Superfoods: The Food and Medicine of the Future

Incan Berries: Incan Trail Superfruit

Other Common Names for Incan Berries:

Aguaymanto berries

Golden berries

Peruvian gooseberries

Topotopo (Quechua)

Cuchuva (Aymara)

Motojobobo embolsado (Spanish)

Andean crops have always been associated with improved health and longevity. Maca, yacon, and quinoa are some wonderful examples of food crops with high concentrations of phytonutrients that became staples for Andean cultures. Now the Incan berry (Physalis peruviana) emerges from its home in Peru as another example of an extraordinary food crop from the Andes.

Incan berries are generally considered among health enthusiasts to be the goji berry of South America, but Incan berries actually exceed goji berries in one area of nutrition: on average they contain 16 percent protein, compared to goji berries’ 13 to 14 percent. This is an extraordinary level of protein for a fruit.

Incan berries grow wild in mineral-rich soils all over the Peruvian Andes. They are an ancient food, one of the “lost crops of the Incas,” and highly prized in Peru. Incan berry bushes are one of the first plants to pioneer disturbed areas (the outskirts of towns, the fringes of housing developments, roads, etc.). Their robustness and adaptability confer adaptogenic qualities to the fruit. This means that when we eat Incan berries they help us adapt to different forms of physical, mental, and emotional stress.

Fresh Incan berries are protected by papery husks resembling Chinese lanterns. This thin, paperlike covering over the fruit—similar to that of a fresh tomatillo—has to be peeled away by hand before consuming the fruit or drying it.

Harvest time of the Incan berry is concentrated from April to August. Most Incan berries in Peru are wild-grown native plants. However, some local farmers have developed orchards from the wild seeds.

With a pleasing, sweet flavor and a provocative tart tang, Incan berries add a delicious new dimension to our diet while working as an adaptogen to improve every aspect of our physical health. The flavor of Incan berries is midway between raw goji berries and wild-crafted barberries in sweetness, and their flavor has even been compared to dense, concentrated raspberries with a very distant hint of the Amazonian jungle peanut (probably due to their content of niacin). Incan berries may range in color from dark scarlet to sun-fire orange to yellow.

Typically, fresh berries from wild and cultivated berry farms are collected by hand and taken to a centralized processing farm cooperative. Here they are classified, cleaned, and prepared for later sun drying. Picking and drying these precious little berries is an intensely time-consuming job. In fact, one person takes a whole day to clean only about twenty-two pounds of fresh fruit! This is part of the reason why they are priced higher than other types of berries.

Once the fresh berries are ripe and cleaned, they are typically placed in sun dryers, and removed when the perfect level of moisture remains and there’s still some delicious juiciness inside the berry. It takes approximately six pounds of fresh fruits to make one pound of dry berries. These dried, soft “giant raisins” are usually irregular in size 0.6–0.8 inches (1.6–2.0 cm). Once dried and packaged, Incan berries typically have a shelf life of one year.

Unique Benefits of the Incan Berry

·        Incan berries can be used as ingredients in smoothies, fruit snacks, fruit bars, power bars, trail mixes, and much more. They add a delicious tangy flavor and chewy texture to all recipes.

·           Incan berries are an excellent source of beta-carotene, vitamin C, thiamine, niacin, phosphorous, and protein. Remember, they exceed goji berries as one of the most protein-rich fruits at nearly 16 percent by dry weight.

·           The small, chewable seeds inside the Incan berry have a mild laxative effect, making them an excellent food for intestinal health and regularity.

·           Incan berries are also considered to be a good source of Secretory IgA, a plant antibody that helps support the immune system.

·           Incan berries offer high levels of bioflavonoids, also known as vitamin P. Hundreds of studies on bioflavonoids have demonstrated they possess antisclerotic, antiviral, anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, antihistamine, and antioxidant properties. This class of nutrients has been studied for its abilities to improve capillary strength while simultaneously preventing the buildup of atherosclerotic plaque in the blood vessels. Consuming foods rich in bioflavonoids plays a crucial role in detoxification and nutrient absorption. Improving the health of our capillaries is essential for the cardiovascular system and for those organs that require relatively high levels of nutrients and oxygen: the eyes, brain, and reproductive organs.

·           Bioflavonoids also help enhance the benefit of vitamin C by improving its bioavailability and protecting this fragile nutrient from oxidation. It is clear that Incan berries and other foods rich in bioflavonoids contribute to a cascade of health benefits throughout the body.

