Aging is a natural process, but of course we intervene in it all the time, for better or worse. Medicine is now capable of keeping us alive longer than ever before, but we undo many of those benefits by eating badly. Just as poor nutrition can contribute to disease and premature aging, good food plays a key role in fighting the aging process.
No food can smooth out your wrinkles and lift your face. But a healthy diet in general, and certain "power foods" in particular, can fight inflammation, strengthen your immune system, improve your circulation and major organ function, and extend your memory. For 2014 I'd like to introduce you to seven "superfoods" from my native Peru. By superfoods I mean hard-working functional foods that far exceed basic nutritional content. They are anti-oxidant rich, nutrition-packed, organ- and immune-system supporting, and for all these reasons, anti-aging. Moreover, I think you'll feel their effects fast.
For nearly a decade I've been noticing a pattern at my nutrition practice. I'd see a client who wanted to change their relationship to food, give them a healthy diet to follow, and schedule a follow-up appointment in a week or so. I began to notice that at the follow-up, they'd tell me how energized they felt -- that that they were no longer tired all the time, they were able to stay awake at their desk, they just felt good. I'm not the only person who's seen these results - in her book Younger Next Week: Your Ultimate Rx to Reverse the Clock, Boost Energy and Look and Feel Younger in 7 Days, Elisa Zied, registered dietitian, talks about the ways that the wrong food can sap your strength and make you feel tired. And as she points out, "We all sink into less than healthful coping habits some of the time." Maybe the end of the year was such a time for you, as for so many of us. But as Elisa also points out, and I myself have observed, you can turn this around in as little as one week of healthy eating. That energy you'll feel is your body finding the support it needs.
The basics of a healthy diet are familiar at this point -- stay away from foods that are processed or high in fat and/or sugar, eat plenty of fruits and veggies, and eat foods from across the color spectrum. But if you're looking for some new power foods to pack into your diet in 2014, I have seven recommendations. These are seven superfoods from my own Peruvian culture, and all are now available in the U.S.
1. Maca: A starch usually sold in a powder or gelatinized version, Maca is Peru's hidden secret. It is high in calcium, iron, vitamin-C, and essential amino acids (1, 2, 3), which would make it a superfood on its own -- but as the Incas knew, maca has extraordinary rejuvenative powers. While in Peru to research superfoods for my latest book project, Peruvian Power Foods, I spoke with many locals from the Andes. The story that struck me most was the tale of maca. According to the tale, the Incas gave it to their soldiers to fortify them before battles to increase their energy but were careful to stop once the battle was over, as Maca increased both libido and erectile function (4). While this potency was a risk for keeping order among the ranks of the conquering Incas, it can be a benefit for the modern man as he ages or for anyone who wants to improve their energy (2).
2. Pichuberry: Also known as the scientific name Physalis Peruviana. I would like to declare this the superfruit of 2014. According to the nutrition food label for pichuberries, this fruit is so rich in Vitamin-D that 3/4 cup will give you 39 percent of your daily value. While the sunlight is a known source of vitamin D, adding pichuberries to one's diet can help meet the requirement without causing skin damage -- (and that will age you, to be sure). Not only that, but pichuberry contains rare phytochemicals called withanolides (5, 6) that have been demonstrated to slow the growth of tumors. It is anti-inflammatory (7), vitamin-rich (8).
3. Kiwicha: Also known to the United States as Amaranth, this antioxidant- and protein-packed seed is what I like to refer to as quinoa's little sister. Many studies have shown that kiwicha lowers LDL, or "bad cholesterol," protecting your cardiovascular system and helping you manage your blood pressure, both key aspects of aging (9, 10). Toast it quickly in a pan and it "pops," puffing up to a perfect consistency for breakfast cereals or energy bars (see video blow on how to pop kiwicha).
4. Camu camu: This tropical berry is the single most potent source of vitamin C on the planet. Ounce for ounce, it has 50 times the vitamin C of an orange (11, 12). Vitamin C will, of course, provide immune system support, but it also supports the collagen in your skin, fighting those wrinkles (not to mention glaucoma).
5. Purple potatoes: These spuds are not just a colorful novelty. Once reserved for Peru's kings to eat, their bright color comes from anthocyanin, a phytochemical that acts as an anti-oxidant absorbed directly into your bloodstream after eating (13). There it helps lower your blood pressure and slow down signs of aging (14, 15, 16).
6. Sacha inchi: Often called the Inca peanut, this is actually a seed that can be eaten whole or pressed into oil. Either way it is at once low in saturated fats and rich in omega-3 fatty acids -- in fact it has the most omega-3s of any seed on the planet (17, 18). This makes Sacha inchi memory food, supporting cognitive function as you age (19).
7. Sweet potatoes: Most Americans see sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving, and then forget about them for the rest of the year. But the orange color of the potatoes comes from beta-carotene, which supports eye health and protects against oxidative damage more broadly -- it's even associated with preventing the damage associated with cancers and cardiovascular disease (20). It lowers the risk of heart attacks in men (20). And there's no reason to gum up these potatoes with marshmallows, sugar, or butter. They're delicious in stews, or simply roasted.
Aging is the single most natural thing we do. But there's no need to do it any faster than you have to. No one of these superfoods -- nor yet any single food -- is a silver bullet to good health. But all of them pack a punch far above their weight in terms of overall health benefits, and can help support your body's systems for years to come.
Now that you know the health benefits of these foods, let's get cooking. Here I've developed seven recipes as a way to jump start. Notice that I've placed pictures not only the recipes but of each food in their natural state, for your reference.
