What are superfoods and are they really that super? The term might be just a buzzword (since there’s no medical or scientific definition of a superfood) but it certainly isn’t just buzzworthy nor is it going anywhere. In fact, more and more nutritional powerhouses are being added to the long list of what people call superfoods. Why? We weren’t sure either so we missioned to find out…
I’m not lazy, but I somehow haven’t found the time to become the superfood sensei that I’d like to be. And yet, I put maca in my smoothie every day and have found an impressive number of ways to sneak spirulina into my meals without feeling sick – but I still can’t tell you why.
If you’ve got your ear to the ground, you’ve surely heard about superfoods. But in case you’re still fuzzy on the definition, it goes a little something like this: a superfood is (usually) a plant-based nutritional powerhouse that’s teeming with large quantities of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other nutrients known to deliver a host of health benefits. Essentially, they are foods that supercharge you. While we’d love to tell you to eat more of this and less of that, we are a busy generation, and sometimes I’m lucky if I remember to hydrate adequately. So instead we turn to superfood powders, which can be creatively concocted into whatever you’re whipping up in the kitchen while providing the same, if not more, nutritional benefits than its more solid counterpart.
BUT superfood powders have in the past been difficult or expensive to source in Asia, despite many of them originating in the region. Fortunately, it’s becoming easier with so many passionate people taking the reigns to source them and stock shelves all over Asia. And when all else fails, there is always iHerb (but be mindful of the carbon emissions stemming from those orders and perhaps try offsetting them). Here is the what, why, how and where to the game-changing superfoods that we want to eat more of in Asia.
WHAT: Pronounced ah-sigh-EE, the dark purple fruit is harvested from açaí palm trees in the rainforests of Central and South America. They actually have pits like apricots so aren’t technically a berry but a drupe. When it comes to antioxidants, studies have shown that açaí is the most powerful amongst berries, containing ten times more than grapes and two times more than blueberries.
WHY: Since antioxidants strengthen our immune system and protect against cancers, açaí are a staple among health fanatics. They are also said to promote weight loss and prevent signs of ageing.
HOW: Unlike other berries, açaí berries are not usually eaten in their original form. Best consumed as a juice or puree, açaí makes a fantastic base for anything fruity, like a smoothie or smoothie bowl. You can also get the freeze-dried powder variant if you don’t have access to the puree.
WHERE TO GET: No longer hard to come by, most health food stores will stock the powder and grocery stores carrying imports will sometimes stock the puree in the frozen section. If all else fails, you can order the freeze-dried powder from Amazon, iHerb and Vitacost. But if you haven’t already tried an açaí bowl, do not pass go and head directly your nearest café or juice bar to tease your tastebuds with the Brazilian staple.
WHAT: Ashwagandha, or Indian ginseng, is one of the most powerful herbs in Ayurvedic healing. The evergreen shrub grows in India, the Middle East, and parts Africa, and has been used for thousands of years in medicine. Rather than a superfood, it’s better classified as an adaptogen, which are super herbs and super mushrooms that assist your body’s ability to handle mental, physical and emotional stress. Essentially, they help your body adapt to its surroundings. Fun fact: by definition, ashwa means horse (because the plant’s roots apparently smell like a horse).
WHY: Considered a Rasayana, the herb is believed to help maintain youth, both mentally and physically. It’s hugely popular in modern times for being a natural stress reliever that prevents nervous breakdowns, anxiety, and the insomnia that comes coupled with living a fast-paced lifestyle. It’s also believed to help with fertility and reproductive health, especially in men.
HOW: Ashwagandha comes in pill and powder form, as well as an extract. In its powder form, we like to add it to our coffee or plant-based milk drinks. Try doing a Google search for Ashwagandha Sleep Tonic if counting sheep doesn’t work.
WHERE: Within Asia, Level Life is our go-to but in a pinch, you can get it off Amazon, iHerb and Vitacost.
WHAT: Baobab is one of the lesser-known superfoods and is the newest kid on the block. Baobab is a tree native to some areas of Africa, Arabia, Australia and Madagascar and the pulp, leaves and seeds of the baobab fruit are all linked to a host of health benefits. The pulp is high in vitamin C, antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, iron and zinc while the leaves are full of calcium and protein. All together, baobab is almost 50% fibre.
