Feature

The ethics of superfoods

Green Lifestyle magazine

Nutrient-dense, high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals & enzymes – ‘superfoods’ are now regular ingredients on the plate of the health conscious. With their sudden popularity, ethical & sustainability issues are inevitably arising. Here’s the rundown...

Coconut

Coconut

Fish Oil

Fish Oil

Gogi

Gogi

Acai

Acai

Cacao

Cacao

Soy

Soy

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Fish oil
Fish oil supplements are veritably swimming off the shelves due to their concentration of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids – the ‘good fats’ – which studies show lower triglycerides and the risk of heart attack. Yet commercial fishing has sucked more than 90 per cent of the world’s predatory fish from the oceans, resulting in a fish stock crisis. A considerable portion of fish oil comes from the rapidly disappearing menhaden, a type of herring, which forms the basis of the Atlantic Coast’s marine food chain. To avoid contributing to overfishing, choose a fish oil made from fish discards, buy sustainably caught oily fish or, even better, remember that flaxseed oil is omega rich and uses no fish at all.

Cacao
Chocoholics have had good reason to celebrate of late, with chocolate jumping from the confectionery to the health food aisle. High in antioxidant flavanoids, sulfur and magnesium, the essential fatty acids found in raw cacao can help the body raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. However, entrenched child labour is implicit in cocoa farming, especially in West Africa where 70 per cent is produced. Luckily, it’s easy to find fair-trade options (which are often the healthy ones too). Check out the World Vision chocolate scorecard to help choose your bar, and keep an eye out for Australia’s own Daintree Cocoa.

Quinoa
Traditionally grown in the Bolivian Andes alongside potatoes and llamas, this grain-like seed is hailed by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation as ‘the only plant food that contains all the essential amino acids, trace elements and vitamins, and contains no gluten’. Yet with burgeoning demand, many locals are struggling to afford their traditional staple, and farmers are choosing to buy less nutritious staples like white rice and flour, seeing their crop as too valuable to eat. Crop rotation is increasingly being given over to continuous quinoa production, leading to soil infertility. Fair-trade quinoa is a recent initiative of Irupana, a workers co-operative in Bolivia, which assists farmers to produce organic quinoa and encourages them to keep a portion of their harvest. Also look out for Australia’s first commercial quinoa from Tasmania’s Kindred Organics.

Soy
A complete source of protein and packed with essential aminos, soy beans have long been lauded as a great meat replacement, especially when consumed in fermented forms such as tofu, tempeh and miso. Yet modern soy bean cultivation (albeit mostly for animal feed) is causing enormous harm. In the US where more than 90 per cent of soy production is genetically modified, intensive monoculture farming is chemical heavy and soil degrading. In the tropics, vast tracts of rainforest have been converted into soya farms. The best way to sup on soy is always to choose organic. Consider also supporting the WWF and Greenpeace campaigns to halt irresponsible soya production.

Goji berries
From the high country of the Himalayas comes the goji berry, a small red berry traditionally used in Chinese medicine to improve liver and kidney function, as well as eyesight. Containing high doses of vitamins C, E, B1, B2 and B6, having 15 times more iron than spinach and no fewer than 18 amino acids, goji berries are now big business for many farmers in Zhongning County, in China’s northwestern Ningxia Province. Yet at least 24 shipments of the berry have been refused entry into the US due to pesticide residue, sulfides, pigments, harmful impurities and unlabeled ingredients. Reports of farmers buying organic labeling, as well as lax and unclear standards for certification abound. Check at your local health store that your goji is from a reputable organic supplier.

Acai
It’s billed as a berry that packs a potent antioxidant punch. Rich in protein and anthocyanin, and reported to reduce cholesterol, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, the acai is the super-juice flavour of the month. Currently, reports of overharvesting of the acai palm, and a lack of sustainable management of native stands in northern South America, where the berry has been a protein-rich food for jungle dwellers for generations, are filtering through. Again, look out for a fair-trade and organic supplier. A better future option might be in our backyard, with recent research into Australia’s bushtucker identifying at least a dozen Australian ‘super’ fruits. The kakadu plum for instance has
six times the beneficial properties
of blueberries.

Coconut
Lauded for its antifungal and antibacterial qualities, with more electrolytes than a sports drink and lauric acid to rival mother’s milk, the humble coconut is back in vogue. Yet while coconut farming is a legitimate sustainable industry for countries such as Sri Lanka, the Phillipines and India, there remain ongoing issues with child labour in coconut plantations. The coconut water craze has been marred by high levels of formaldehyde detected in some imported young coconuts from Thailand, while coconut palm sugar – in high demand due to its low GI – necessitates the removal of the flower bud from the tree, meaning no coconut! Look for a fair-trade organic supplier.

Honey and bee products
While the Greeks called bee pollen ‘life-giving dust’, the US Department of Agriculture stated that bee pollen is the most nutritious food we can eat. Rich in antioxidants, minerals and vitamins, incredibly high in beneficial bacteria, honey and its hive companions have made a comeback. Yet far from the wild harvest of yesteryear, in many commercial farms bees are fed sugar or corn syrup to boost productivity and maximise harvest; pollen is sourced from flowers grown with pesticides and fertilisers; and honey is harvested too frequently, leaving little or none at all for the colony to survive on. Meanwhile commercial producers of bee pollen often harvest with pollen traps that can be of detriment to the bees. In addition, almost all honey is pasteurised in high heat, removing many of the beneficial nutrients and enzymes. Find a local natural beekeeper selling raw honey (and
bee pollen) from happy hives that
are cared for naturally and with
minimal manipulation.