A Spotlight: On Peru, And Its Superfoods
By The Good Market
While conducting research in his native Peru, nutritionist Manuel Villacorta discovered something astounding: The people he encountered in the most rural corners of the country were extraordinarily healthy. “When I looked at the people living in the Andes and the Amazon areas, the diabetes rate was less than 1 percent,” he recalled in an earlier interview. “Obesity wasn’t an issue and metabolic syndromes didn’t even exist.”
Baffled by the phenomenon, Villacorta, founder of Whole Body Reboot, began to dig. What could possibly account for these astonishing numbers?
Upon closer inspection, he realized there was just critical thing that set those rural communities apart from their far less healthy city counterparts (in the capital Lima, for instance, the estimated rate of diabetes is about 8.5%): Their diet.
Specifically, their superfood-rich diet.
Superfoods, as Villacorta explained, are foods with higher than average concentrations of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. These foods tend to be heart-healthy, immune-boosting and inflammation-fighting, with anti-aging and gut-healing properties.
Peru — thanks to its range of microclimates and diverse topography — is home to thousands of foods found nowhere else on Earth, including a wide variety of these incredibly nutritious and delicious superfoods. Luckily for us, access to these powerful, phytonutrient-rich foods is now no longer limited to those living in South America. The Good Market has several Peruvian superfoods stocked, all of them imported from sustainable and organic Peruvian farms!
Here, we list some of our favorite superfoods and their benefits, as well as some tips as to how to incorporate them into your daily life. ¡Buen apetito!
Acai Berry: The most popular of the Peruvian superfoods, acai (pronounced “ah-sigh-ee”) is certainly enjoying quite the moment right now — and for good reason! With a rich berry, almost chocolate-y flavor and high nutritional profile, acai is both delicious and super good for the body. Low in sugar, but very high in antioxidants, healthy omega fatty acids, protein, iron, vitamin A and fiber, acai will keep you satiated for hours! The berry, which can be used in smoothies, desserts or as a topping, is said to have anti-inflammatory, as well as allergy- and obesity-fighting properties, among other benefits.
Maca: A native Peruvian plant that grows in the Andes, dating back to approximately 3,800 B.C., maca is rich in amino acids, phytonutrients and a variety of vitamins and minerals. It’s also said to function as an adaptogen, a compound that aids in adrenal function and helps to bring the body back to a state of equilibrium. As such, maca, which has a nutty, butterscotchy taste, is said to be helpful in increasing energy and concentration, and reducing stress.
In ancient times, Peruvian people are believed to have taken maca before fighting in wars. The plant has also been used over the centuries as a potent sexual stimulant, fertility booster, and hormone regulator.
Start taking half a teaspoon to a teaspoon of maca a few times a week to see positive effects. Gradually work your way up to 2 teaspoons or a tablespoon a day, but experts typically don’t recommend taking any more than that. Add it to your morning smoothie, pudding or juice, or sprinkle it over hot or cold cereal, for an extra boost! Nutritionists also recommend taking maca right before a workout.
Cacao: The purest form of chocolate you can eat, cacao has been called “the food of the Gods.” It’s thought to be one of the world’s most antioxidant-rich food (cacao has four times as many antioxidants as green tea!). It’s also rich in vitamins, including A, C and E; as well as zinc, magnesium, iron, and heart-healthy fats.
Studies have shown that the anti-inflammatory effects of cacao — which, incidentally, is caffeine-free — on the body may have the potential to fight cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Another plus: Cacao’s hella delicious!
To best reap the health benefits from cacao, we’d recommend adding cacao nibs to your diet. Nibs are essentially cacao beans that have been chopped up into smaller pieces. You can snack on the nibs as they are or add them to smoothies, cereals, or desserts. Cacao powder is another easy addition to a wide variety of drinks and dishes.
Purple Corn: Maiz Morado, or purple corn, is used to make a popular Peruvian health drink called chica morado. The corn is said to be extremely antioxidant-rich and anti-inflammatory. Studies have also shown the plant to have obesity-, cancer- and diabetes-fighting properties.
Camu-camu: This pleasantly tart fruit packs a mighty punch. One of the most potent sources of vitamin C on Earth, camu-camu has more than 60 times the amount of vitamin C per serving than an orange! Vitamin C is believed to boost immunity and energy; facilitate tissue growth and repair; and fight cancer and diabetes.
Yacon: Loved for its fruity sweetness, and what are believed to be its powerful medicinal qualities, this crisp root has been a staple food of Andean communities for centuries.
Today, yacon is most commonly used as a sweetener. Yacon syrup is one of the best dietary sources of fructooligosaccharides (FOS) — sugar molecules that, essentially, can’t be digested by humans. This means that though yacon tastes sweet, the sugar mostly passes through the body. Thus, yacon only contains about half the calories of an average sugar source. Talk about a sweet deal!
FOS also promotes the production of healthy probiotics within the body, which can help with improved digestion and colon health.
At least one study has also shown yacon’s efficacy as a weight loss aid. That study, published in 2009, measured the weight of two groups of overweight women over a 4-month period. Both groups consumed a low-fat diet; however, one group consumed yacon syrup, while the other ate normal sugar syrup. The women who took yacon lost an average of 15 kg over the study period.
Before you get too excited though, take heed: While we’d definitely recommend replacing some of your sugar sources with yacon (honey and agave are great alternatives too, but for their own reasons — to be discussed in future posts!), don’t think chugging the stuff will lead to a sudden loss in weight! Yacon does have small amounts of other sugar types, like glucose and fructose. Remember: moderation and balance is key in all things. Cure-alls simply don’t exist.
To incorporate yacon into your life, either use the syrup like you would molasses, honey, agave or corn syrup — or if you can find the actual root, cook it up like you would a sweet potato!
Maqui Berry: Here’s another power-packed super-fruit. Said to be one of the best dietary sources of antioxidants, maqui berry is also rich in vitamin C, calcium, iron and potassium. It’s also said to have great anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties. There’s even evidence that it could support weight control.
With its tart, fruity flavor, maqui is a delicious addition to desserts and smoothies, or as a topping to yogurt, cereal and puddings.