Far from what the negative stereotypes may suggest, a plant-based diet can and should be rich in all the macro and micronutrients humans need to survive and thrive. To counter the lifestyle diseases that are plaguing our society, the stimulating and health-promoting properties of plant superfoods could be our saving grace.
A diet rich in varied whole plant foods, organically sourced and seasonably procured, is an indisputable recipe for good health. However, there are a few plants we regard as “superfoods”, for their exceptional nutritional quality. These foods have a range of benefits that we are sorely needing and can prevent or reverse a significant number of the common diseases and ailments that threaten our health and vitality.
Known as the “miracle tree”, it is no wonder that this plant is one of Earth’s most nutritious crops. Indigenous to the foothills of the Himalayas, moringa has spread across tropical climates around the world and is renowned for a multitude of uses. Its latin name, moringa oleifera hints towards its usage for oils. In fact, moringa seed oil is naturally rich in omega fatty acids and therefore its cosmetic applications numerous.
Moringa is valued as a multi-purpose crop, as beyond its applications for medicine, textiles, and water purification, its fruit, roots, and leaves are all edible and highly nutritious. The leaves of the moringa tree possess more beta-carotene (a powerful cancer-fighting antioxidant) than carrots, more protein than peas, more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach and as much potassium as bananas. These impressive leafy greens are used to boost the immune system, and are particularly beneficial for those afflicted with HIV or liver damage. The same bio-enhancing effects of moringa that help make nutrients more bioavailable to our bodies can help with pharmaceutical effectiveness for certain medications.
Beyond the slew of nutritional benefits provided in moringa, its crushed seeds help remove chemical contaminants in drinking water. As the leaves contain all the essential amino acids that the human body requires, as well as all the other aforementioned nutrients, moringa is a vital subsistence crop. If you’re ever stuck without food or clean water, go find the nearest moringa tree and thank your lucky stars!
The schisandra, or 5-flavour berry, has been used widely in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. This vibrant red berries of this perennial shrub are thought to encourage the flow of qi, or the “essential life force”, while protecting the body from a whole host of ailments.
The potent antioxidant properties of schisandra are beneficial in fighting Alzheimer’s, Type 2 Diabetes, hepatitis, and toxic liver damage. Regular consumption of the berries helps reduce the painful and troublesome symptoms of menopause while encouraging resilience to stress through its adaptogenic properties.
The non-psychoactive cousin of cannabis, hemp has been used for millennia by humans for its impressive array of applications in energy, textiles, medicine and food. Hemp seeds are rich in omega 3s and 6s, and are a complete source of plant-protein with all the essential amino acids. By weight, hemp seeds have the same amount of protein as beef or lamb with none of the cruelty or carcinogens!
GLA, or gamma-linolenic acid, is a fatty acid found in hemp hearts that reduces inflammation, stimulates new cell growth, helps with arthritis, nerve damage, diabetes, eczema, high blood pressure, and PMS symptoms.
Apart from being a healthy source of plant fat and protein, hemp seeds are also a potent source of vitamin E, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron and zinc. Additionally, recent studies suggest that the high amount of arginine (an amino acid) found in hemp seeds can stimulate nitric oxide development in the body, which can help lower blood pressure and subsequently lower the risk of heart disease.
Also known as “pepitas”, this unhulled variety of oilseed is an unsung nutritional superstar. Pumpkin seeds are high in antioxidants such as beta-carotene and vitamin E, which help the body fight disease, ward off the growth of cancerous tumours, and stimulate healthy blood flow.
Diets rich in pepitas are associated with a reduced risk of breast, stomach, lung, prostate and colon cancer. The lignans (phytochemicals) found in pumpkin seeds can regulate hormone function, fight cancer-causing free radicals, and stave off heart disease.
The combination of antioxidants, magnesium, zinc, and fatty acids present in pumpkin seeds help maintain heart health while regulating blood and cholesterol levels. Like hemp seeds, pepitas are also associated with higher rates of nitric oxide generation, which increase blood flow and lower blood pressure. The magnesium in pumpkin seeds helps reduce the risk of contracting Type 2 Diabetes. They are also a rare source of dietary zinc which is known to help protect sperm and maintain male fertility. Additionally the antioxidant properties of pepitas help maintain healthy testosterone levels.
For those suffering from sleep disorders, pumpkin seeds may be a beneficial addition to a bedtime routine. They are a natural source of tryptophan, the same compound found in turkey that puts the family to sleep after the traditional Thanksgiving feast.
Though technically a member of the fungi and not a plant, chaga is an indisputable superstar for its range of nutritional benefits. Chaga is found as a parasitic growth on birch trees in colder climates throughout the northern hemisphere. A decoction or tea of chaga has been used for millennia by indigenous peoples in Siberia and North America, and for good reason.