I find it interesting to discover new foods while traveling and curious to try them. Most of us already know about superfoods like blueberries, beetroot, spirulina, etc. but there are many others that are just as good, if not better, for our health. Three little-known ones that you might consider trying that have originated from Africa and China are Yuzu, Ashwagandha, and Griffonia Seed.
3 LITTLE-KNOWN SUPERFOODS YOU SHOULD ADD TO YOUR DIET
By Kash Atwal, co-founder of Operate
Although some dismiss superfoods as faddy, it is easy to see why their popularity has, in fact, endured. After all, who can argue with including nutrients in your day-to-day diet that not only promote health and wellbeing but may also prevent common, and sometimes life-limiting, diseases.
To be classed as a superfood, a particular food or drink must be dense in beneficial nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids, usually while being relatively low in calories. Superfoods are mostly plant-based but ingredients such as salmon are included within their number.
You may think you know all the best superfoods, but there are three lesser-known contenders that are well worth adding to your diet: Griffonia Seed; Yuzu; and Ashwagandha.
These are the seeds of the Griffonia simplicifolia plant, which is a climbing shrub found in West and Central Africa. Local people use the leaves to make palm wine and the sap can also be drunk. Different parts of the plants are traditionally used for various ailments: the leaf sap for kidney issues or inflamed eyes; the bark for syphilitic sores; and a paste made from both stems and leaves are used on wounds and decaying teeth.
However, it is the medicinal properties of the seeds that are what truly set this plant aside as one of nature’s miracle workers. The seeds are a natural source of a chemical called 5-hydroxytryptophan (more commonly known as 5-HTP).
Essentially, the superfood qualities of the Griffonia seed are that of 5-HTP, another substance that has undergone substantial research. 5-HTP is an amino acid which helps your body to produce serotonin, a chemical messenger that transmits signals between nerve cells. When serotonin is low, it leads to various health issues, which is why topping up on 5-HTP can help redress them.
Perhaps most well-studied is the effect of 5-HTP on depression symptoms and it is believed that the effect of raising serotonin levels can help reduce symptoms. Not only that, because serotonin can be converted into the ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin, it may also aid in restful sleep. It can also increase feelings of being full, thus decreasing appetite and promoting weight loss.
More specifically, 5-HTP, found in Griffonia seeds, is also being researched in relation to benefits for both migraines and fibromyalgia.
How to get it into your diet
5-HTP supplements are readily available. It is also found in combination with nutrients with similar properties, for example sleep-promoting ingredients, in supplement form. Look also for drinks with Griffonia seed as an ingredient. There are drinks available now with all three of these little known superfoods included, for example Operate is a nootropic sports drink containing Ashwagandha, Yuzu and Griffonia Seed giving you a triple superfood hit in one go!
Yuzu or Citrus junos is, as the Latin name implies, a citrus fruit. It is similar in size and appearance to a tangerine but with thicker, bumpier skin. Its taste, however, is sharper – more like a combination of lemon, lime and grapefruit. Indeed, it is considered by some to be a citrus hybrid. However, Yuzu’s seeds are bigger and more numerous than other citrus fruits, meaning that when extracting the flesh / juice Yuzu has a lower yield than other family members.
It's commonly believed that the Yuzu fruit originated in China—along the Yangtze River—and is still grown there today, as well as in Australia, Spain, Italy, France and Korea. However, Yuzu has a long history in Japan, having reached there around 1300 years ago. It has been used as a medicine, and it is now said that the fragrance of the Japanese fruit is superior to that grown in other countries. Japan produces around 27,000 tons of Yuzu every year.
The reason Yuzu was traditionally used as a medicine – particularly for warding off colds – is very likely to be down to its high concentration of vitamin C. Vitamin C is, of course, a powerful antioxidant and is found alongside several other antioxidants in the Yuzu fruit, including flavonoids and carotenoids. Antioxidants neutralise potentially harmful free radicals—which damage cells and can cause oxidative stress—thus antioxidants are widely held to reduce the risk of various diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even certain cancers.
