In part two of our superfood series, we look at some more nutrient-loaded superfoods that can improve your health and wellbeing, and which differ in nutritional content from the superfruits covered in Part 1 of the series. These powders, seeds, oils and granules come from all corners of the world and boast a wide variety of health benefits. The multipotent superfoods discussed in this article include:
It might be hard to imagine any form of pollen as being good for you, since so many of us in the sunny Southern Hemisphere suffer from seasonal hay fever, but ‘bee pollen’ differs to sneeze-inducing airborne pollen so many of us have come to loathe.
Honey bees collect pollen on the hairs of their back legs as they gather nectar from flowers. The pollen collects in granules and is bound together by enzymes secreted by the bees, which makes bee pollen digestible by humans – this being the key differentiator. Ranging in colour from yellow to orange, from purple to brown, just one teaspoon of this golden treasure holds about 2.5 billion granules of pollen!
The Ancient Egyptians were some of the first people to practice bee-keeping, and to use pollen for its health benefits, as is evident from wall carvings and hieroglyphics. Today, we don’t necessarily advocate offering honey and pollen as offerings to the gods, but we do recommend its usage as one of the most complete and nutritious substances in nature. The nutritional content differs with each pollen product (depending on the plant and region it comes from), but the general nutrients contained are:
- Vitamins A, D, C, E, Beta-carotene and all of the Bs (excluding B12),
- Minerals and trace minerals
- All of the essential amino acids
- Essential fatty acids
- Enzymes which aid in digestion
Containing about 25 percent protein in its predigested form, bee pollen is a highly potent and easily assimilated source of protein. Bet you didn’t know you could get your daily protein boost through that swirl of honey in your winter-warmer porridge!
Bee pollen is recognised for its ability to increase strength, endurance and energy; so is often used by athletes and sportspeople to aid performance. Like other bee products, bee pollen has also been shown to possess antibacterial and immune supporting properties; . Studies suggest it can it can also aid digestion, support mental function, libido, and can help with the body’s response to certain allergens.
Bee pollen comes in capsules or as loose granules, so it’s easy to add to cereal, fruit salads or green salads.
TIP: Try adding a tablespoon of bee pollen to yoghurt and fruit for a dessert that will love you back.
Note: anyone allergic to bees or with a suspected bee allergy should proceed with caution. Just a single granule of bee pollen can be used to test tolerability.
Cacao (pronounced ca-cow)
It’s not a mis-spelling of the better-known cocoa; it’s actually where cocoa comes from. The word cacao literally describes the raw pod and seed that cocoa and chocolate are made from. The ripened Cacao pods grow up to 20cm long, in a range of rich, autumnal colours. These pods contain the cacao seeds that are processed to make cocoa and every girl’s best friend: chocolate.
In their raw, natural state, cacao seeds are rich in cacao butter and have a solid texture, with a slightly bitter or burnt taste. This “food of the gods”, as it is fondly known, originated in the Amazon and is now cultivated in many countries, due to worldwide demand for commercial chocolate. Cacao is extremely nutrient-dense, with over 300 identified plant compounds. It is rich in antioxidants and minerals like iron, magnesium, chromium, manganese, zinc and copper as well as containing vitamin C, Omega 6 and fibre.
Cacao provides both tryptophan (an amino acid precursor to seratonin) and seratonin itself; both of which work in the body to diminish worry and stress and help make us feel good. Additionally, cacao contains anandamide – a natural endorphin produced by the body after exercise, which is also known as ‘the bliss chemical’ because it is released when we feel good and therefore has positive associations. And this is not the bottom of cacao’s endless bag of tricks! A group of chemicals released by the brain when we are in love (Phenylethlamines or PEAs) are also found naturally in cacao. PEAs can support our alertness and focus, and brighten our mood. All of these nutrients make raw cacao a very uplifting, energising and stimulating addition to foods and drinks.
Unfortunately, many of these ‘super’ nutrients are depleted during the heating and refining processes used to produce commercially-manufactured chocolate. So before you label all chocolate as a superfood, its really only raw cacao and raw chocolate products that are ‘super-duper’; not the sugar-loaded refined chocolate we love to love and call it chemistry.
Organic Raw Cacao products to look out for include:
- Cacao whole beans – with or without the skin
- Cacao nibs – these are whole beans broken into small pieces
- Cacao powder
- Cacao butter
- Cacao paste
- Chocolate bars and sweets made from raw cacao
TIP: Try adding the raw cacao powder, nibs, and cacao butter to smoothies, fruit salads or breakfast cereals. Nibs can also be added to trail mixes.
Chia Seeds (pronounced Chee-Ah)
Chia seeds were originally cultivated by the Aztecs and Mayans and records suggest they were used as far back as 3500BC. Native to parts of Mexico and Guatemala, the Chia plant is a member of the mint family and produces small, dark gray, oval seeds. The name Chia comes from the Aztec word chian which means ‘oily’.
Traditionally the Aztecs and Mayans cherished chia seeds as a sacred food, so highly prized that the seeds were often used as currency. As a food, chia seeds were used to provide energy, endurance and strength for warriors and athletes. It is said that warriors used chia seeds as fuel for long journeys and that just one tablespoon with water could sustain them for 24hrs. The Aztecs also used chia medicinally.
Chia seeds are estimated to contain up to 40% omega 3 fatty acids, 20% protein, 25% fibre, high levels of antioxidants and an extensive range of vitamins and minerals including calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and zinc. Chia seeds are estimated to contain much higher omega 3 levels than flaxseeds and are more convenient because whole chia seed is digestible whereas flaxseed must be ground or crushed in order to free the oils.
