I recently was in Peru and being a Naturopathic doctor, it is instinctive for me to wonder what people are eating and what the inherent super foods are in any given culture. Seeing as how I was in Cusco and the Sacred Valley, I was excited to understand what Andean peoples ate to adapt more easily to their environment.
I was pleased to come across a great store in Pisac called Aysana Organics that carries nuts, seeds, raw cacao, lucuma, yacon, mesquite, golden berries, maca, coca, and much more. It was such a treat to see so many super foods all in one store. For those of you who visit Pisac, the store is just outside the main square where the market is held. It also carries some neat clothing items and gifts to bring home to your friends and family.
Here are some of my favorite foods I came across while in Peru:
1. Golden berries:
Can you believe these fruits contain 16% protein? They exceed the Goji berry (13% protein). With a sweet and definite sour tang to them, they leave a distinct flavor in your mouth. According to one source, it takes 6 lbs of fresh berries to produce 1 lb of dried berries. Also high in beta carotene, vitamin C, thamin, and phosphorous as well they have a slight laxative effect. Also a great source of secretory IgA which is helpful for the human immune system. Golden berries are also high in pectin which has been shown to prevent surges in blood glucose. I felt a cold coming on one day, and I looked through my bag to see what would be suitable to take. I decided that the golden berries would be worthwhile, and my intuition was correct! Being an advocate of the mind-body-heart connection, I also did my homework beyond the physical reasons of getting a cold, however I know the golden berries played their part in a very speedy recovery!
When I first saw mesquite meal, I thought to myself, “how cool!” The texture is course and grainy but often if you purchase it you will find it ground. I found it in the original form in Peru. Mesquite is essentially made by gathering ripened seed pods from the mesquite tree and grinding it down. It is also relatively speaking high in protein and contains iron, magnesium, calcium, and potassium. Interestingly, it is also rich in the amino acid lysine. With a caramel-like, molasses flavor, it is great to add to smoothies containing cacao or maca. Just a pinch of this super food goes a long way and adds a smoky kinda spicy vibe and a whole lot of nutrition!
3. Yacon tuber
I found the taste of this crisp and clear. A sweetness that comes from the main carbohydrate present called inulin is just enough to stimulate the sweet taste buds. Inulin does not require insulin for digestion, therefore is suitable for diabetics and also those with hyper-glycemic tendencies. Inulin is also a dietary fiber that feeds the Bifidobacteria in the large intestine, therefore is considered a ‘pre-biotic.’ Also containing potassium, phosphorous, iron, calcium and magnesium. I saw Yacon as dried Yacon slices and Yacon syrup. I enjoyed eating the yacon slices as a snack while hiking.
4. Maca Root
A staple super food in the cold climate of the high andes and amazingly, it grows at an altitude of 11,000 to 14,000 feet! (no other food or herb grows at this altitude anywhere in the world!). The personality of this root has developed as a result of the extreme conditions in which it grows, thus it is an excellent adaptogen (it will increase energy if needed but will not overstimulate). Energetically it feels very stabilizing and grounding- hence it’s a root! 🙂 Add the Maca root powder to smoothies or even healthy cookie and muffin recipes. Be careful on the amount though, it has an over-powering ability!
The number one source of magnesium out of any food, also contains iron and zinc. Cacao contains the greatest number of anti-oxidants out of any food found anywhere in the world!!! It also contains Anandamide which acts as an endorphin in the body. Interestingly enough, our brain naturally produces anandamide as well. I had cacao in my smoothie in Peru, a nice addition to add a full body flavor and round out the drink. Truly, just to receive the anandamide benefits and high antioxidant levels is enough reason to have this food as a staple.
Until next time!
Dr. Alexina Mehta
Interested in how Naturopathic medicine can support your health? Call 604-731-7789 in Vancouver or 604-925-2225 in West Vancouver to book an appointment to see Dr. Mehta. You can also check out www.dralexinamehta.com