·           Incan berries also contain high levels of pectin. Long known for its ability to regulate the flow of food through the digestive tract, pectin also works to lower excess cholesterol levels, especially LDL cholesterol, which along with bioflavonoids prevents the accumulation of oxidized cholesterol in the blood vessels. Pectin is safe for those challenged by diabetes as it works to prevent surges in levels of blood glucose.

Suggested Uses for Incan Berries

From a simple trail mix to more exotic raw-food desserts, the festive colors of Incan berries help wake up any dish. Their distinctive balance of sweet and tart flavors make nutrient-dense Incan berries a great snack by themselves and in all sorts of combinations. Relax and enjoy a handful of Incan berries on their own while watching a film, or add them to goji berries and cacao nibs with hempseed in a trail mix, or blend them directly into an elixir and strain out the seeds, or sprinkle them on a salad. Incan berries are a low-glycemic, entirely guilt-free, wild superfood that are capable of working overtime to improve your health.

Incan berries love camu camu berries! Blend the two Peruvian berries, one from the Andes and one from the Amazon, together in any shake or sauce for a massive abundance of vitamin C. Blend up Incan berries, camu camu berry powder, water, lemons, Celtic sea salt, and NoniLand™ honey or yacon syrup for a fruity treat that will be sure to bring a smile to your face and a huge boost in immunity.

Improving the strength and flexibility of the capillaries with foods rich in bioflavonoids is vital for the health of the eyes, brain, and reproductive system. Hempseed, chia seeds, and Ocean’s Alive Marine Phytoplankton all offer concentrated sources of omega-3 fatty acids that work synergistically with bioflavonoids, allowing these organs to process information quickly and efficiently. Combine any of these foods with Incan berries for a tangy salad dressing with far-reaching health benefits.

Like most dried berries, Incan berries do not require refrigeration.

Kelp: Mineral Help-Gland of the Sea

Kelp is a sea vegetable (seaweed), which, like cacao, is extraordinarily rich in minerals, including alkaline minerals such as calcium and magnesium. Sufficient mineralization from proper nutrition has been known to normalize and calm behavior. A lack of proper mineral nutrition has been implicated in practically every symptom of poor health and emotionally extreme behavior.

Kelp is an especially rich source of potassium, iron, iodine, vitamin B6, riboflavin, and dietary fiber. It also contains glutamic acid, which enhances flavor and tenderizes fibrous foods. Phytochemicals in kelp have been shown to absorb and eliminate radioactive elements and heavy metal contaminants from our bodies.

Kelp is the most abundant, iodine-rich, sea vegetable. The iodine in kelp helps restore thyroid function, allowing one to improve metabolism and lose weight swiftly. The iodine and other minerals in kelp increase the mineral content of all the organs, allowing them to function more effectively. The better our organs function, the more readily they are able to throw off toxins and rejuvenate. Kelp also helps displace toxic minerals with healthy minerals (e.g., radioactive iodine with healthy iodine). Kelp is ideal as a seasoning substitute for salt.

The essential sugar (polysaccharide) known as xylose is also found in kelp. Xylose is antibacterial, antifungal, and helps prevent cancer of the digestive system.

Kelp contains another essential sugar known as fucose, which is antiviral, supports long-term memory, fights allergies, and guards against lung diseases. Fucose also helps alleviate cystic fibrosis, diabetes, cancer, and herpes.

Kelp is an excellent source of an additional essential sugar known as galactose, which improves memory, the absorption of good calcium, and the speedy healing of injuries.

The Role of Iodine in Health

Iodine itself is a poisonous gas, as are the related halogens chlorine, fluorine, and bromine. However, as with chlorine, the salts or negatively charged ions of iodine (iodides) are soluble in water, and in that form are essential in trace amounts to many life-forms. Most plants do not need iodine, but humans require it for the production of thyroid hormones that regulate the metabolic energy of the body and set the basal metabolic rate (BMR).

Iodine is well absorbed from the stomach into the blood. About 30 percent goes to the thyroid gland, depending on the need. Iodine is eliminated rapidly. Most of the remaining 70 percent is utilized by the immune system. What remains is filtered by the kidneys into the urine. Our bodies do not conserve iodine as they do iron, and we must obtain it regularly from the diet.

