‘Superfood’ is a word we’re all wary of hearing these days. From exaggerated health claims to unsustainable agricultural shifts, we’ve seen one so-called superfood after another shuffle past the limelight.
Quinoa’s rise to superfood super-stardom, for instance, has priced out the Amazonian villagers who used to rely on it, and its luxury-status has resulted monocropping methods crowding out older, more sustainable production methods. And for all the hype about quinoa being a complete protein, rice and beans do that job better.
But there are a few of these nutrient dense foods that are sustainably harvested as well, making them ‘super’ for you, for the people who grow them, and for the environment. Now that’s what I call a superfood.
The leaves of moringa, a tree native to Africa and South Asia, pack a truly astounding punch of nutrients on a gram-per-gram basis. But what’s even cooler about the emerging superfood is that the main supplier, Kuli Kuli Foods, is partnering with NGO Fair Harvest to ensure that moringa farmers are paid fairly and that most of the moringa stays local, benefiting those who need it the most.
For more on this awesome plant and the people it benefits, see this great article on Kuli Kuli published recently by Takepart.
Also new on the superfood scene, the weird-looking haskap berries are high in potassium, calcium, and vitamins C and A, as well as anthocyanins and phenolic compounds. Haskap is actually Siberian honeysuckle, and has been cultivated on a small scale in Japan for over a century, but it is new to North American farmers.
Haskap berries are being grown by only a handful of farms in Nova Scotia right now, but given their nutritional benefits, they’re sure to become available soon, with Cornell’s extension school looking at their viability in the Northeast. Even better, haskap bushes can be very productive when grown using organic, sustainable agricultural methods, making them a profitable organic endeavor for northern farmers.
Ok, you might be rolling your eyes at this oft-cited ‘superfood,’ wondering how it made it onto this list. Isn’t it just another of those over-hyped, mysteriously sourced miracle products?
But did you know that spirulina just as often goes by another name? That’s right–this blue-green algae is basically pond scum, and it grows naturally in oceans and salty lakes.
Like other superfoods, spirulina is high in vitamins and minerals, including but not limited to vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc, iron, selenium, and more, but this blue-green algae also boasts high levels of protein (although not as high as familiar sources like nuts, legumes, fish, or meat). It can also lower cholesterol and treat precancerous growths in the mouth.
As with most foods, spirulina’s benefits are much more promising when the algae is consumed as food, rather than as a supplement. And, unfortunately, cooking spirulina can destroy most of its nutrients.
But spirulina has high potential for fighting malnutrition, as it is cheap to produce , requires much less water than most vegetables to grow, and can be combined with almost any food, which makes it ideal for incorporating into traditional diets.
Best of all? You can easily grow your own, making this nutrient bomb a promising candidate for both fighting malnutrition and DIY-consumption.
Hemp just might be the king of sustainable superfoods. It can grow in a variety of climates and soil types, has a low land-per-crop ratio, and grows very quickly. Furthermore, hemp even improves soil health, meaning a farmer can grow a food crop immediately after hemp harvest.
Hemp also grows like a weed, meaning it needs less water than most crops, and there is little to no need for pesticides, fungicides, or fertilizers.
Thought I was done? Nope. Hemp seeds are high in omega-3s, complete protein (one 3 tbsp serving is 20% of daily protein needs), and fiber, making them a nutritional powerhouse as well as a farmer’s best friend.
Hemp also has myriad non-food-related applications– see this article on Huffington Post for more info.