In addition to the antioxidant content, there have been numerous animal studies on Yuzu’s health benefits, and they indicate benefits for diabetes, cholesterol reduction, heart and circulation, and bone health, as well as potentially fighting certain infections.
The star of the Yuzu show, though, may well be Limonene: an essential oil that is found in the thick, bumpy skin. Studies have shown this oil to possess beneficial properties including being antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and possibly even preventing disease.
How to get it into your diet
In East Asian cuisine, the whole of the yuzu fruit is used—juice, peel and seeds—as a flavouring agent in seasoning, sauces, marmalades, drinks and desserts.
The fact that Yuzu is very sour means you’re unlikely to want to eat it like you might other citrus fruits, such as an orange. In the UK, Yuzu is an expensive fruit, but if you can get your hands on it, Yuzu can be used in much the same way as lemons and limes with both the juice and zest useable to add flavour and zing to a food dishes or drinks. You can also now buy Yuzu juice, and other drinks with Yuzu juice in, but do check the sugar levels in these products or you may well be negating the health benefits.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is also known as winter cherry or Indian ginseng and you’re most likely to have heard of it if you are familiar with Ayurveda (the ancient Indian system of medicine that takes a natural, holistic approach to curing disease).
The name may be a bit of a mouthful, but its meaning is quite simple: it describes the odour of the root – a non-literal but equivalent translation is ‘smells like a horse’. This root is the base of an evergreen shrub that grows in India and the Middle East, as well as parts of Africa.
Like Yuzu, it has been used for thousands of years – possibly since before 6000BC. In the Ayurvedic tradition it is used as what is known as a Rasayana, for its wide-ranging health benefits and for promoting physical and mental health in those who take it.
As per the Ayurvedic position, this herb has benefits for both physical and mental health and wellbeing. In physical terms, not only have studies shown that Ashwagandha can help to reduce both blood glucose and triglycerides (fat in the blood), implying positive effects in diabetes, it has also been shown to improve the performance of the heart and lungs when it comes to delivering oxygen to muscles.
If you are keen on fitness, you may be interested to know that there have been studies on the herb showing positive results in terms of improving both muscle strength and size.
While bigger muscles may make some people happy, the potential mental health benefits of Ashwagandha go beyond that. In fact, it is probably best known for its purported ability to reduce anxiety and stress, and aid sleep. Other studies have also suggested it has benefits for memory and focus.
If that were not enough, further studies (there have been a lot) have evidenced an improvement in sexual function in women and potential positive effects on fertility in men.
How to get it into your diet
Of course, you can take Ashwagandha as a health supplement in capsule or powder form but, if you are not one for popping pills, it can be taken as a tonic, as it has been traditionally. Unlike some herbs, this can be rather bitter, so it is best mixed with other ingredients. You could mix your own traditional combination with milk, ghee and honey, or buy a pre-prepared drink, perhaps with other beneficial nutrients included.
So, these three are the powerful yet little known superheroes – or perhaps super-fruit, super-root and super-seeds - that I think all health-conscious consumers should be looking out for right now to support their physical and mental health. And they are particularly beneficial if you are very active. You can take them as nutritional supplements, combine them into foods or drinks or, indeed, look for a drink that combines all these super ingredients and more, such as Operate.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kash Atwal is co-founder of Operate, the UK’s first nootropic sports drink. Formulated to help you operate your mind and your body, this plant-powered drink comes in three unique and delicious flavours; peach and green tea (for energy), raspberry and cranberry (to speed recovery) and lemon and yuzu (to give you a boost). Each bottle is low in calories, has no added or refined sugars, and is full of vitamins and minerals, branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) and a range of superfood ingredients. Operate is specifically designed to deliver the best nutritional hydration without compromising on taste.