Superfood Powder: What is it and how to use it
The old adage “you are what you eat” couldn’t be more true today. There’s no doubt that what you eat greatly affects your overall health and wellbeing. Certain foods are so densely packed with protein, vitamins, and antioxidants that they are deemed “superfoods.” Not just a new fad, superfoods have been around for centuries and used in natural medicines across the globe. These roots, leaves, and fruit are purported to boost the immune system, keep your hormones in check, and help fight cardiovascular diseases and obesity. Some even claim they get an energetic glow with all the antioxidants that certain superfoods pack.
Superfood powders are just those foods dehydrated and finely ground into powders. Sometimes pure and sometimes blended, they can easily be added to baked goods, smoothies, yoghurts and drinks. The powder form retains most antioxidants and nutrients and is an easy way to add them into your regular diet.
However, not all superfood powders are created equal: it’s important to look for words like “cold-pressed,” “freeze-dried,” and “organic” when selecting superfood powders, as some more conventional options may contain additives and processed ingredients.
Of course, we shouldn’t expect a single food to be a silver bullet for ailments. And although powders are an easy way to squeeze in more nutrients and antioxidants, you’re actually getting rid of the fiber that you’d get from chewing them whole. Superfood powders are a great addition to your diet but in no way replace wholefoods, vegetables, and fruit.
Superfood Powders: the complete list
You may have heard of some of the big names, like acai or spirulina. But there are many more that make the superfood list. From moringa leaves, to maca root, to algae like chlorella, these superfood powders add a healthy kick to sweet and savory recipes. To be used in moderation, of course.
Originally from the Indian subcontinent, the moringa tree is also known as the “miracle tree” and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. Proponents claim it has anti-inflammatory, detoxing, and antiviral properties and could even help in treating mood disorders. Its leaves are loaded with a whopping list of compounds like vitamins A, B6, calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron and antioxidants that fight cancer-causing free radicals. While it has few reported side effects, this green superfood powder may have anti-fertility effects. And stick to the leaves, as moringa seeds may be toxic to immune cells. Moringa powder should also not be used in combination with medications that lower blood pressure as the effect could be doubled. Bearing these conditions in mind, it’s easy to add as a seasoning to vegetables or meats or add to your drinks.
Perhaps one of the most well-known superfoods, acai is a small dark berry hailing from the Amazon. It’s loaded with a stellar amount of antioxidants, omega-6 and omega-9 fats, and vitamin C. Those antioxidants and phytochemicals help fight harmful free radicals, in addition to contributing to skin and hair health (although there isn’t enough scientific evidence that acai reverses the effects of skin ageing). Careful of any weight loss myths, however. The berry is actually higher on the caloric count than others. With a tart yet chocolate-y fruitiness, acai pairs well with other fruits and nuts. And although the best way to get the most out of this superfood is to eat it fresh or whole, acai powder is a great alternative to make a delicious acai bowl at home. Eat in moderation however, as too much can increase bleeding and lower blood pressure.
Maca root is an Andean plant, sometimes called “Peruvian ginseng,” and has been used by Incan indigenous populations for its energy-boosting properties for centuries. It’s high in vitamin C, copper, iron, zinc and amino acids. As an adaptogen, it supposedly promotes adrenal function (and some say sexual health) for increased stamina and helps regulate hormonal imbalances. Some claim it can treat menopausal symptoms, although there haven’t been enough rigorous trials to confirm. With a nutty, caramel flavor, maca powder is a great one to add to oatmeals and smoothies. It does contain goitrogens which can interfere with the thyroid function, so if you already have thyroid issues consume with caution. And if you take medications to thin your blood, maca’s high concentration of blood-clotting compound vitamin K can interfere.
Sea vegetable chlorella is a green algae that delivers several key nutrients, on top of being a sustainable option due to its high reproductive rate. It’s rich in chlorophyll and beta-carotene, and for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet chlorella is protein-rich and a great source of plant-based vitamin B12. Those with iron or vitamin A deficiencies can also rejoice: in a 1-oz serving, the levels are more than twice the recommended daily dose. Its ability to bind heavy metals lead to high praise for its detoxification properties, although there’s debate over that claim. Those with thyroid conditions should avoid this green superfood powder because of its iodine levels. And similar to maca, high levels of vitamin K mean increased blood clotting. Side effects of chlorella ingestion can include nausea and stomach cramping - as with any other superfood powder, moderation is key. Include it in your diet as a savory addition to omelettes or soup.
Baobab is an African tree with fruit super rich in antioxidants and calcium. Its nutrient-loaded pulp is said to benefit the immune system, high in vitamin C, antioxidants, and minerals like niacin and potassium. Even the powdered form has high amounts of fiber which can help digestion and control blood sugar levels. While studies are limited to animals, some have found that baobab can reduce inflammation. There are some antinutrients in the pulp and seeds that reduce nutrient absorption, although the amount is too low to be considered an issue for most. Like maca powder, baobab powder is a great addition to sweets with a citrus-y flavor that brightens up a dish. Try them in energy balls mixed with cacao powder or to flavor drinks.
Yet another environmentally-friendly green superfood from the sea, spirulina is considered by some the most nutrient dense food in the world. It is high in chlorophyll, iron and plant proteins. It was once used by the Aztecs and more recently has been considered a dietary solution for food insecurity and astronauts. It also boasts a number of antioxidants and essential nutrients like thiamin, niacin, iron and manganese. And, some research suggests that spirulina can reduce cholesterol levels. Contrary to popular belief, spirulina is not a source of bioavailable vitamin B12, and it may worsen some autoimmune diseases. There is also the danger of toxins if spirulina is grown in contaminated waters. Add to smoothies for a blue-green touch, or go the savoury route and add to salad dressings for an added dose of nutrients.