The twenty-first century is a chaotic and hectic time. More and more, the planet is getting contaminated by greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals. While the twentieth century can be aptly described as a period of excess and waste (in the developed world, at least), there is now a rising movement to abandon the decadent ways of the twentieth century for a simpler, cleaner and environmentally-friendly lifestyle. Indeed, the sad and sobering reality of global warming is leading many to seek answers from the past. Whether it is via meditation, yoga, or holistic treatments such as ayurvedic medicine, acupressure and acupuncture, people are looking for solutions through the ancient wisdom of our ancestors.
Food for Thought
When it comes to fundamental nutrition, many of us have similarly gone in search of foods that have for centuries been purported to heal and nourish our bodies. And who can blame us when there is just much negative press about our foods today. When our modern food supply is filled with excessive amounts of sugar and preservatives, and foods are genetically modified or sprayed with myriad unknown chemicals, it is hard to know what we are actually putting into our bodies these days. To get back to the basics, more people are avoiding processed foods and are choosing to buy more unprocessed and organic foods as much as possible. This modern quest for a cleaner and healthier diet has brought us in search of ancient superfoods, such as quinoa, kefir and acai.
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) originated in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia, Chile and Peru. The seed of this highly exalted plant was grown and nurtured by pre-Colombian civilisations; the Incas called it the “mother grain”. Long considered to be a health food, quinoa has recently experienced a comeback. The plant received the title of superfood because it is a wheat-free protein (with twice the amount of protein as rice) that contains all nine essential amino acids, is fibre-rich, and provides a significant amount of vitamin B, vitamin E, calcium and magnesium. While it is an excellent addition to any of our diets, it is particularly prized and valued by vegans as well as people who are allergic to wheat.
The acai berry comes from the Acai palm tree and is indigenous to the rainforests of Central and South America. Native South Americans have had the privilege of consuming these delicious purple berries for many centuries. It is utilised as both a food and as a medicine for illnesses that include diarrhoea, nausea, allergies and skin infections. Acai attained its status as a superfood because it is so antioxidant-rich (one small berry has twice the number of antioxidants as a blueberry and 10 times the amount of a grape). Acai is known to help improve mental function, boost energy levels and strengthen the immune system. The powerful berry is also known to be anti-ageing and anti-inflammatory for the skin. To enjoy its many health benefits, you can easily find acai juice and dried berries in most supermarkets and health food stores today.
Kefir (a derivative of the Turkish term keyif, which means to ‘feel good’) grains are understood to have originated in the northern region of the Caucasus Mountains. It seems that for several hundred years, the Ossetians would harvest kefir grains and use it in the fermentation of cow’s milk, which is a process akin to making yoghurt. It was only sometime in the nineteenth century that some Russian doctors discovered kefir’s benefits for the treatment of certain health issues, in particular, those that had to do with the gut and the intestines. Interestingly, kefir does, in fact, contain probiotics and just like yoghurt, this grain is known to support gut health. Kefir, however, is thinner in consistency than yoghurt and actually contains around 20 different strains of probiotics; that is three times the number of probiotics found in yoghurt. Furthermore, kefir is also antimicrobial and anticarcinogenic.
While kefir used to be fermented in sacks that were made out of animal hides, today’s kefir is produced commercially in large vats by way of the stirred method. This milk beverage is very popular in Russia and has made its way to supermarkets around the world.
The superfoods we have mentioned are just three of many acclaimed superfoods to be enjoyed. But should we think of these superfoods of yore to be a miracle cure for all the ills of modern society? Are these so-called superfoods really the answer to a better you? Can superfoods save … humanity?
Sadly, the answer is no. Superfoods are not a magic bullet that will fix our problems. In fact, the term superfoods is a clever marketing buzzword that the food industry came up with to sell consumers foods that are essentially rich in nutrients. According to scientists and nutrition experts, these superfoods can certainly be a healthy addition to our diets, but not necessarily more so than the more humble garlic and blueberries. Instead, it is much more important to achieve a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise and a diet that consists of more natural and less-processed food from all the necessary food groups. Well, we happen to think that’s super advice.