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Spice Up Nutrition Month With the Peruvian Superfoods Diet

02/27/2015 04:00 pm ET | Updated Apr 29, 2015

March is National Nutrition Month, making for the perfect moment to check in with your eating. Believe it or not, there are still new discoveries in the world of nutrition -- it's an exciting time to explore healthy and delicious foods you might not already know. That's why I'm using this opportunity to introduce the Peruvian Superfoods diet. Peruvian superfoods, direct from the Andes and the Amazon, promise multiple health benefits with a Latin American flair. Fortunately, these once-obscure products are now available in mainstream American supermarkets.

The Peruvian diet has an extraordinary number of superfoods, enough to rival the widely touted Mediterranean diet. There's no scientific definition for superfoods, but I use the term to describe hardworking, functional foods that far surpass basic nutritional content. In the case of Peruvian superfoods, these are products rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients, anti-inflammatory fats, and other naturally occurring chemicals that have been associated with prevention of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes; blood sugar regulation; and reduced inflammation. There may already be some Peruvian superfoods in your diet -- avocados and sweet potatoes are popular examples. Those are just the beginning, because the Peruvian diet contains an incredible number of superfoods, in varieties many North Americans may have never tasted.

Discovering the Peruvian diet has also been a personal journey for me. After spending decades in the US as a dietitian working with clients in my successful practice in San Francisco, I returned to my birthplace and culinary roots in Peru to travel from the fertile Andes, where over 3,000 kinds of potatoes and 200 species of corn are grown, to the Amazonian jungle, source of thousands of extraordinary fruits, nuts and seeds. I visited open markets, restaurants, humble food stands and family kitchens, gathered stories and favorite recipes, and savored dishes packed with phenomenal disease-fighting, immunity-strengthening ingredients.

I introduced these foods to my clients, who experienced weight loss, improved moods, increased energy, and glowing skin. That inspired me to write my new book, Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet, which constructs a diet plan for health and weight management using a series of recipes created around Peruvian superfoods. The program begins with a five-day optional smoothie reboot, featuring different-colored fruits and vegetables each day so your body receives the widest array of nutrients while revitalizing your cells. I then created recipes for delicious Peruvian-inspired meal plans that you can mix and match to your tastes and needs, whether you are male or female, an omnivore, vegetarian or vegan, or you follow a gluten-free lifestyle.

Growing up in Lima everything I ate was made from scratch; whole, fresh ingredients and real, wholesome foods are the true origins of the Peruvian diet. While Peruvian supermarkets, especially those in cities, are nowadays full of the usual suspects of packaged and processed foods, history still remains strong among rural Peruvians. Especially in the Andes and the Amazon -- where, not coincidentally, there is a lower incidence of metabolic syndrome (1), hypertension, diabetes (2, 3), and obesity (4) -- superfoods are still widely consumed.

So, what is in the Peruvian Superfoods diet? As I said, it is based on fresh, whole foods, loaded with nutrients. But I can't sum it up by mentioning just one or two products, because the real strength of the Peruvian Superfoods diet is its variety. Peru has an incredibly variable landscape, ranging from deep jungle to great mountain peaks and fertile farmland.

Starting in the Amazon, you will find memory-boosting foods that improve brain health, such as sacha inchi seeds, which are high in complete protein and omega-3s (5). Lucuma is a fruit rich in antioxidants and a good source of beta-carotene and calcium (6). Looking for an antiaging fix? Camu camu is extremely high in vitamin C (7). Moving into the Andes, you will find quinoa, kañiwa, and kiwicha, three seeds that are full of antioxidants, high in protein, and high in fiber (8, 9). And you will also find the root maca, which has been shown to increase sexual drive (10). Anti-inflammatory fats come from avocados, and chia seeds (11). There are also many immune-boosting spices in the Peruvian diet such as turmeric, ají, and cumin (12).

Benefits of the nutrients, phytochemicals and antioxidants in the Peruvian diet include:

Omega-3s and anti-inflammatory fats can lower triglycerides and blood pressure and monounsaturated fats help reduce cholesterol and risk of heart disease (13).
Sources: sacha inchi seeds, and chia seeds; a good source of monounsaturated fats: avocados (14).