WHY: A powerful weight loss aid that also reduces inflammation and promotes digestion due to its high fibre content. Because it’s rich in vitamin c, it boosts immune function and promotes healthy and glowing skin. Most importantly, it increases the absorption of iron and is also thought to be one of the most alkaline foods available.
HOW: Mix the powder into drinks like smoothies, juice or tea.
WHERE TO GET: Huge proponents of baobab, Level Life sells it by the tub and ships all over Asia.
WHAT: Step aside hemp! Whether you agree or disagree, we’re inclined to add CBD oil to our list of superfoods for its myriad of superpowers (and because we’re all about eating the cannabis-sourced superfood these days). The potent superfood oil is an extract of the naturally occurring Cannabidiol (CBD) and has a long list of therapeutic properties. It’s also non-psychoactive (meaning it won’t make you high).
WHY: You might have heard miracle stories about the power of CBD oil when it comes to preventing seizures, but it also works wonders if you’re looking for something anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and anti-anxiety. CBD oil also helps you sleep and has been known to assist in treating asthma.
HOW: Add CBD oil to your smoothies, salad dressings, and even your artisanal chocolates. CBD-spiked cocktails are a thing now, too. You can also take it in pill form, bringing new life to the term chill pill.
WHERE TO GET: Not the easiest thing to find in Asia since it’s legal status is still being debated but Heavens Please has a plethora of CBD oils.
WHAT: All hail cacao, the above-and-beyond Amazonian superfood fit for the chocolate lovers of the world. Cacao is the dried seeds at the root of chocolate found in West Africa and South America. In its raw and unprocessed form, cacao retains an incredibly high nutritional content (cocoa, on the other hand, involves roasting the beans).
WHY: Cacao one of the highest sources of magnesium in nature, full of antioxidants (more than blueberries, prunes, and even wine), calcium (more per gram than cow’s milk), iron, zinc, copper and selenium. It also triggers three neurotransmitters critical to managing your mood and mental well being: serotonin, dopamine, and phenylethylamine (hello natural anti-depressant). To add to that, it’s a powerful anti-inflammatory agent as well as having anti-banging properties.
HOW: Where do we begin? Anywhere where one might want to use chocolate, use cacao instead and sweeten with a natural sweetener like agave. Add it to smoothies, make your own chocolates, bake brownies, mix with avocado for pudding, add it to milk for…chocolate milk, anything goes really.
WHERE TO GET: Cacao is one of the easiest superfoods to find and you can usually pick up a bag at a grocery store. Otherwise, head to your local health food store or order it from places like iHerb or Vitacost if you must. Level Life stocks and ships some cacao products, including nibs, too.
WHAT: Don’t underestimate their size — these small black seeds pack a powerful nutritional punch (and with very few calories). Derived from the Salvia hispanica plant from Central and South America, chia seeds are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, fibre, antioxidants, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium. Fun fact: chia is the ancient Mayan word for strength.
WHY: These seeds of life aid with digestion, weight loss (because all the carbs are fibre) and diabetes. Because they are high in antioxidants, they help cell quickly regenerate, making them an excellent cancer-fighting food. Rumour has it they lower the risk of heart disease, reduce chronic inflammation and support healthy skin.
HOW: Add a tablespoon to your smoothies, yogurt bowls, salad dressings, soups, curries, and stews. Soak them in your juice for a fun spin on a standard juice or best of all, look up recipes for overnight oats (or pudding). My personal favourite is turning them into jam or compote with ageing fruits.
WHERE TO GET: Most health food stores, grocery stores, Level Life, Amazon, iHerb and Vitacost.
WHAT: The good old fashioned coconut has been bestowed with the label of superfood because there is no denying the seemingly endless benefits derived from this fun tropical fruit.
WHY: Firstly, let’s talk fat. Coconut oil is indeed high in healthy saturated fats, but this is the good fat that boosts bad fat burning. It also provides your body and brain with a boost of energy. These fats are called Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT). Coconuts are also an excellent source of fibre, containing vitamins and minerals like iron, manganese, magnesium, and zinc. They can also help in reducing hunger and raising good cholesterol while protecting your skin, hair and teeth. Another excellent benefit is its ability to boost brain function (Google bulletproof coffee asap).
