Superfoods versus the environment

superfoods versus the environment

I’m as keen as the next gal to jump on the latest superfood and suck the life-giving juice out of it. But as someone who strives to eat sustainably and support local growers, I occasionally need check in with my priorities before buying up big on Mangosteen or acai-it’s-pronounced-a-sa-hee powder.

Aussies have a healthy appetite for superfoods, which come from all over the globe and are often “discovered” due to thriving populations of ancient folk dancing the Rhumba in hillside villages. Or something along those lines.

Basically, superfoods are those with superior nutritional profiles – high levels of vitamins, cancer-fighting antioxidants, blood-sugar-stabilising chemical make-ups. All in all, they’re pretty friggen super. But that doesn’t mean they’re Super nutrition versus the environmentnecessarily sustainable.

Here are some things to think about when you’re buying raw cacao powder, goji berries or even less exotic fruits like cherries and blueberries:

How far has this food travelled?
Imported superfoods tend to come with a sorry trail of food miles so you might want to think about limiting your consumption of things like maca and acai. That doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice good health, mind. There are plenty of locally-grown superfoods available, which I’ll get to in a minute.

What effect has it had on the area where it was grown?
Quinoa, that protein-rich non-grain that we all love (myself included) is grown in the Bolivian Andes. As its popularity surges, growers are ruining the farmlands where it has been grown for thousands of years to meet demand. This suddenly makes it less appealing (read more here). Other superfoods have their own challenges – child labour, corruption, destabilising the local food economy – that are inherent in balancing supply and demand. While it’s true many superfood importers apply fair-trade principles to their business, be aware that there is no way most of these foods can be both cheap and fair – corners must be cut somewhere.

Am I giving this superfood the respect it deserves?
When you think about everything involved in bringing you these incredible foods, be sure to give them some respec’, alright? The most prevalent superfoods in everyone’s diets are chocolate, tea and coffee. In my mind, instant coffee and those Cadbury’s Willy Wonka creation bars do not do justice to the raw ingredient. Similarly, look at how the superfood was processed, packaged and whether you’re consuming it in it’s purest state.

Homegrown superfoods

It’s easy to get lost in the hype around superfoods – after all, who doesn’t want to be a cancer-fighting, wrinkle-free ninja? To boost your family’s nutrition, look to homegrown superfoods and focus on these instead of imported wonder-ingredients.

I recently spoke with naturopath Anthia Koullouros from Ovvio Organics and she said, “I think all food is super. Even the humble carrot can absorb endotoxins in the bowel and liver. Make a salad of grated carrot with coconut or olive oil and some apple-cider vinegar and you’ve got a superfood right there.”

Here are some other superfoods made in Oz (just check that they’re local to you!):

  • Kale and other dark, leafy greens
  • Brocolli
  • Sweet potato
  • Australian-grown chia seeds
  • Oats
  • Almonds
  • Blueberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Citrus fruits
  • Australian-grown tea
  • Whole-fat natural yoghurt

Are you into superfoods? Are there any you can’t live without?


photo credit: Bioversity International via photopin cc


  1. Abbie says

    There is a tassie grown quinoa

    Another suggestion would be that a lot of the “superfoods” can be grown by you at home – where I live we can grow kale, blueberries, beetroot, and potentially quinoa (though this is yet to be tested). Amaranth grows where we are, most of the list above for Aussie grown we can grow where I live, and don’t forget the Goji berries (grow nicely in cooler mountain climates).

  2. Rahma says

    It is lovely to receive your down to earth guidance regularly into my inbox…it also allows me to reconnect with Australia which was my home for approx 30 years.

    I am now part of a small spiritual school in Europe which lives following the guidance of Tony Samara.

    I particularly resonated with your words about the distances that superfoods travel to reach your home…and to focus on the local alternatives available. I would also like to pose the thought to you (and I see that Abbie above has done the same) that it could be interesting to support local initiatives to grow such superfoods in your country. Australia as I know has all of the various geographical/climactic zones within its shores. As a personal example, where we live now which has a climate similar to South Australia (tho with a little more rainfall) we are growing our own goji berries and in the neighbouring countries we are able to source foodstuffs that were traditionally grown far away. In Queensland I am sure many crops would thrive to ensure superfoods to be viable as regular options in your daily diet.

    I include here a very nice video that I think you will appreciate…it is called Conscious Nutrition.

    Wishing you a beautiful day.

  3. Kirsten McCulloch says

    Great post Jo!

    I always feel that one of the issues with “superfoods” is the tendency we have (culturally) to want to jump on the band wagon and suddenly consume LOTS of whatever is the latest fad. Which generally, is unlikely to be supplied sustainably, when until the fad began it was a food consumed only by a small population.

    Plus, nutritionally, my understanding is that having a wide variety of plant foods in our diet (as many as 25-30 different plants) is far better than having a lot of fewer plants, even if some of them are “super”.
    Kirsten McCulloch recently posted..Got a Toothache? Visit Your Kitchen PantryMy Profile

  4. Susan says

    Great piece! I recently spoke to a dietitian as well about superfoods for a piece I wrote and she also said not to get caught up in the superfood hype of ones that are really expensive and hard to come by, because there are plenty of superfoods right under our noses that just don’t get as much attention as the others. Go brocolli!
    Susan recently posted..Are godparents relevant anymore?My Profile


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