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6 Great Superfoods for Yoga Lovers
If you’ve been paying attention to nutritional news in the past few years, you’ve probably heard about so-called “superfoods”—foods like blueberries, pomegranates and flaxseed are thought to have a score of health benefits and decrease the effects of aging. Superfoods can also improve your yoga practice, by increasing strength and stamina, enhance muscle recovery after practice, and even help build muscle mass faster.
Superfoods are called as such because they are rich in phytonutrients: disease-fighting chemicals with anti-aging properties. Many superfoods also decrease inflammation, strengthen your immune system, and reduce the risk of cancer.
Here are 6 superfoods that will help supercharge your nutritional intake and give you more energy for your yoga practice. Also see below for the best places to buy superfoods at a discount.
Goji berries (or “wolfberries,” as they are sometimes called) are quickly becoming one of the most popular superfoods, and for good reason. They’re one of the most nutritionally dense foods known to man, containing carotenoids (beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, lutein, beta-cryptoxanthin, and lycopene), vitamins (C, B1, B2, and niacin) plus 18 amino acids and more than 30 essential and trace minerals!
Goji berries contain 500 times more vitamin C per ounce than oranges and more beta carotene than carrots. Goji berries also contain high levels of polysaccharides, an essential sugar that helps immune function and cell communication.
Goji berries can help normalize blood pressure and stabilize blood sugar, as well as lowering cholesterol, aiding calcium absorption for greater bone health. They even help prevent or slow the spread of cancer. It's hard to think of a more exhaustive list of nutritional benefits!
Best ways to use: Simply eat a handful of berries as a snack (you may want to soak them for 20 minutes first, or try adding these tangy berries to oatmeal, smoothies, or even soups and stews.
In the endless hunt for the best protein supplement, our vote goes to hemp protein powder. Undoubtedly, the looks of this powder may bring back memories to boomers growing up in the wild 60s and 70s. However, not to worry, the protein powder from food grade hemp seed won't give you a high - other, of course, than what you'll get from the nutrients in this amazing seed.
Like its better-known cousin, flaxseed, hemp seed is a high protein seed that contains all nine of the essential amino acids. Its protein is easier to digest than whey and other vegetarian proteins that can cause bloating and gas, and, unlike soy, it doesn’t contain any phytic acid (a chemical that inhibits the absorption of minerals).
Hemp seed tops out this list together with goji berries for its slew of other health benefits: in addition to containing 20 amino acids, it is also the highest botanical source of essential fatty acids. Hemp seed contains a perfect 3:6 ratio of omega fats, which as we know has numerous important properties, including enhancing cardiovascular health and strengthening the immune system.
Finally, and we promise to stop raving shortly, hemp seed is a good source of phytonutrients that protect your bloodstream, tissues, cells, skin and internal organs.
Best way to use. If you want to add hemp to your diet, keep an eye for less processed products, like pure hemp seeds, hemp oil or raw hemp protein powder. Hemp seed powder has a slightly nutty flavor and tastes great in e.g. a smoothie with yogurt, water, and a little honey or other sweetener. Try adding a dash of turmeric as well to get the inflammatory benefits of this important herb.
Cia (chia) seeds
Chia seeds might be the strangest superfood on this list. They come from a mint-like plant and were eaten by the Aztecs, but, nowadays, they’re best known as the main ingredient in chia pets, the animal-shaped planters often given as gag gifts.
But more and more people are turning to chia seeds as a food source because of their excellent nutritive properties. They contain protein, fiber, antioxidants, magnesium and more omega-3 fatty acid than any other plant source, including flaxseed.
Two ounces of chia seed contains over three times as much calcium as an equivalent amount milk, plus boron, a mineral that supports bone health, making it a great choice for people concerned about osteoporosis.
Omega-3 also supports heart health, and, since chia is a good source of fiber, it can be used to help manage weight and diabetes.
Best Way to Use: Chia seed doesn’t have much flavor, and the seeds themselves are tiny, so it’s fairly easy to introduce them into your diet—sprinkle them in yogurt, salads or anything you want.