HOW: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Anywhere where you might use milk, use coconut milk instead. Hungover? Replenish electrolytes with some cold coconut water. Hair feeling a little dry? Coconut oil to the rescue. Digestion a little slow? Add some MCT to your coffee. The rest is on you, and the possibilities are endless.
WHERE TO GET: This is Asia, you can literally find a coconut on any street corner. But you can also grab some on-the-go coconut snacks at Cocoparadise.
WHAT: Popular amongst vegans for being packed with protein, there is actually so much more to hemp. Yes, it comes from the same family as the Cannabis sativa plant, but no, it’s not going to alter your mind. Even better though, hemp is a perfect balance of omega 3, omega 6, iron, vitamin E, and all of the essential amino acids. It’s also rich in fibre, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, and manganese. Hemp is also incredibly environmentally friendly since it absorbs high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide into its cellulose fibre. Fun fact: often referred to as hemp hearts, they are technically a nut.
WHY: Besides being a widely known plant-based protein boost (for those lean post-gym muscles), hemp is said to benefit skin disorders and help reduce symptoms of PMS and menopause. It keeps your bones strong, helps manage stress, and relieves rheumatoid arthritis. Most importantly, it’s been widely reported for helping protect the brain and helping with neurological conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
HOW: Hemp sprinkles well on just about anything, especially salads and granola. Add hemp to your smoothie for some extra protein after the gym or if you have a high-speed blender at home, turn it into vegan and lactose-free milk. You can also pick up hemp flour, protein powder and oil.
WHERE TO GET: Most health food stores and grocery stores will stock it or you can order from Amazon, iHerb and Vitacost. We also recommend the Organic Hemp Elixir from Heavens Please.
WHAT: Often overlooked as being nothing more than a sweetener, this bee-produced nectar is actually one of nature’s most potent products. When consumed raw, honey retains all its beneficial bioactive compounds.
WHY: Known best for boosting health and vitality, honey is full of flavonoids and other polyphenol antioxidants. They work together to reduce inflammation, protect the brain, and boost cognition. It’s also good for your skin; it regulates blood sugar and even helps treat wounds. It’s also believed to help ulcers, soothe coughs and even suppress seasonal allergies. And we don’t need to tell you that honey helps you sleep, right?
HOW: Drizzle a bit of honey on your smoothie bowl or add it to your tea. Wherever you might need sugar, you’ll be better off with a touch of honey instead.
WHERE TO GET: You won’t have any trouble finding a local and sustainable honey source in your country (there are plenty) but we’re also huge fans of Hexapi for their raw and pure organic nectar and GTC Life for their stingless bee honey.
WHAT: Not exactly a superfood per se, kombucha is more of a super drink, and because of its exceptional health benefits, it’s on the not-to-miss list. Made by fermenting tea (think of the benefits of green tea alone) with sugar, yeast and good bacteria (its cultured from a gelatinous mat called a SCOBY that rests in the mixture). The result is a drink so powerful that its oft lauded as ‘an immortal health elixir.’
WHY: From health-restoring probiotics to cleansing antioxidants, kombucha packs B vitamins, enzymes, probiotics and various other antioxidants. It is, above all, an excellent digestive aid that helps restore the natural flora of your gut. It further helps break down the foods we eat, and better converts them to energy. Kombucha also supports immune health, weight management and weight-related disorders, as well as containing glucaric acid, which is said to help prevent cancer.
HOW: Best consumed as a morning pick me up (but also mixes well with gin, FYI).
WHERE TO GET: Most grocery stores, health food stores and healthy cafés around Asia will stock this. If you’re in Singapore, check out Bushwick.
WHAT: Maca root derives from a plant native to Peru (maca is actually a cruciferous vegetable like broccoli). In fact, it is sometimes referred to as Peruvian ginseng. It’s a great source of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C, B-complex vitamins, potassium, copper, iron, and zinc. With seven essential amino acids, maca is a nearly complete source of protein.