This low sodium, gluten-free seed is extremely hydrophilic (water loving) and can absorb more than 12 times its weight in water making it a great food for improving hydration in the body. The seeds are also recognised as supporting healthy blood sugar, weight management and the cardiovascular system. Their high antioxidant content means that they can be stored unrefrigerated for up to 2 years without spoiling.
TIP: Chia seeds can be enjoyed in salads, cereal, yoghurt, smoothies, ground and used in breads and muffins, or added to water or juices. A versatile superfood indeed.
The oil is extracted from the dried meat (copra) of the mature coconut. The versatility of the young green and mature brown coconut makes it a staple food of most inhabitants of tropical regions. The oil itself has been a primary fat source for generations and is recognised not only as a food but also as a medicine and a cosmetic.
There are numerous extraction methods of the oil, which determine its quality. Although coconut oil is very stable, making it very suitable to cook with, some extraction methods can overheat the oil causing irreversible damage. The best extraction method is known as cold-pressing, which involves no heating during the process; ensuring that the end product is raw and retains all of its goodness. Oil extracted using this method can last up to 2 years.
Coconut oil contains about 90% saturated fat and there is much debate about the dangers or benefits of coconut oil for this reason. While saturated fat is considered to be unhealthy and usually avoided, a certain amount is required for healthy functioning of the body. Also, coconut oil is extremely rich in medium chain fatty acids, which are rapidly metabolised and used for energy rather than stored as fat. Coconut has also been found to support metabolic rate via the thyroid which can support weight management.
Lauric acid, present in high quantities in coconut oil, offers immune protective properties and is converted to monolaurin, which supports the body’s defences.
Coconut can be purchased in many forms, however we recommend buying organic wherever possible. Time to dream up ways of using the following variety of coconut products:
Organic whole green coconuts (young)
- Organic whole brown coconuts (mature)
- Coconut oil – the best form is organic extra virgin, cold-pressed and is generally solid at room temperature, but in warmer temperatures may become a clear liquid.
- Creamed Coconut – blended from copra or coconut flakes
- Canned Coconut Milk and Cream
- Coconut milk powder
- Coconut flour
TIP: Coconut oil can also be used as a mouthwash, makeup remover, face and body moisturiser, lip balm, scalp and hair conditioner, shaving cream, bath oil and for massage. Next time you’re in Fiji…
( Also: See our Range of Organic & Extra Virgin Coconut Oil )
The hemp plant belongs to the mulberry family and its usage dates back as far as the Stone Age. Thought to originate from Central Asia, the biggest producers of hemp today are China followed by Europe and Chile. Thanks to its hardiness, hemp can grow in almost any ecosystem worldwide and is extremely pest resistant which means it is very easy to grow.
Hemp has countless uses, but what earns it its superfood status is the seed. Hemp seeds are a similar size and colour to sesame seeds with a distinct nutty flavour. They are the richest plant source of essential fatty acids; second only to Chia seeds, with the perfect ratio of 3: 1 omega-6 (linoleic) to omega-3 (linolenic), as well as a good amount of omega-9 and the only edible seed source of GLA. These essential fatty acids have many important functions in the body, including supporting nerve function, heart and skin health, hormonal balance, as well as aiding the immune system. Hemp seeds are also one of the richest plant sources of easily digestible protein that has a similar profile to complete protein.
Hemp seeds are a rich source of vitamins (especially vitamin E in all its forms) and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, copper, manganese and over 20 trace minerals. That’s the kind of line up that puts the super in super food! But wait! There’s more… Hemp seeds are one of the only seeds that contain chlorophyll; hence their green-coloured oil. They are high in fibre and contain lecithin for supporting brain and liver function.
Hemp seeds can be eaten raw as is or added to smoothies, cereal and other foods. The seeds can also be ground to flour and used in baking. (Just be careful what form of hemp you’re adding to your brownies!) Hemp seed oil should not be heated, but is a great addition to a salad dressing or added to any cold or warm dishes.
TIP: Sprinkle hemp seeds over your salad for a tasty nutty flavour and some secret goodness.
Also known as Peruvian ginseng, maca is native to the Andes of Peru and Bolivia and is traditionally grown at altitudes of up to 4000 metres, making it the highest altitude-grown crop in the world. Traditionally, every part of the plant was used, including the root – a radish-like tuber about 3-6cm wide and 4-5cm long – which is the part that is known today as a superfood.
A traditional food for an estimated 2,000 years, maca has also been used as a medicine and a currency. The root is often roasted, boiled and mashed, made into flour or fermented to make a beer, and the leaves are cooked or used in salads.
Maca is composed of about 60% carbohydrates, 10% protein, 9% fibre and 2% fats. Maca contains minerals like calcium, phosphorous, zinc, magnesium, iron, and vitamins B1, B2, B12, C and E, as well as sterols which have immune-enhancing properties. It contains 20 amino acids – 7 of which are essential amino acids that the body cannot make but must get through the diet.
As an adaptogen, maca helps us adapt to stresses and supports balance of the bodies systems. Studies suggest that it increases energy, endurance and physical strength, supports the production of neurotransmitters and improves libido. In addition, its ability to oxygenate the blood means it can help alleviate symptoms of altitude sickness.
Maca root can be found in dried powder, as capsules, extract, liquid concentrate (usually alcohol based) or as an ingredient in superfood supplements or energy bars. As a warming food, maca is well suited to colder weather and can be added to almost any foods like smoothies, broths, soups, beverages or to your favourite dessert.
TIP: Try adding the dried powder to a glass of warm milk or coconut milk for a warming winter boost.
These are a just a select few superfoods that have gained recognition for their contribution to health, wellbeing and longevity. There are many more, but we have focused on some of our favourites, and will finish up the Superfoods series next month with ‘Supergreens’. Stay tuned.