Açaí Berries, Goji Berries and Beyond: Can We Stop Talking About ‘Superfoods’? Foodie Underground


ColumnAçaí berries, goji berries, maca powder… seems like everyone is superfoods obsessed these days.


If you’ve walked into any health food store, coop or upscale market in the last few years, you know exactly what I am talking about. Hell, you don’t even need to have done any of the above. The marketing of superfoods is so out of control you can find them just about anywhere.

There’s actually no concrete definition of superfoods, and no regulation of the word’s use, which means it can really be slapped on just about anything. In everyday language, superfoods are foods that are especially nutrient-rich. In other words: foods that are good for you. Which is why it’s high time we dropped the word “superfoods.”

There are many foods that make the superfood roundups, but while it’s the more exotic ones that are having their fifteen minutes of fame right now. Açaí berries, goji berries, maca powder; wouldn’t your life be better if you had all of these in a breakfast bowl?

While superfoods certainly offer health benefits, it’s our obsession with the idea of superfoods that’s the root problem.

For one, whatever happened to the lovely blueberry? It packs a lot of antioxidants and touts plenty of health benefits, yet we seem seduced by the thought of goji berries instead. Might I point out that a lot of goji berries come from industrial fields in China? Not so super now, are they?

The idea of superfoods pulls us towards certain ingredients and keeps us from running down the list of conscious consumer questions we should always be asking: Where did these come from? Who grew them? How far did they travel to get to me?

There are plenty of foods growing near you, sometimes even in your back yard, that are perfect options for healthy eating. And yet without a superfoods label they’re not super sexy. Sweet potatoes? Boring. Durian? How exciting!

Would you go to the farmers market and pick up a vegetable and ask the farmer “is this a superfood?” and then not buy it if the farmer said no? No, no you would not. Although while we’re on the subject, probably everything on that farmers table could be considered a superfood. Because it’s real food. Real produce. Stuff that’s good for you. But you know that; it doesn’t need a marketing term to tell you that.

We need to reassess what we’re eating and why. Eating closer to home is good for the economy, the environment and ultimately, ourselves. Eating can give us a connection to place. It’s what grounds us in the rhythm of the seasons and the natural world. That being said, next time you’re on a river cruise on the Amazon, go ahead and stuff your face with those açaí berries.

But aren’t superfoods good for me?

Well, yes, that’s why someone deemed them superfoods in the first place. All these foods, local or exotic, have nutrients that our body needs, but it’s not because you throw goji berries and some chia seeds into your morning smoothie everyday that you’re going to be full of energy and ready to take on the world. The problem with the hype around superfoods is that it leads us to believe that single ingredients are the solution to all of our problems.

Superfoods will not save the world–they won’t even save you. What will? Eating a balanced diet. Not buying processed foods, even when they claim to have superfoods in them. Eating locally whenever possible. Not buying berries from China. Growing your own garden with plenty of leafy greens.

You don’t need superfoods. You just need real food.

Related on EcoSalon

Seasonal Superfoods: Blueberries

The Best Superfoods Are the Ones Growing in Your Garden

Whole Foods Market, Trendy Vegetables and Food Gentrification: Foodie Underground

This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.

Image: miheco

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.