of this huge movement in health food.
Should I Invest in Superfoods?
I believe that foods rich in antioxidants, nutrients, and minerals such as kale, blueberries and salmon should be regularly included in the diet as a means of boosting overall health and well-being. After all, food is powerful medicine.
What I don’t agree with is clever marketing and product-pushing by the food industry as a means to capitalise on the consumer’s desire to be healthy. You don’t need bee pollen, maca powders, spirulina, and wheatgrass in your diet to be healthy. Yes all these foods do have some wonderful healing properties in the body if you choose to spend your money in this way. However they are NOT a necessity. In fact including these foods in your diet as a way to “make up” for shortcomings in your lifestyle such as not eating enough vegetables or eating too much sugar is a huge waste of time and money. You would be much better cleaning up your diet and spending your money on improving your food sources such as choosing organic where possible. Forget spending over the odds on goji berries from Peru and opt for locally grown, antioxidant-rich blackberries or strawberries. Forget the sundried beef jerky flown 1000s of miles from Australia and focus on good quality organic grass-fed local beef. Don’t get sucked into marketing. Focus on healthy clean-eating and invest in local producers, and your health will benefit just as much.
Do you think superfoods are worth the investment? How often do you include superfoods in your daily diet? Comment below with your thoughts!
- (Anonymous). (2014). Supermarket Sales Growth Show Improvement for First Time This Year. In Nielsen. Retrieved from http://www.nielsen.com/uk/en/press-room/2014/supermarket-sales-growths-show-improvement-for-first-time-this-y.html
- (Anonymous). (1915, June 24). The Daily Gleaner. Kingston, Jamaica, 24 June 18/2.
- (Anonymous). (2014). Future Directions for the Global Functional Foods Market. In Leatherhead Food Research. Retrieved from https://www.leatherheadfood.com/functional-foods#sthash.LuzIS6ZL.dpuf
- Baroke, S. (2014). Blueberries the Most Dynamic Fruit in 2013. In Euromonitor International. Retrieved from http://blog.euromonitor.com/2014/04/blueberries-the-most-dynamic-fruit-in-2013.html