6 health foods from around the world

We highlight six of the best natural health foods from around the world

Research has shown that certain countries enjoy higher life expectancies than others, mostly as a result of their diets. Japan, for example, has one of the lowest mortality rates in the world, with a typical diet being high in fish, meat, certain carbohydrates, vegetables and fruits. The Mediterranean diet is also well known for being one of the world’s healthiest diets, rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrain cereals, the occasional glass of red wine and of course olive oil. But did you know that some of the most beneficial health foods come from all corners of the globe, from Ethiopia to India and Peru? Here we take a look at six of the best natural health foods from around the world.

Turmeric

“Turmeric, also known as ‘the Golden Goddess’ in India, has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic traditions as a medicinal herb as well as an essential ingredient in every curry,” explains Sebastian Pole, Master Herbsmith with Pukka Herbs (www.pukkaherbs.com). “Pigments known as curcuminoids give this radiant-root its characteristic vibrant yellow colour. These pigments are also responsible for the primary medicinal properties of this renowned anti-inflammatory. Curcuminoids have a diverse range of activity, but work within the body as antioxidants and strong anti-inflammatories whilst also enhancing circulation, protecting the brain, rejuvenating the liver and targeting pain. In traditional herbal medicine turmeric is specifically used for blood health; cleaning it for healthy skin, moving it for better circulation and nourishing it to feed the menses, breast milk and bones. Its time-honoured position has made turmeric the go-to herb for addressing the underlying causes of so many of today’s degenerative diseases.”

Maca

“This radish-like root vegetable is grown in the Peruvian Andes, pretty close to the upper limits of cultivation,” explains Jenny Tschiesche, consultant nutritionist to Indigo Herbs (www.indigo-herbs.co.uk). “That makes it challenging to grow elsewhere, so the Peruvians almost have a monopoly on this energy-giving root. Although its medicinal properties have been understood by the Peruvians for centuries, they didn’t travel further until the mid-1800s. Nowadays it tends to be consumed in powder form. In this form, as a supplement, it has been shown in clinical trials to improve endurance, sperm count and motility. In addition, maca appears to show benefits to those with menopausal symptoms. Maca is recognised as an adaptogen, which means it can help to create balance in the human body by adapting to individual biochemical needs. Maca is so easy to use. It works well as an ingredient in smoothies, energy or protein balls, and its malty taste makes a delicious addition to frozen banana soft-serve dessert (i.e. just sliced frozen banana whizzed into ice-cream texture). Get creative and mix maca with nut butter and cacao powder for a nutrient-dense choco-nut butter for crackers, on top of porridge or as a dip for fresh apple slices.”

Teff

“The smallest and one of the healthiest grains on earth, teff has been growing in my native Ethiopia for thousands of years,” explains Sophie Sirak-Kebede, founder of Tobia Teff UK (www.tobiateff.co.uk). “Apart from being gluten and sugar-free, teff is high in iron, potassium and calcium and unlike other grains, contains very high amounts of fibre and protein. Teff’s eight essential amino acids slow down the ageing process making it essential for glowing hair, skin and nails. Grown naturally in brown, ivory and white, it is no surprise that Ethiopian athletes have all grown up on teff.” Teff flour can be used to experiment with gluten-free baking at home and is traditionally used to make the fermented flat bread enjera.

Matcha

“Buddhist monks from ancient China originally brought green tea, known as cha, to Japan, where for centuries it was a rare and luxurious commodity,” explains Maria Dawson, Sales & Marketing Director at Clearspring (www.clearspring.co.uk). “After generations of cultivation, it has become Japan’s national drink and drinking tea is a ritualised part of everyday life.” Nutritionist Cassandra Barns adds: “Compared to standard green teas, matcha is higher in flavanols, the natural compounds associated with green tea’s antioxidant benefits. Flavanols are thought to have a protective effect for the immune system and brain, as well as anti-ageing benefits for our skin. Matcha can also be higher in theanine, an amino acid that can have a relaxing and calming effect on the mind and help with focus and concentration. All this makes matcha a fantastic natural pick-me-up without the over-stimulating effects of coffee, and with more health benefits!” Maria adds:“ When consuming matcha you are ingesting the whole tea leaf, as opposed to the brewed water, which means it provides everything that green tea delivers – but with a much higher potency!”

Reishi mushrooms

“Reishi mushrooms are grown in China, Japan and now in Northern America,” explains Jenny Tschiesche. “Although we think of mushrooms as a food, these mushrooms tend not to be eaten whole because they’re too bitter and tough. They were discovered thousands of years ago and have long played an important part in traditional Chinese medicine. In Japanese they’re known as ‘mannentake’ which literally translates as ‘10,000-year-old mushroom.’ Reishi mushrooms tend to be consumed nowadays in concentrated form, either as a powder or tincture. As a powder they can be added to water, juice or made into a tea. They are believed to provide detoxification support to the body and in this capacity have been shown in some studies to help protect the liver. Perhaps their best-known quality is their ability to lower blood sugar levels. This may be down to the fact that reishi mushrooms help release insulin (the blood sugar-balancing hormone) from the pancreas. As imbalanced blood sugar levels are linked to so many lifestyle related health conditions, reishi mushroom supplements are a very welcome addition to the modern-day diet.”

Kefir

You may have heard talk about a new “psychobiotic” superfood called kefir. But what exactly is kefir, and what can it do for you? “Kefir is a fermented milk product that is similar to drinking yogurt, but far stronger and better for you,” explains Shann Nix Jones. “Unlike yogurt, which contains ‘transient’ bacteria which is killed off in the digestive process, kefir contains ‘non-transient’ bacteria that survive the digestive process to powerfully impact your gut microbiome. Kefir originated in the Black Caucasus Mountains of Russia, where the inhabitants were known for living long, healthy lives. In the 1970s the Russian government sent an armed party into the mountains to retrieve some of the carefully guarded, living kefir ‘grains’ used to create the probiotic drink. Today kefir is a billion-euro industry throughout Russia and Eastern Europe, but has only recently become popular throughout the UK. Kefir works powerfully to resolve IBS, eczema and autoimmune issues, and has earned the title ‘psychobiotic’ because of its powerful proven impact on anxiety and depression.” You can learn more about the science behind this medical superfood in Shann Nix Jones’ new book, The Kefir Solution: Natural Healing for IBS, Depression and Anxiety, published by Hay House.

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