Superfood Marketing Hype – It’s Not That Complicated

Ingredients | | May 4, 2009 at 5:41 pm
Photo by Eduardo Z.

Photo by Eduardo Z.

I recently received an email touting the benefits of acai berries.  Apparently if I consume enough I will be able to audition for a role in an X-men movie or guest star on Heroes Season 6.

It seems like every few months there is another ‘superfood’ which hits the market in a sexy package promising to deliver more health benefits than a magic genie in a bottle.

I decided to write this article after I discovered that “dr_oz” the twitter tag (3626 followers – duped like me I presume)  is not the real Dr. Oz, but simply an acai berry peddler who uses Dr. Oz of the Oprah show‘s name as a way to drive business (apparently he mentioned it once on the show).  My twitter account is over run with these.  Sad and pathetic marketing strategy aside, it reminded me how easy it is to sell ice to Eskimos.

Pomegranate, blueberries, acai, noni, mangosteen- what other fruits have millions of marketing dollars behind them?  The truth is that as soon as you put almost any colorful fruit or vegetable under the microscope there is a treasure trove of complex biochemistry and phytochemicals with innumerable health benefits. Researchers, after spending millions to research the humble pomegranate, realize that there is a huge consumer market and then create a product with the research to back it.

Go to Google and try this:  Cancer + (pick any fruit or vegetable).  Amazing right?

There is no secret to longevity, the challenge is to actually implement the basics.  Take the Okinawa project for example.  The world’s longest lived people and the largest concentration of centenarians are from this small area in Japan.  Scientists have been trying to understand what makes them unique and in the end found this: Okinawan’s eat an average of seven servings of vegetables and fruits a day.

There were several other components to their longevity. However- they don’t need a multi million dollar marketing campaign with accompanying research and sexy packaging to ensure they get their dose of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.  Neither do you for that matter.  

All of these fruits and vegetables have their own health benefits. I am not denying this. But, what I am constantly hearing is, “Dr. Nishant, is pomegranate juice good for me? Is noni juice good for me?”  The answer is, “Sure, why not?”

My dear mother-in-law Hasmik just asked me about asparagus and cancer.  The article she forwarded had tons of research and testimonials from people who ate 4 tablespoons of pureed asparagus a day which cured their cancer.  Yes asparagus contains a very high amount of glutathione, one of the strongest antioxidants in the body.  There are several vegetables like this which do contain specific phytochemicals which are useful for specific conditions (the Brassicaceae plant family and its cancer fighting isothiocyanates found in broccoli and cabbage).

 This type information and research is very useful, but please not another ‘miracle food’ with antioxidant values “off the charts”.  The only thing off the chart is the mass marketing using fruits which tend to be exotic/unknown to the target market.

They are all good for you in as much as any red-yellow-orange-colorful antioxidant packed miracle of nature is.  Spend the millions of dollars of research on something useful.  Just fill your diet with organic colorful fruits and vegetables and don’t play into the mass marketing hype of an industry on green steroids – groids.  We are surrounded by super-foods, we just don’t realize thats what they are called.  Ice to Eskimos.

Leave a comment with your favorite fruit/vegetable of the red-orange-yellow kind and I guarantee you each one has a unique phytochemical with miracle antioxidant properties which you could buy for $0.80 a pound from a farmers market, or pay $7.00 for the processed, packaged, internationally shipped and lifeless commercial version.  Do enjoy these products occasionally, they’re often delicious, but don’t think they are the revolutionary products they claim to be.  It’s generally much simpler than we think.

NishantDr. Nishant Rao is a co-founder of WellWire.com. He is a well-traveled naturopathic doctor and new father, practicing an integrative approach to create wellness in and around Los Angeles. Become a patient or discover his practice.

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6 Comments

  1. Mauro says:

    Hi Dr. Nishant, good post.

    I think that the problem about fruit and vegetables (and generally healthy food) is find real good and organic one.

    Fortunately I live in Italy and I buy only fruits that comes from here, avoiding the ones that comes from other countries in Europe, because they have a lot of conservants.

    About superfood I think that the people must try every kind of healthy food that mother nature offers us around the earth, but raw food is better. For example, I have an ecommerce and I sell the dried fruit pulp of Baobab that comes from Senegal. It has a lot of healthy properties such as antioxidant, minerals, aminoacids, fibers and much more, but I sell it raw, so the customer can simply use it in water or mixed to his own fruit juice without loosing the pulp properties.
    Same can be applied to the fruits you mentioned.

  2. Dr. Nishant says:

    Yes, the point is that we DONT need to import baobab tree pulp from Senegal for people in Italy to benefit from antioxidants, minerals and amino acids. The baobab pulp serves those in West Africa just as well as a local serving of olives, fresh basil and garlic would an Italian.

    They are all ‘super-foods’. The only difference is the degree to which we pollute the planet to transport these products, and the profit someone is making from them. Sure why not as you say Mauro, “try every kind of healthy food mother nature has to offer”. However if one makes a routine of consuming products from 1000′s of miles away, then we are creating an unsustainable carbon footprint which we will very much have to pay for someday.

    Raw vs not is an entirely separate conversation which I will address shortly.

    Thank you both for your comments.

  3. Mauro says:

    It’s a matter of points of view. From our point of view it’s better to use our own products, i’m with you.

    But do you think about the African point of view? Their small village are growing year after year after the harvesting because they work and they live instead of poor surviving.
    But we are deviating from the initial post.

  4. Dr. Nishant says:

    Yes, It is always a matter of perspective which means there is a very fine line between these two sides.

    However:

    I do believe that we have a social responsibility to create sustainable industry in under developed areas of the world regardless of how lucrative the initial short term revenue of an export industry such as baobab pulp may be.

    Fads in this industry come and go. For a community to grow and prosper in the long run will require more than cashing in on a profitable trend.

    There are several exports from Senegal which are not market driven fads such as cashews, shea butter, peanuts etc. Community driven cottage industries in these sectors have proven long term resilience in the export market.

    A prime example is Alaffia skin care (http://www.alaffia.com) from nearby Togo. These communities have built a product which then generates locally driven community outreach. The end result is one of the most natural, effective and sustainable lines of skin care made in traditional methods.

    There is a growing point of view which is much greater than you and I. A global perspective where we all share in the impact of decisions made on the other side of the planet.

    I was born in Kenya, and I have seen the long term effects that result from the ill founded attempts of greedy entrepreneurs who exploit a local tradition or product for a global market with promises of prosperity. Ten years down the road there is nothing left when the fickle market trends shift to another field.

    This is not sustainability, and this will not create long term community prosperity.

  5. Kathryn M. says:

    Mauro,

    I believe you missed the point of the entire post. The idea here is to emphasize your local fruits and vegetables rather than the “miracle”-foods. It seems that you sell the exact idea to people, or the “super”-food that Dr. Nishant had just discussed in his post.