Superfoods for Health and Beauty

Publisher: Natural Medicine Magazine, April 2016

‘Superfoods’ quite literally mean foods that are super-rich in nutrients, not just vitamins and minerals, but also plant-nutrients known as ‘phytonutrients’. These phytonutrients have multiple health benefits, ranging from balancing hormones, supporting digestive function, assisting the body to cope with stress, fighting against cancer and promoting immune defences, just to name a few.

Superfoods are widely available in South Africa, especially in health shops, fresh produce stores and health deli’s, but the question is often: how do we include these superfoods into our daily diet to make sure we are obtaining their health benefits? Below we will briefly look at a few popular superfoods, their primary health benefits and how to incorporate it into your meals, snacks and desserts.

Maca:
Maca is a vegetable root from Peru and its health benefits are far-reaching, alongside a very impressive nutrient profile. Maca contains phytonutrients that assist the body to cope with stress by supporting the innate resilience of the body. In the modern day we find ourselves in, no one is exempted from stress and the pressures of life, which makes Maca a useful addition to any healthy diet to ensure the body has the capacity to aptly deal with mental, emotional, physical and environmental stressors.

Maca has also been shown to regulate hormonal imbalances, which includes not only sex hormones (oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone), but also stress hormones, thyroid hormones and other hormones related to optimal health. The hormone-balancing effect of Maca makes this superfood useful in menstrual irregularities, menopause-related symptoms, infertility, weight loss and low libido.

Maca’s nutrient profile boasts a rich content of B-vitamins, calcium, zinc and iron. These micronutrients will further promote general health and support the balancing effect that Maca has on the body.

How to use Maca: The easiest way is to add Maca to smoothies or mix it with a healthy breakfast bowl (chia / quinoa porridge).

Chia seeds:
‘And though she be but little, she is fierce!’ This can definitely be said about chia seeds, as these tiny seeds are a powerhouse of essential nutrients and have been labelled as the ‘Superfood of the Aztecs’: legend has it that the Aztecs used to consume chia seeds before heading off to war to provide them with the required strength, stamina and sustained energy.

The high fibre content makes it useful to promote regular bowel movement, rid the body of excess cholesterol and suppress appetite between meals. Vegans often rely on chia seeds and ground flax seeds for their daily intake of essential fatty acids, as both seeds provide significant amounts of omega 3 and 6.

How to use chia seeds: Chia seeds don’t have a dominating flavour, which makes it easy to include in vegetable dishes, soups, stews, snacks, desserts and smoothies, without changing the flavour and aroma of the meal. Just sprinkle a tablespoon of chia seeds into meals or smoothies to significantly raise the nutrient profile and fibre content thereof. You can also soak them overnight in coconut milk or almond milk, upon which they will swell up to 8 times their original size and can be eaten as a porridge (add some blueberries, raw honey and cinnamon for a delicious flavour and added nutritional benefits).

Coconut oil:
Coconut oil has received a bad rep for many years due to its high saturated fat content, until recent studies have shown that the saturated fats in coconut oil are actually health-promoting. Coconut oil provides medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which has a different structure and function than the long-chain triglycerides found in meat and full cream dairy products. MCTs don’t put a burden on the liver or digestive processes and is easily absorbed into the system to provide an immediate source of energy for cells, including brain cells.

Coconut oil is a popular addition to any weight loss program because the MCTs are known to promote thyroid function, which is the primary gland responsible for regulating metabolism and fat burning processes. 1-2 tablespoons per day can have a significant effect on promoting a healthy weight and increasing physical and mental energy.

Coconut oil has potent antimicrobial properties and is often used as an immune supporting agent, especially when you’re down and out with a cold or flu. It provides high quantities of caprylic acid, a fatty acid that has been indicated as a useful remedy against candida.

How to use coconut oil: Due to its stability at high temperatures, coconut oil can be used for cooking, frying and baking purposes (as an alternative to other cooking oils). Alternatively, you can add it to smoothies, chia porridge or as a spread. Coconut oil can also be applied directly to the skin or hair as a moisturising agent, with many women all over the world singing the praises of this beauty-enhancing oil.

Reference:article written for Holistica