5 raw superfoods to know about

Certain vibrant, nutritionally dense foods have become known as “superfoods”, and have become a big part of today’s health food lexicon.  While there is no scientific guideline as to what makes a “superfood”, these foods are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other nutrients that are important for cell development and renewal, heart health, muscle repair, amongst other things. Well known superfoods include avocados, blueberries, and almonds, but what else is out there?  Consider adding some (or all) of these super nutritious, lesser-known foods to your diet for maximum health benefits!

cacao

CACAO

The dried seeds of the cacao tree are known as cacao beans, which can eventually be made into chocolate. While dark chocolate has been reported to have some health benefits, antioxidants are better preserved in raw cacao (“raw” meaning that they have been gently dried at a low temperature of 115 degrees Fahrenheit).  Cacao is higher in antioxidants than black tea, green tea, and red wine, and these antioxidant compounds (called flavonoids) can help decrease LDL (bad fat) oxidation, which in turn may prevent formation of plaque in your arteries.  

Get a dose of cacao through snacking on cacao nibs or adding a scoop of raw cacao powder to a smoothie that normally calls for chocolate. Cacao has a much more intense flavor than processed cocoa, so a little goes a long way!

maca

MACA

This root is part of the radish family and is native to Peru.  Maca is best known for its high micronutrient power.  It is rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorous (all known to prevent osteoporosis), potassium, sulfur, sodium, and iron. It is also rich in antioxidants and vitamins B1, B2, B12 (for good nerve function, energy and endurance), C and E. The high B vitamin content makes this super food popular with athletes or for those who look to a natural boost pre-workout.  In addition to obvious nutritional benefits of vitamins and minerals, maca has also been used to improve sexual health, including boosting sperm count and motility in men.  

In the US, maca is most often sold in powder form.  Add maca to your diet by adding a scoop of maca powder to a smoothie, sprinkled on hot or cold cereal, or blended into your favorite juice.

goji

GOJI BERRIES

Also known as wolfberries, the Goji berry has long been used as a medicinal plant in China and the Himalayas.  These sweet, tart berries contain vitamin A, iron, and antioxidants (zeaxanthin) which protects cells against breaking down.  They are also high in fiber, so a small handful of these berries can help provide a feeling of fullness and stave off hunger.  Additionally, Goji berries are said to help lower blood pressure, manage blood sugar, and possibly alleviate inflammation from arthritis.  

Get goji berries into your diet by simply snacking on them throughout the day, or sprinkled on your oatmeal, yogurt, or even salads.  They will add a little zing along with all those nutrients!

wheatgrass

WHEATGRASS

Wheatgrass is packed with energy, high levels of nutrients, and live enzymes that help digestion of the grass when consumed, allowing nutrients to enter the bloodstream quickly.  It also contains all nine essential amino acids and is loaded with chlorophyll, vitamins, and minerals. Chlorophyll in particular has been identified as a possible cancer-fighter: when chlorophyll enters the bloodstream, it boosts hemoglobin and enriches the body’s cells with oxygen – cleaning them out of potentially harmful substances like BPA and a variety of carcinogens that can enter the body through food, polluted air, or impure drinking water.  Try a wheatgrass shot the next time you’re at a juice/smoothie bar!

pumpkinseed

RAW PUMPKIN SEEDS

Sometimes known as pepitas, these delicious seeds contain calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, Vitamin E, B-complex, and an abundance of zinc. Zinc is a mineral essential for prostate health, wound healing, and skin health.  Though these green seeds are high in fat (14g per ounce) and relatively low in fiber (2g), they also provide nearly 10g of protein and a healthy dose of additional minerals, including half or more of the recommended daily doses of copper, manganese and phosphorous. Pumpkin seed oil has also been shown to relieve symptoms caused by an overactive bladder.  

To get some of this goodness into your diet, you can eat raw pumpkin seeds as is (by the handful, sprinkled on a salad or added to your granola), use them to make pesto (substitute them for pine nuts), or find pumpkin seed butter to use in place of peanut butter.  

While there is no such thing as a “perfect” food, you can certainly boost your diet by including nutrition-rich foods such as these to your daily routine.  Many of these foods are meant to be consumed in small amounts, so you don’t need much to really get a dose of valuable vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants!

Sources

Andújar, I.,  Recio, M.C., R. M. Giner, and J. L. Ríos, “Cocoa Polyphenols and Their Potential Benefits for Human Health,” Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, vol. 2012, Article ID 906252, 23 pages, 2012. doi:10.1155/2012/906252

Devalaraja, S., Jain, S., & Yadav, H. (2011). Exotic Fruits as Therapeutic Complements for Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome. Food Research International (Ottawa, Ont.), 44(7), 1856–1865. doi:10.1016/j.foodres.2011.04.008

Gonzales, G. F. (2012). Ethnobiology and Ethnopharmacology of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a Plant from the Peruvian Highlands. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM, 2012, 193496. doi:10.1155/2012/193496

Jubert, C., Mata, Bench, Dashwood, Pereira, Tracewell, Turteltaub, Williams, and Bailey (2009) Effects of Chlorophyll and Chlorophyllin on Low-Dose Aflatoxin B1 Pharmacokinetics in Human Volunteers

Cancer Prev Res December 2009 2:1015-1022; Published OnlineFirst December 1, 2009; doi:10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-09-0099

Nishimura, M., Ohkawara, T., Sato, H., Takeda, H., & Nishihira, J. (2014). Pumpkin Seed Oil Extracted From Cucurbita maxima Improves Urinary Disorder in Human Overactive Bladder. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, 4(1), 72–74. doi:10.4103/2225-4110.124355

Written by Bernadette Machard de Gramont, originally published on August 3, 2015 on Healthline.com.

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fiendishly fond of cooking, SoulCycle, Pilates, green smoothies, and Korean spas.

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