Iodine and Tin

Along with the element tin, iodine shares right- and left-sided cell receptors and is considered essential to human health. Tin is associated with iodine in the same way calcium is associated with magnesium, with tin supporting the adrenals, and iodine supporting the thyroid. The schizandra berry (a Chinese superherb) is the best-known source of the trace mineral tin.

Thyroid Gland Disorders

The thyroid is a small gland in the neck measuring about one inch across that lies just under the skin below the Adam’s apple. The thyroid gland secretes thyroid hormones that control the speed of the body’s metabolic rate.

To produce thyroid hormones, the thyroid gland needs iodine, an element contained in an ideal form in kelp. The thyroid gland traps iodine and processes it into thyroid hormones. As thyroid hormones are used up, some of the iodine contained in the hormones returns to the thyroid gland, where some is lost and the rest is recycled to produce more thyroid hormones.

As the thyroid stimulates energy production of the cellular mitochondria, it influences all body functions. Nerve health, bone formation, reproduction, the mineral condition of the skin, hair, nails, and teeth, as well as our speech and mental state are all influenced by thyroid. Thyroid and thus iodine also affect the conversion of carotene to vitamin A and of RNA to protein.

Iodine is a good example of a trace mineral whose deficiency creates an illness that is easily corrected by reintroducing it into the diet. Goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland, develops when the thyroid does not have enough iodine to manufacture hormones. As it increases its cell size to try to trap more iodine, the whole gland increases in size, creating a swelling in the neck. Even when a minor deficiency in the correct type of iodine occurs, a hypothyroid condition results, likely leading to fatigue and sluggishness, weight gain, and coldness of the body.

Noni: Polynesian Superfruit

Noni is the common name for Morinda citrifolia, a tropical tree native to Polynesia, especially to Tahiti and Hawaii. Polynesian kahuna, or traditional healers, have used noni fruits, leaves, stems, and roots in foods and beverages for the last two thousand years.

Noni fruit has a very distinctive odor and taste. Many people, especially when trying it fresh in the tropics, are repelled by the smell at first, but after eating the fruit over time come to love the taste. The health benefits definitely make this superfood well worth it!

The plant produces an irregular, lumpy, egg-shaped fruit reaching four or more inches in length. The ripe fruit has a strong, pungent odor. The seeds float due to inner air chambers and can withstand prolonged exposure to salt water. Noni is believed to have spread to Asia, Australia, and the Americas initially by seeds floating on ocean currents, and later by Polynesian traders and settlers. Noni was a founder crop of the original peoples who populated the Hawaiian Islands.

Modern research has identified several important nutritional compounds in noni. Noni fruit is full of many powerful antioxidants and compounds that support health such as selenium (skin elasticity, skin health), xeronine (cell structure health and regeneration), glycosides (defense against free radicals), scopoletin (anti-inflammatory properties), terpine (helps the body detoxify), limonene, and anthraquinones (antiseptic properties, particularly effective for people with compromised immune systems). Studies have suggested an exciting finding: that noni increases the efficacy of the immune system by stimulating white blood cells via the power of long-chain sugars (polysaccharides). Polysaccharide compounds (such as 6-D-glucopyranose penta-acetate) found in the fruit are generally believed to increase the overall killing power of white blood cells.

Noni juice is a potent antimicrobial and antifungal enzymatic beverage created during the fermentation of the noni fruit. It is generally considered to have far more health properties than any other fermented fruit products, including wine and vinegar. If you live in or visit a tropical region like Hawaii, be sure to try the noni fruit fresh. You can blend up the entire ripe fruit in coconut water, strain it, and drink it on the spot! Consuming fresh noni creates a psychoactive “high” that never seems to have any “low.” It is all good news, nonstop, forever. By all indications noni appears to boost “feel-good” serotonin. Raw NoniLand™ noni powder and noni fruit leathers that contain the same psychoactive and health-enhancing properties as the fresh noni are now available.

Newly discovered compounds found in noni leaves have proven to be rich in flavonoids and other antioxidants that help protect cells and tissues from free-radical damage. Tea made from the leaves helps to improve digestion, maintain normal blood sugar levels, and eliminate toxins from the body. The tea also has antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antifungal properties. Preliminary evidence suggests that the leaves and seeds of noni contain omega-3 fatty acids.