WHY: Maca is said to enhance fertility and libido in both men and women, as well as improving energy, stamina, brain function, and mood. Some women have found menopausal relief after taking it. One study even claims that when applied to your skin, it helps protect it from the sun. Animal studies have suggested that red maca can reduce prostate size, therefore lowering the risk of prostate cancer.
HOW: While you can get maca pills and even in a liquid extract, we like the powder form best because its nutty taste (think butterscotch) blends well into smoothies (especially those with bananas and nut butter). It also pairs nicely with oatmeal, baked goods and energy bars.
WHERE TO GET: Locally, most health food stores and grocery stores will stock it or you can order from Level Life. Amazon, iHerb and Vitacost will, of course, provide you with several options that ship to Asia.
WHAT: You’ve probably heard about the amazing benefits of green tea, well, matcha is like green tea on steroids (it’s ten times stronger). Matcha is essentially a brightly coloured green tea powder that’s vitamins, antioxidants, and other natural health boosters. It’s also one of Japan’s most prized drinks and has been since the 12th century. Unlike green tea, however, the leaves are never heated and are kept in the shade, so they preserve all the amazing benefits of this super tea.
WHY: Matcha is not only hugely detoxifying, but it’s linked to a world of other benefits like fighting off cancer, promoting weight loss and lowering anxiety. It’s rich in fibre and chlorophyll as well as being hugely detoxifying and anti-inflammatory. Matcha also keeps you calm and helps you concentrate.
HOW: Sprinkle matcha powder over smoothie bowls and yogurt, make a matcha latte, drink it like a shot, and bake with it. My personal favourite is to combine it with MCT oil for bulletproof-style matcha.
WHERE TO GET: While matcha is plentiful all over Asia, we’re oh so inclined to recommend finding your perfect match-a at MyMaha.
WHAT: Hailing from North India, moringa is a plant praised for its health benefits for thousands of years in Ayurveda medicine. In fact, almost every part of the tree is consumed or used in traditional herbal medicines (people call it the most useful tree in the world). Its leaves are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals that are chock full of healthy antioxidants and bioactive plant compounds. It’s also popular in developing nations where people’s diets lack vitamins, minerals and protein for being an essential source of several nutrients. It’s also extremely high in calcium, iron, and magnesium, and helps protect cells from damage.
WHY: While not its most significant benefit, weight loss is up there as one of the more popular takeaways from moringa. It’s also thought to treat asthma, joint pain, and kidney stones while working to protect and nourish skin and hair, as well as the liver. Because of its antibiotic and antibacterial properties, moringa works wonders on stomach complaints like constipation and gastritis. It also battles bacterial diseases like salmonella and E. Coli. Woke up on the wrong side of the bed? Moringa is known for being a huge mood booster. Actually, the list of goodies here is long, and we encourage you to do some further reading on this nutritional powerhouse.
HOW: Tasty and versatile, sprinkle moringa onto salads, steep it as tea, mix it into smoothies, turn it into ice cream, bake it into cookies, add it to your guac, or stir it to your water. Go on, experiment with this one.
WHERE TO GET: Locally, most health food stores and grocery stores will stock it or you can order from Level Life. Amazon, iHerb and Vitacost will, of course, provide you with several options.
WHAT: The best way to restore the natural flora to your gut is to add probiotics to your diet. Probiotics are live micro-organisms called lactobacilli, which are achieved through fermentation.
WHY: We cannot stress the importance of probiotics to a healthy digestive system; they’re basically the holy grail when it comes to a happy tummy. But probiotics also support your immune system, reduce depression, and may even help you lose weight. Some studies have shown that they help improve mood, skin health, and can also alleviate the symptoms of autoimmune diseases and IBS.
HOW: Sure, you can take it in pill form, but probiotics get expensive and where is the fun in that. Instead, opt for adding some raw sauerkraut to your salads, or add some (coconut) kefir to your morning routine. If your kitchen can stand a little heat, try some kimchi. It comes in drink form too, like our fizzy favourite kombucha. Or opt for something a little more simple by adding raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar to some lemon water for a morning elixir.
