Superfoods are considered to be the most powerful nutrient sources on the planet. However, walking down the aisles of your local health-food store can be a daunting experience as there are so many to choose from.
So which ones are right for you and what are their health-giving super powers? Here are some of Mother Natureâ€™s most exotic ingredients and how to use them.
Yacon is a South American herb which has sweet, juicy, edible roots. ItÂ is an excellent source of inulin, a soluble fibre that acts as a prebiotic, encouraging growth of friendly intestinal bacteria and a strong immune system. This type of fibre isnâ€™t digestible so it wonâ€™t affect blood sugar. Inulin can lower cholesterol and boost absorption of iron, zinc and calcium. The roots can be dried and ground into a syrup or sweet powder thatâ€™s a great substitute for sugar in cakes. It gives a natural sweetness to smoothies, yoghurt, cereals, tea and coffee. The roots can also be eaten raw, baked or steamed.
Maca is a root vegetable thatâ€™s a nutritious staple in its native Peru. Â Known as an â€œadaptogenâ€, it can boost energy levels and fight stress. It helps balance hormones, so itâ€™s great for those with PMS or menopausal symptoms (itâ€™s used as a natural alternative to HRT). Itâ€™s called â€œnatureâ€™s Viagraâ€ as it can boost libido and sexual performance, has B vitamins for endurance and energy (making it popular with athletes), plus B12 for good nerve function, re-mineralizing calcium and magnesium to help prevent osteoporosis.
It has a light, nutty flavour, which is great in soups, smoothies, muffins, bars or sprinkled over cereal.
3. Hemp seeds
The small, oily seed of the hemp plant is packed with protein and is one of the richest plant sources of polyunsaturated essential fatty acids. However, while most countries approve the use of hemp as a food, selling it as such is prohibited in Australia.The seed is easy to digest, abundant in disease-protective phytonutrients, dietary fibre, vitamin E, iron, calcium and zinc, and has a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats.
To consume, the sweet, nutty seeds are great sprinkled over salads and soups. The flour or meal (a by-product of pressing the seeds for oil) can be used in baking.
4. Camu Camu
The camu camu berry is from the Amazonian rainforests of Peru. The small purple-red berries are exceptionally rich in vitamin C (weight for weight, they have about 50 times more than an orange). Theyâ€™re a good source of antioxidants, boost immunity and support brain and nervous system health. They promote eye and gum health, and have bioflavanoids to strengthen blood vessel walls.
Traditionally, the berries are pressed into a juice and used as an immune tonic. The freeze-dried powder has a tart citrus taste that works well in water, smoothies and juices.
5. Â Maqui
This superberry is native to the Patagonia region of southern Chile, where itâ€™s been a staple food of the Mapuche Indians for centuries.
The berries are exceptionally rich in antioxidants, and are said to have one of the highest antioxidant values of any known fruit.
They were traditionally used by the Mapuche Indians to heal chronic diseases and improve endurance and fatigue. The berriesâ€™ rich, purple colour indicates high levels of the antioxidant anthocyanin, which helps the body reduce oxidative stress and cuts the risk of chronic illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. As well as being potent in antioxidants, for supporting healthy immune function, the berries are also packed with immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory vitamin C.
The powder has a delicious fruity flavour with a slight tartness thatâ€™s great in juice, smoothies, yoghurt, cereals and desserts. Itâ€™s also available as a supplement in capsule form.
Lucuma is a Peruvian fruit, known as the â€œgold of the Incasâ€. The fruit is so beloved there, itâ€™s the nationâ€™s most popular ice-cream flavour. This is an excellent source of carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins and minerals and one of the best natural sweeteners around because it has a low glycaemic index and wonâ€™t increase your blood sugar or insulin levels. This makes it ideal for diabetics and anyone wanting to decrease their sugar intake. Lucuma also has anti-ageing and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as being beneficial for wound healing and tissue regeneration, according to a study by the State University of New Jersey. The fruitâ€™s bright yellow flesh indicates itâ€™s rich in the antioxidant nutrient beta-carotene.
It has a creamy citrus flavour and is available as a powder which tastes similar to maple syrup. It makes a healthy alternative to sugar in desserts, cakes and cookies. You can also add it to porridges, yoghurt, smoothies or other beverages.
Mesquite has been used as a flour and sweetener for centuries by the Native Americans. The most commonly available form is powder, which is ground from the pod of the mesquite plant. It is particularly rich in protein and has an impressive mineral content with calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron and zinc. Itâ€™s beneficial for supporting healthy bone growth, lowering blood sugar levels and helping strengthen immune function. It also contains high levels of soluble dietary fibre, so it digests slowly and wonâ€™t cause sharp surges in blood sugar levels. Itâ€™s low in carbohydrates and has a GI of 25, which helps to keep blood sugar levels balanced.
Mesquite has a sweet, slightly nutty, caramel-like flavour, similar to molasses, which makes it an ideal natural sweetener for desserts, porridge, yoghurt, smoothies, tea or coffee.
For added flavour and nutrition in baked goods, try swapping a quarter to a half of the flour content of your recipe with mesquite powder, and also reduce the amount of other sweeteners.MYNEWSHUB/Text: Sara Khalid