For best results, soak the chia seeds in water for 20-30 minutes first. They are an excellent addition to smoothies, which also helps conceal the slightly slimy texture they get when soaked (think flax seeds). Just be sure to blend the smoothie for at least a couple of minutes, as it may otherwise get a lumpy texture. For a real power drink, try adding two teaspoons of soaked chia seeds to the hemp seed smoothie described above.
Mulberries have been used for generations inChinese medicine to tonify the blood, treat constipation and diabetes as well as prematurely grey hair. It is also used to treat fevere, headache and coughs, as well as red, dry and sore eyes. Mulberries are packed with vitamins, iron, fiber and resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant. In fact, mulberries contain antioxidant levels that are 79 percent higher than blueberries and 24 percent higher than cranberries. Studies show that diets high in antioxidants can prevent illinesses ranging from the flue to Alzheimer's heart disease and cancer.
Mulberries also contain high levels of anthocyanins, which are proven to promote overall health and longevity. Another important compound in mulberries is zeaxanthin, which improves eye health and protects the light-filtering functions in the retina of the eyes.
Best ways to use. Dried white mulberries are readily available in many health stores. They are an excellent sweet and versatile treat and, as an added bonus, a good source of protein. Try drinking mulberry juice, or eating them fresh or dried in salads, trail mix and cereal. For a special healthy treat, try substituting your chocolate fix for a handful of dried white mulberries with raw cacao nibs (see below).
It's official: you can have your cake (sorry, chocolate) and eat it too! As any woman knows, chocolate has magical properties and can cure almost any ill, ranging from mood dips to heart ache (well, almost).
Well, here is good news: you can eat that chocolate without feeling guilty - as long as you eat it in the right form.
Cacao, the primary ingredient in your chocolate bar, derives from the cacao bean, and is packed with nutritional superpowers. Raw cacao contains chromium, a vital trace mineral than can help balance your blood sugar and manage diabetes. It also boosts the immune system and contains chemical compounds that increases flexibility in your arteries, reduces bad cholesterol and promotes healthy blood flow.
Additionally, cacao is great for your brain. It contains plant compounds called flavanols, which increase blood flow to your brain. And those mood-boosting properties we all know that chocolate has? Well, cacao contains magnesium (nature’s antidepressant), and, yes, phenylethylamine, a mood-boosting chemical and noted aphrodisiac.
Best ways to use. Unfortunately, you won’t get these health benefits from a Hershey bar, or even that expensive Swiss chocolate some of us like to indulge in. To get the full nutritional value of cacao, either use pure cacao powder or cacao nibs, which are broken up pieces of cacao beans. Powdered raw cacao adds a rich and unique flavor to smoothies or it can be used on its own for a wonderful afternoon drink. Try adding chocolate nibs to your trail mix or for an indulgence.
Chlorella is a tiny, green algae which grows in lakes and rivers in Southeast Asia and Australia. Like its cousin Spirulina, it is an amazing superfood. Research from Japan shows that it is effective at reducing body fat and blood glucose levels, as well as boosting energy, aiding digestion and improving immunity to disease.
Chlorella has 38 times more protein than soybeans, plus the nine essential amino acids, and vitamins and minerals. Currently, it’s being explored as a supplement to cancer treatment (studies show that it prevents secondary infections), and as a natural detoxifier. It’s also a good source of magnesium, which has been shown to reduce stress and even alleviate clinical depression.
Best ways to use. Chlorella is most often taken in tablets, like a vitamin supplement. If you don't mind the intense color and subtle seaweed taste, you can also get it in powder form and mix it in with smoothies.
The Best Resources for Inexpensive Superfoods
The problem with many superfoods is that they are expensive! The cheapest resource we have found is Amazon.com's Subscribe & Save program. Most products are already near wholesale prices, and if you sign up for the Subscribe & Save program, you get free shipping plus 15% off. So, for example, a 16 oz. pack of Goji berries cost about the same as an 8 oz bag at e.g. David Wolfe's online nutrition store.
With the Subscribe & Save program, you have to specify regular delivery of a product (e.g. once a month, every two months, every three or six months), but you can always order and then go in and cancel the product if it turns out you don't need regular shipments. But in our experience, once you feel the effects of superfoods, chances are you will want them regularly.