I use this powerful shake as my pre-exercise fuel every day to increase my strength and improve my performance. Ingredients 1 banana 1 cup milk of choice 1 tablespoon maca 1 tablespoon cacao powder 1 scoop of protein powder (about 16g) Directions Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth Photography and recipe by Manuel Villacorta, author of Peruvian Power Foods
Sweet tooth anyone? Try this delicious, anti-oxidant packed dessert. Makes 12 Ingredients: ½ bar (50g) dark chocolate, 73% or more 12 pichuberries Directions: 1. Finely chop chocolate and place in a metal bowl. 2. Fill a small saucepot with 3-4 inches of water and bring to a boil. Place bowl of chocolate on top of saucepot so it sits without touching the water. Lower heat to a simmer and stir chocolate until melted. Once melted, remove bowl from heat and stir until smooth and shiny. 3. Dip pichuberries into the melted dark chocolate, covering the pichuberry completely. Place pichuberries on a sheet of parchment or wax paper. 4. Allow the chocolate covered pichuberries to harden for about 30 minutes in refrigerator and enjoy. Photography and recipe by Manuel Villacorta, author of Peruvian Power Foods
Sounds simple, and it is. Just use your popped kiwicha in place of your favorite cereal, and add berries or bananas to sweeten. Serves 1 Ingredients 1 cup popped kiwicha (3 tablespoons raw) 1 cup milk of choice 1 cup berries of choice, or 1 banana, sliced Directions Add the milk and berries or bananas to the kiwicha and enjoy Recipe from Peruvian Power Foods: 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes, and Anti-aging Secrets from the Amazon to the Andes. Photography by Manuel Villacorta
This shake is a true vitamin powerhouse.The combination of camu camu and pichuberries, not to mention all those other fruit favorites, makes this a potent immunity booster and antioxidant injection. Serves 2 Ingredients 1 cup pichuberries 1 cup blueberries 1 cup strawberries 2 teaspoons camu camu powder 16 ounces orange juice Directions Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth. Recipe from Peruvian Power Foods: 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes, and Anti-aging Secrets from the Amazon to the Andes. Photography by Manuel Villacorta
This hearty soup is a power-food powerhouse. Loaded with nutrients from cilantro, purple potatoes, and quinoa, this soup is both colorful and flavorful. Serves 4-6 Ingredients 1 bunch cilantro leaves 3 celery sticks, chopped 32 ounces chicken broth 3 medium purple potatoes, diced 1 tablespoon olive oil 2 carrots, sliced 1 medium onion, chopped 1 cup dry/raw quinoa 5 cloves garlic, chopped ½ red bell pepper, chopped 1 pound chicken breast, cut into pieces ½ cup frozen peas (or fresh if possible) ½ cup frozen corn (or fresh if possible) Directions: 1. In a blender, liquefy the cilantro with the broth. Put all 32 ounces of the broth into the blender with cilantro. Set aside. 2. Saute the onion and the garlic until soft and translucent. Add the chicken breast pieces and mix well. 3. In a large stock pot, combine the sautéed mixture with the celery, liquefied cilantro broth, purple potatoes, and carrots. Bring to a boil. 4. Add the 1 cup quinoa and the bell pepper. 5. Once the quinoa is cooked, about 10 to 15 minutes, add the peas and the corn. Heat until thoroughly warmed. Recipe from Peruvian Power Foods: 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes, and Anti-aging Secrets from the Amazon to the Andes. Photography by Manuel Villacorta
Boost brain power with this silky smoothie full of omega-3 and 9. Talk about heart and brain health! Ingredients 1 small avocado 2 tsp. sacha inchi oil 1 cup pineapple, chopped, fresh or frozen ½ cup cucumber, chopped 3 leaves mint, fresh ½ cup water Directions: Place all ingredients in a the base of a blender. Puree until smooth and homogenized. Photography and recipe by Manuel Villacorta, author of Peruvian Power Foods
One of the most popular foods across South America is the empanada. We love the combination of piquant olives and sweet currants with beef and egg. In our version, we replaced the flaky dough casing with a sweet potato bowl. It’s a healthier take on the classic, and it adds another dimension of flavor and texture that beautifully complements the filling. Ingredients 6 sweet potatoes, baked 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 onion, chopped 3 cloves garlic, minced 1 pound lean ground beef 2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped 1 cup black olives, sliced ½ cup currants or raisins Directions 1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Wrap the sweet potatoes in foil and prick the wrapped potatoes with a fork. Bake for 45 minutes, remove from the oven, and carefully unwrap. Set them aside while you prepare the empanada stuffing. 2. Saute the onions and garlic until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the ground beef to the pan and brown it. Add the olives, eggs, and currants or raisins to the pan, mix well, and thoroughly cook, approximately 20 minutes. 3. Cut the sweet potatoes in half, mash up the flesh, and scoop a bit of flesh out to create a “bowl” in the middle. Add the empanada stuffing to each sweet potato half. Serve immediately. Recipe from Peruvian Power Foods: 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes, and Anti-aging Secrets from the Amazon to the Andes. Photography by Manuel Villacorta
How to Pop Kiwicha or Amaranth:
Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian in private practice, MV Nutrition, award winning nutrition and weight loss center in San Francisco. He is the founder and creator of Eating Free, an international weight management and wellness program, co-founder of Eat Mentor and author of Eating Free: The Carb Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Embrace Your Hunger, and Keep Weight Off for Good and his latest book Peruvian Power Foods: 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes, and Anti-Aging Secrets from the Amazon to the Andes.
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