Disease-fighting antioxidants and phytochemicals act as free radical scavengers and contain anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome, cancer, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, all while increasing immune system support (15).
Sources: ají pepper, purple potatoes, beans and purple corn

Anti-aging micronutrients help increase vitality, longevity, energy, and improve memory, vision, and skin (15).
Sources: maca, lucuma, camu and sweet potatoes

Digestive health through probiotics and fiber, which help reduce bloating, gas, and stomach pain and cramps (16).
Sources: papaya and yacon

Obviously there are real health benefits to the Peruvian Superfoods diet, but it's important to remember that none of these foods are the "magic bullet" that will lead to overall good health. By the same token, there are many other foods that are healthy, and many paths to nutritious eating. My point is to not replace all your current healthy foods with Peruvian ones! But, if you're looking to make Nutrition Month your moment to change up your diet, or to put some new flavors in your already health-conscious eating, incorporating Peruvian superfoods into your diet will promises fresh, whole, healthy foods with a tasty pop for your palate.

Manuel Villacorta is a nationally recognized, award-winning registered dietitian/nutritionist with more than 18 years of experience. He is a trusted voice in the health and wellness industry. He is the author of Eating Free: The Carb Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Embrace Your Hunger, and Keep Weight Off for Good (HCI, 2012) Peruvian Power Foods: 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes, and Anti-Aging Secrets from the Amazon to the Andes (HCI, 2013) and his newest book Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet to Detoxify, Energize, and Supercharge Fat Loss (HCI, 2015).

References:
1) Cardenas-Quintana H., Mendozaq-Tasayco F., Roldan-Arbieto L., Sanchez-Abanto J. (2009). Prevalence of Metabolic Syndrome in People 20 Years Old and More. Revista Espanola de Salud Publica. 83, no. 2, 257-265.
2) Ramirez J., Sanchez J. (2007). Adult metabolic syndrome in Peru. Anales de la Facultad de Medicina. 68, no. 1, 38-46. "2013 International Year of Quinoa." (2013). Quinoa 2013 International Year.
3) Arbanil-Huaman H., Pajuelo-Ramirez, J., Sanchez-Abanto J. (2010). Non transmissible diseases in Peru and their relationship with altitude. Revista de la Sociedad Peruana de Medicina Interna. 23, no. 2, 45-51.
4) Alvarez-Dongo D., Sanchez-Abanto J., Gomez-Guizado G., Tarqui-Mamani C. (2009-2010) Overweight and Obesity: Prevalence and Determining Social Factors of Overwight in the Peruvian Population. Revista Peruana de Medicina Experimental y Salud Publica. 29, no. 3, 303-13.
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7) Evelázio de Souza, N., Justi, K. C., Matsushita, M., Visentainer, J.V. (2000). Nutritional composition and vitamin C stability in stored camu-camu (Myrciaria dubia) pulp. Archivos Latinoamericanos de Nutrición, Volume 50, Issue 4, Pages 405-8.
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10) Cordova, A., Chung, A., Gonzales, C., Gonzales, G., Vega, K., Villena, A. (2001). Lepidium meyenii (maca) improved semen parameters in adult men. Asian Journal of Andrology. Volume 3.
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12) National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Full report (All Nutrients): 02009, Spices, chili powder. (2005). Agricultural Research Service United States Department of Agriculture, Release 26.
13) Domínguez, H., Juárez, C., Ledesma, L., Luna, H., Montalvo, C., Morán, L., Munari, F. (1996). Monounsaturated fatty acid (avocado) rich diet for mild hypercholesterolemia. Archives of Medical Research, Volume 27, Pages 519-523
14) Chin, YW., D'Ambrosio, SM., Ding, H., Kinghorn, AD. (2007). Chemopreventative characteristics of avocado fruit. Seminars in Cancer Biology. Volume 17, pages 386-94
15) Lobo, V., Patil, A., Phatak, A., & Chandra, N. (2010, July 1). Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health.
16) Gorbach, S. (2000). Probiotics and gastrointestinal health. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. Volume 95, Issue 1, Pages S2-S4.