The health food industry faces the same problem as the junk food industry – their best markets are in industrialised countries where there is an ample food source and people don’t tend to eat more as their wages go up.
One way the food industry combats this is to come up with ways to re-market food as ‘new and improved’ to try and generate hype. The junk food industry has this down to a fine art, Ben and Jerry’s Peanut Butter Me Up is essentially just ice cream with peanut butter but their marketers sell it as a much more attractive product. And hats off to them they do their job incredibly well, everyone has a favourite Ben and Jerry’s flavour, including us! Marketers in the health food industry are no different, they market goji berries, quinoa and acai berries in exactly the same way. These pricey and exotic sounding foods enter the public consciousness and when the exaggerated health benefits are disproved or sales start to lag, they are replaced with another.
Before you pay through the nose for a new product ask yourself, how much do you actually know about what you’re paying for? The acai berry was little known outside of its native Brazilian territory a decade ago but now it’s subject to some big health claims if you search for it online, claiming to help with everything from anti-aging and weight loss to reducing the risks of cancer and acai based products made food companies in America over $200 million in 2012. The novelty of the acai berry has waned now because it didn’t appear to be the ‘cure-all’ that marketers claimed, which just goes to show how misinformed people were when they bought the product. There has been no credited scientific research into the effect of acai berry on any of the health claims that it is packaged with. Trying new food is great and certainly not all of the claims are false but do your research before you pay through the nose for a fad product.
Another reason these ‘super foods’ are not worth your hard earned cash is that they are not sustainable. The popularity of these ‘super foods’ and their sudden success attracts companies wanting to make fast money which is devastating to the communities in native regions. The rise of quinoa as a carb alternative and a protein source for vegetarians has been swift and unstoppable. In fact we actually think this particular product is great but you need to be incredibly careful about where you buy it from. In the Andes, where quinoa has been farmed since the time of the Incas, price spikes have turned this once staple food into a luxury and quinoa monocrops are eclipsing more sustainable and traditional methods. The rash practices of companies who have jumped on the ‘super food’ band wagon can be completely devastating; they don’t deserve your support so make sure your food is sustainably sourced.
If all of that doesn’t faze you then perhaps this will: quinoa may well be a complete protein, containing all the amino acids you need in one package, but rice and beans together actually do a better job of delivering it. And the reason some people see weight loss when they use the acai berry is the same reason people see weight loss when they substitute biscuits for ANY berry: all berries are sweet and cure your sugar craving but also they are mostly water and therefore are low calorie. Acai berries are also high in phytochemicals, which seem to help us fight heart disease, brain deterioration and cancer. But so are blueberries, blackberries and cranberries, yet in 2012 blueberry based products brought in around $3.5 million, less than 2% of the acai based figures we mentioned earlier, despite the almost identical genetic make-up. Berries in general are a great alternative to sweet treats in your diet, but the marketers can’t tell you that you can use any of them, because then how would they make money?
Lastly, and health wise this is probably the most important reason that you should be wary of any product that claims to work miracles, your body will only take from your food what it needs. There are definitely foods that are better for your body than others, coconut oil is preferable to lard all day long, but this is because of the way your body is able to break them down and use them. McDonald’s holds such little nutritional value that the only use your body has for all that fat is to store it – it can’t use it for anything else.
‘Super foods’ are just food.
You need to be clued up on how your body uses and stores food if you really want your diet to work for you.