Last week I discussed my top ten supermarket superfoods; this week I will be counting down my top ten exotic superfoods. But before I get started, one thing that came up quite a bit in last week’s article was the role that antioxidants play in the foods I was discussing. I feel the need to briefly discuss what exactly antioxidant are and their role in our health care.
What Are Antioxidants
Antioxidants are substances that prevent or reduce the damage caused by oxidation and neutralize free radicals in the body. Free radicals are the cause of degenerative conditions like arthritis, damage to nerve cells in the brain, deterioration of eyesight, accelerated aging, and certain cancers
Antioxidants include the minerals copper, zinc, and selenium, as well as the vitamins A, C, and E. Other compounds found in food, such as zoochemicals from animal products and phytochemicals in plants, are thought to have a greater antioxidant effect than either vitamins or minerals. These are known as non-nutrient antioxidants and include lycopene, which is found in tomatoes, and anthocyanins, which are found in cranberries.
Common sources of antioxidants include:
- Anthocyanins- eggplant, grapes and berries
- Beta-carotene – pumpkin, mangoes, apricots, carrots, spinach and parsley
- Catechins – red wine and tea
- Copper – seafood, lean meat, milk and nuts
- Cryptoxanthins – red capsicum, pumpkin, and mangoes
- Flavonoids – tea, green tea, citrus fruits, red wine, onion, and apples
- Lutein – leafy greens like spinach, and corn
- Lycopene – tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon
- Polyphenols – thyme and oregano
- Vitamin C – oranges, black currants, kiwi fruit, mangoes, spinach, broccoli, capsicum, and strawberries
- Vitamin E – vegetable oils (such as wheatgerm oil), avocados, nuts, seeds, and whole grains
Now that you have a better understanding about antioxidants we can now move on to my top ten exotic superfoods:
1. Goji Berries
Goji berries, also know as wolfberries, are native to China and are a bright orange-red berry packed full of antioxidants, particularly carotenoids such as beta-carotene and zeaxanthin. Goji berries have been linked to clearing the skin, protecting the immune system, anti-aging, reducing body aches, and lowering blood cholesterol and triglycerides. They contain all eight essential amino acids, up to 21 trace minerals, iron, polysaccharides, B vitamins, vitamin E, and many other nutrients.
2. Raw Cacao
Raw Cacao comes from the Theobroma cacao tree. Theobroma translates to “food of the gods.” Cacao originated in Mesoamerica and contains over 300 compounds. These include protein, fat, fiber, zinc, iron, calcium, copper magnesium, and sulphur. Raw cacao contains the most concentrated source of antioxidants found in any food. These antioxidants include oligomeric procynanidins, resveratrol, and the polyphenols catechin and epicatechin. It also contains vitamin C, tryptophan, omega-6 fatty acids, and phenylethylamin, which is a feel good neurotransmitter. So for all you chocolate lovers, raw cacao is a no-brainer to satisfy your chocolate obsession.
Maca is a root plant consumed as a food and for medicinal purposes that has been grown in the Andes for centuries. Maca has been used as a folk remedy to increase everything from stamina and energy to sexual function. Maca exceeds both carrots and potatoes as a source of iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and iodine. Maca is popular with women for its ability to naturally balance hormones, regulate menstrual cycles, reduce cramping or PMS symptoms, and increase bone strength. As maca does contain glucosinolates, which are responsible for causing goiters, consumption needs to be monitored if you have an iodine deficiency.
The coconut is a very versatile food – it can used as coconut water, milk, oil, butter, or flesh. Coconuts are high in fiber and in saturated fat. In fact, the oil in a coconut is about 89 percent saturated medium chain fatty acids. The oil from the coconut contains antiviral, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties along with an ability to build the hormones testosterone and progesterone. The water in young coconuts is one of the highest natural sources of electrolytes of any food. Some of the nutrients it contains are magnesium, potassium, sodium, manganese, and calcium.
5. Wheat Grass
Wheat grass is the sprouted “grass” of a wheat seed. Wheat grass is a great alkalizer. It promotes healthy blood by helping detoxify the body. It also helps normalize the thyroid gland and has antibacterial properties. The major ingredient in wheat grass is chlorophyll, which has the ability to draw toxins out of the body. A major benefit of taking wheatgrass juice is that it is easily digested with little energy expended to process it. Wheatgrass is also very high in vitamins A, B, C, E, and K.
Spirulina is a micro-alga that has been cultivated and consumed by the indigenous people of Mexico and Africa for thousands of years. Spirulina is highly digestible, protects the immune system, can help reduce cholesterol, can aid with weight loss, and can even help control blood sugar levels. It contains around seventy percent complete protein, which means it has all of the essential amino acids and ten non-essentials. Spirulina is also loaded with zeaxanthin and lutein. These antioxidants are extremely important for good vision and overall eye health.
Acai is a berry found in the Amazon rainforests. It has been used as a healing, energy-boosting, and immune-stimulating fruit for centuries. The acai berry has powerful antioxidant properties due to its high levels of anthocyanins. Acai berries have been used for such things as improving heart health, aiding in weight loss, promoting skin health, helping with digestion, and boosting energy. Acai berries contain the minerals potassium, manganese, copper, iron, and magnesium.
Turmeric is a wonder spice. It has been used for centuries as a spice in cooking and in medicine to treat many ailments. Turmeric’s active ingredient, curcumin, is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Turmeric is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent, useful in disinfecting cuts and burns. It is a natural liver detoxifier, painkiller and cox-2 inhibitor. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, it is a natural treatment for arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The active ingredient curcumin is also showing great promise in helping fight cancer.
9. Camu Camu
Camu Camu, is a berry that grows in the Andean swamps. It is loaded with vitamin C. In fact, it has more vitamin C than an orange. It is a rich source of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant flavonoids and also contains beta-carotene, niacin, phosphorus, riboflavin, thiamine, calcium, and iron. It also contains the brain boosting amino acid serine and the branch chain amino acid bodybuilders will know, leucine. Some people use camu camu to increase energy, balance mood, and support brain function. It is known to help maintain healthy gums, eyes, and skin and as an immune system stimulant. Use it as a supplement or a great addition to a healthy smoothie.
Lucuma powder is made from the fruit of the Pouteria lucuma tree, which is native to Peru, Chile, and Ecuador. Lucuma powder is made by drying the fruits at a low temperature and then gently grinding them up into an easy-to-use powder. Even though it has a sweet flavor, its quite low on the glycemic index, making it a great natural sweetener. Lucuma is an excellent source of carbohydrates, fiber, and vitamins, especially B3. It is abundant in beta-carotene, niacin, and iron and has significant amounts of calcium and phosphorus. Lucuma may have anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, and skin-repair effects on human skin.
So there you have it, my top ten exotic superfoods. Combined with my top ten supermarket superfoods you can be assured you will be on the right track to supporting your recovery after training and maintaining your general well being. Including these into your diet is a great way to spice up your daily routine and try something a little exotic.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.