We are a fast-paced nation of convenience, always searching for a quick energy boost through a cup of coffee, energy bar or fast-acting energy drink. And the latest trend is all-natural “super-foods.” Zach Adelman, vice-president of Nativas Naturals, says the new world of high-energy organics is experiencing an “extreme” growth spurt.
The “Happy Berry”
Adelman’s company has developed a new line of snack mixes called “Trail Power,” which prominently feature the antioxidant-rich Goji berry, which has its origins in traditional Chinese medicine. The tiny, dried berries are sweet with a zing, like a cross between a cranberry and a cherry. A good source of protein and fiber, the berry is also credited with curbing appetite and boosting energy and well-being, earning the nickname, “the happy berry.”
“It’s the berry of the month,” says David Muckle, manager and buyer for natural foods market It’s Only Natural. “It wouldn’t surprise me if you started seeing Goji berries in your cereal, like flax.” The berry is most convenient in its dried form, where it can be combined in a trail mix or stirred in yogurt or oatmeal. And Nativas Naturals’ latest development is freeze-dried Goji powder, which can be mixed in water or added to smoothies.
Adelman stresses the importance of consumer education. “I only work with the whole berry that is certified organic,” Adelman says, “That’s where all the nutrients are present.”
Yerba mate (pronounced mott-ee), a South American “health tonic,” is a new alternative to the morning cup of coffee or afternoon energy drink. Yerba mate drinks “give the kick without the crash,” says David Karr, vice president of Guayaki, a fair trade company. Mate enthusiasts say that the tea’s caffeine is balanced by the plant’s natural stimulants and nutritional content. In addition to boosting energy, yerba mate is purported to strengthen the immune system, relieve allergies and aid in weight control and elimination. The brewed leaves contain theobromine (also found in cocoa), the alkaloid responsible for mood elevation.
“The current research on the potential benefits of mate is very promising,” says Yale-New Haven Hospital nutritionist Lisa Tartamella Kimmel. “But further research is still warranted to better identify the components that are believed to be therapeutic agents.” Many studies have tentatively linked yerba mate consumption with cancer prevention. Versions of brewed mate in the U.S. include teas, lattes, coffee blends and energy drinks. The drink has an earthy flavor. Although the plain tea may be an acquired taste, companies like Guayaki make flavored versions of unsweetened tea, sweet latte mix and energy drinks with a hint of cane juice to suit the American palate.
The beverages are taking hold. Karr reports that his products are now sold at Safeway, Wegmans and 7-11 and brewed at coffee chains across the West Coast. The East Coast isn’t far behind, offering yerba mate products in most natural foods stores and Earth-conscious coffee shops.
As with many dietary supplements, consumers should be cautious. Mate does contain caffeine, which is a known stimulant, but other medical claims are largely speculative and are not government regulated. “Al-ways talk with your doctor or health-care provider before taking any of these supplements,” says Kimmel, “Just because something is natural doesn’t mean that it won’t interact with your medication.”
Hemp: No Longer Taboo
Hemp, a once-controversial fiber used to make clothing, is making its way into the market as a new source of protein in the form of powders, shelled seeds, milk, butter and oil. With a pleasant, nutty flavor, hemp products are easily integrated into the American diet. Muckle says people purchase hemp as “an alternative to soy or dairy protein.”
Hemp food products contain undetectable levels of THC (the mind-altering chemical found in marijuana), and have no hallucinogenic effects. Hemp does not contain high levels of all nine essential amino acids, but the plant includes several vital proteins that aid in early development, proper enzyme formation and metabolism for exercising muscle. Esther Blum, registered dietician and certified holistic nutritionist, suggests that hemp “can be part of a diet that contains fish and lean proteins. I don’t rely on plant proteins as a full energy source because they are not complete.”
And with its high protein content (34.6 percent protein, comparable to soy) hemp seed is a source of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. These “good fats,” touted for promoting cardiovascular health, account for nearly half of the hemp seed. Studies have shown that the proper balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids may also delay or reduce the effects of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. And hemp seed contains the “super omega-6” gamma linolenic acid, which has been found to be proactive in treating some cancers.
“Omega-3s are definitely useful in preventing cardiovascular disease, depression, neurological disease, skin problems, eczema, acne and psoriasis, and it’s a natural anit-inflammatory that can be useful in treating rheumatoid arthritis,” says Blum. “But to get omega-3 from a protein plant source is far less efficient than eating a piece of fish or fish oils.”
To maximize nutritional benefit, Blum recommends hemp seeds, due to the high fiber content. “You can grind the seeds in a coffee grinder just like flax seed,” Blum says, “and then mix the powder into “yogurt, oatmeal or smoothies.”
When it comes to energy and nutrition, it seems that convenience is key. These new super foods are gaining attention not only for their nutritional content, but also for the smooth integration into our grab-and-go lifestyle