WHERE TO GET: Most health food stores and even some grocery stores will carry probiotic specific items. If you’re looking for pill form, most supplement store will carry a variety, or you can order from Amazon, iHerb and Vitacost. Akesi also ships pills, powders and tonics around Asia (pssst make sure you try their bio-fermented berry spritzer).
WHAT: Spirulina, which also goes by the less fancy name of blue-green algae (cyanbacteria), has been consumed for centuries because of its nutritional value. But some people are only just discovering it and as such, its seen a branding revival as the newest wonder vitamin. Let’s get one thing straight, it’s the same old organism that grows in both fresh and saltwater, and it still tastes vile. There is no pretending here; it’s hard to get down even for the most hardcore sea lovers. But we try anyway, and are always on the lookout for unique ways to mask the taste since one small serving of the dried powder contains significant amounts of calcium, protein, copper, and iron (vegetarians, take note) as well as decent amounts of magnesium, potassium and manganese. Gram for gram, it’s said that spirulina is the most nutritious food on the planet. Fortunately, it also comes in pill form (you’re welcome).
WHY: Spirulina is believed to be a potent anti-inflammatory while lowering total cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. Some evidence suggests it may have anti-cancer properties, too. For those suffering from allergies, spirulina has been known to dramatically reduced symptoms triggered by environmental allergens. Best of all, it’s touted as a powerful weight loss aid by boosting metabolism and improving gut health.
HOW: Plug your nose and swallow. We’re not joking. Spirulina is potent, and most people try to sneak it in their green smoothies, juices and salad dressings. We’ve also had luck working it into energy bars/balls, pureed soups, pesto-style sauces, and even eggs (bringing Green Eggs and Ham to life was kind of fun, tbh).
WHERE TO GET: Most health food stores, grocery stores, Amazon, iHerb and Vitacost. Unicorn Superfoods has a fun blue variant that ships to Asia. You can also go straight to the source and check out Japan Algae or get in contact with Naveda.
WHAT: Turmeric, the cousin of ginger, is a yellow-coloured root that grows in India and Indonesia. Its sometimes even called Indian saffron or the golden spice.
WHY: A staple for people living with arthritis, the Ayurvedic medicine thas been treating chronic pain and inflammation for hundreds of years. But Today, even Western medicine is beginning in study its properties as a healing agent. It’s also been getting a lot of attention as of late for improving liver function as a result of its hugely powerful antioxidant effect. The spice is even being used to naturally treat IBS.
HOW: Turmeric comes in pills, capsules, powder, tea and as an extract – and of course as the root itself (careful, it stains). Because of its saturated yellow colour, the powder makes a colourful addition to stews like curry. It also blends well into BBQ rubs, salad dressings, marinades and smoothies (mix it with some frozen mango chunks and coconut milk, go on). But we’ve become to love it as drink and are working turmeric lattes into our diets, especially before a night out on the town.
WHERE: Locally, most health food stores and grocery stores will stock it or you can order from Level Life in Asia. Amazon, iHerb and Vitacost will, of course, provide you with several options.
WHAT: Popularized by juice bars in trend-setting cities like Los Angeles, this fad should not be overlooked since the benefits are indeed countless. Wheatgrass is, as its name suggests, a thick and dry grass that resembles wheat or hay, and is most often consumed in a single shot at a juice bar (not a nightclub).
WHY: Wheatgrass is especially high in vitamins A, C and E, as well as iron, enzymes, magnesium, phytonutrients, calcium and amino acids. It also consists of chlorophyll, a type of green plant pigment associated with many health benefits like increasing oxygen levels in the body. Wheatgrass is also popular to help eliminate toxins, strengthen the immune system, boost digestion, stimulate the metabolism, and as much loved alcohol and caffeine-free pick me up. It can also provide relief to those suffering from inflammatory bowel syndrome, a common cough or cold, and even fevers.
HOW: Besides the aforementioned shot, it can also be added to other drinks, smoothies. and salad dressings. You should also know that for optimal results, it’s recommended to take on an empty stomach immediately after being mixed.
WHERE TO GET: Head to your nearest juice bar OR pick up a starter kit and grow it at home yourself (do a Google search for seeds in your city). You can also buy the powder from Amazon, iHerb, Vitacost, or Nature Home Asia.
Leading image via Mochni