The flavor of noni leaf tea is extremely pleasant. It tastes a bit like coca tea with hints of green tea. Noni leaf is relaxing and contains no caffeine or stimulants of any kind. No trace of the pungent odor or taste of the noni fruit or noni juice is present in the leaves of the noni tree. These leaves can be dried into noni leaf tea. Noni leaf tea is a great way to ingest the great health-giving compounds of the noni plant. Picking noni leaves from the noni tree does not damage the tree in any way; in fact, new leaves grow back swiftly and abundantly in their place.

Yacon Root: Prehistoric Prebiotic Sunflower

Yacon is a distant relative of the sunflower, with edible tubers and leaves. It is commonly grown and consumed from Colombia to northwest Argentina. Yacon is both naturally low-calorie and low in mono- and disaccharide sugars (sugars that rapidly elevate blood sugar levels). Every part of the plant has been used to help those with blood-sugar disorders.

Yacon syrup is fresh pressed from the yacon root, and has been enjoyed for centuries as a healthy, low-glycemic, natural sweetener in the Andean highlands of Peru. Yacon root can also be found in dried slices or in powdered form.

As a prebiotic, yacon is good for digestion, stimulates positive colon health, and helps with the absorption of calcium, magnesium, and B vitamins. Yacon helps to regulate friendly intestinal flora, and especially improves the growth of certain probiotics (bifidobacterium and lactobacillus species), thus helping to reduce constipation. Yacon root contains significant quantities of potassium and antioxidants. Because of its high antioxidant value, yacon is beneficial in reducing free-radical damage in the body, especially in the colon.

Fructooligosaccharides (FOS)

The root of yacon is considered the world’s richest natural source of fructooligosaccharides. Most other roots and tubers store carbohydrates as starch—a polymer chain of glucose, but yacon stores carbohydrate as FOS—a polymer chain composed mainly of fructose. FOS can be considered a subgroup of inulin because it has a similar molecular structure, but with shorter fructose chains.

Standardized yacon syrup contains approximately 30 percent FOS and low proportions of simple sugars (e.g., glucose, fructose, and sucrose). The human body has no enzyme to hydrolyze FOS, so even though it tastes sweet, it passes through the digestive tract mostly unmetabolized, providing few calories. Yacon also acts as a prebiotic. The undigested portion of yacon serves as food for “friendly” bacteria (bifidobacterium and lactobacillus species), in the small intestines and colon. Clinical studies have shown that administering FOS can increase the number of these friendly bacteria in the colon while simultaneously reducing the population of harmful bacteria. Other benefits noted with FOS supplementation include increased production of beneficial short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate, increased absorption of calcium and magnesium, and improved elimination of toxic compounds. Preclinical studies indicate an increase in bone density after consumption of FOS. In addition, the beneficial effects of FOS on the presence of bifidobacterium suggest an improved absorption of vitamins such as those in the B complex.

Yacon in Blood Sugar Tests

Tests from the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in Peru in 2004 tested how yacon syrup affects blood glucose levels. Participants (sixty nondiabetic men and women between the ages of twenty and sixty) fasted for at least eight hours before ingesting various sweeteners. Six groups were given different samples of yacon and other sweeteners. Three groups were given yacon root syrup, one group was given honey, another group was given maple syrup, and the last was given anhydrous glucose. The three groups ingesting yacon syrup had the least blood sugar variance, as measured before and after. These results showed that yacon had very little effect on glucose levels, while other sweeteners showed an immediate, significant rise and a slow decline back to normal.

Yacon helps manage cholesterol and triglyceride levels within the body, as well as fat metabolism in general. Yacon also contains glyconutrients (essential sugars or polysaccharides) and helps boost the immune system in a similar way to aloe vera. Yacon is ideal for detoxification and for low-calorie and low-sugar diets.

How to Use Yacon Products

Use yacon syrup as you would honey, agave, or maple syrup—on foods, in recipes, and to sweeten beverages with a spoonful. Yacon syrup has very little influence on the glucose tolerance curve.

Like other roots in the sunflower family (Jerusalem artichokes), yacon is extraordinarily rich in iron. In combination with other superfoods rich in iron, such as cacao and spirulina, one can devise an effective strategy for improving anemia and blood oxygenation.

Yacon slices can be eaten as a nonglycemic, mineral-rich snack. This is a great treat for children and a wonderful food for hikes and long-distance trips. It also keeps remarkably well.

Yacon root powder and yacon leaf powder can be added to homemade chocolates, beverages, elixirs, and desserts to support healthy blood sugar levels.

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