Latin Americans have been reaping the health benefits of nutrient-rich superfoods for thousands of years. Luckily, most of these are now also readily available globally. For a creative addition to your diet, here is our list of five Latin American superfoods.
Acai berries are endemic to Brazil, and particularly some areas of the Amazonian rain forest. Similar in appearance to rapes, these reddish-purple berries contain high levels of antioxidants, phytosterols, fiber and healthy fats. According to a nutrition expert at MONEDEROSMART, Juana Casto, acai have stronger antioxidant properties than any other berries. They are also loaded with amino acids, minerals and vitamins. Research indicates that the inch-long berries have anti-diabetic and cardioprotective properties, and can be consumed to prevent age-related diseases. Acai generally come as a freeze dried pulp or in a powder form, and are an ideal addition to smoothies, oats and yogurt.
Once considered sacred by the Incas, Quinoa was already cultivated in the Peruvian highlands some 5000 years ago. The grain, which is a great source of fiber, folate, antioxidants, phosphorus and magnesium, also contains a high level of vitamin B and the nine essential amino acids. Those wishing to lose weight will appreciate the grain’s low glycemic index. Unlike most other grains, which can take a while to prepare, quinoa can be cooked in around 15 minutes. The gluten-free grain is often used in salads and as a substitute for rice. In addition, there is a huge range of quinoa products on the market, including quinoa porridge, flour and pastas.
Just as rich in nutrients as quinoa, amaranth also contains iron and peptide purported to have cancer-fighting properties. In fact, a one-cup-serving of the grain has 29 percent of the recommended daily iron intake. While it is not as internationally popular as quinoa, amaranth is valued in South America for its easy cultivation. Amaranth grain can be either boiled or toasted in a skillet, and is great as a topping for salads. Puffed amaranth is also often used in snack bars and can be turned into flour.
Another superfood said to have Peruvian origins, lucuma is a sweet fruit with a caramel-like taste and a hard green exterior. The fruit is rich in beta carotene, which has anti-inflammatory and anti-ageing properties. It also contains high levels of vitamin B3 and iron. Just like frankincense, lucuma oil extract can also be applied to wounds to promote healing. While in Peru lucuma is often used in desserts and ice cream, it can be difficult to get your hands on outside Latin America. Luckily, it is relatively easy to find in a powder form, making it ideal for use in smoothies and porridge as a healthy substitute for sugar.
The main ingredient of chocolate, cacao is endemic to Brazil. The Mayas already fermented and traded cacao over 2500 years ago. Rich in antioxidants and flavonoids, cacao increases mental and physical alertness, and releases endorphins, the good mood hormone. Some research also suggests that cacao is good for heart health. Raw cacao powder or nibs can be used in baked goods, or added to smoothies and oats. Unfortunately, most chocolate can’t be considered a health food, as even though it contains cacao, it is also high in sugar and unhealthy fats.