When it comes to plant-based, eating a variety is key. Vegan and Vegetarian diets have been a useful and effective way to promote a diverse ecosystem of beneficial bacteria to support human gut microbiome and overall health. (1) So getting a little adventurous with our plant-based eating food choices and increasing diet diversity can greatly benefit us in consuming a range of nutrients and guaranteeing good gut health.
Mother Nature’s bounty has much to offer and the plants native to South America are no exception. Aside from quinoa, cacao, maca, lucuma, acai berry and chia seeds, which many people already incorporate into a healthy diet, here are 3 more foods to include in your plant-based eating and with good reason.
There has been growing interest in developing the Sacha Inchi plant as a novel oil source in unsaturated fatty acids in recent years. (2) It can be likened in taste to peanuts and the seed itself can be consumed on its own, as an oil or in the form of protein powder.
The seeds contain 35 – 60% lipids, 25 – 30% protein (importantly including essential amino acids such as cysteine, tyrosine, threonine, and tryptophan) and vitamin E and the all-important polyphenols,(3) meaning the nutritional profile of this seed can be considered as an important dietary source of health-promoting phytochemicals. (4)
In a study of Sacha Inchi, scientific methodology assessed the polyphenol components of the cold-pressed oil, with 15 polyphenol compounds identified,(5) indicating the potential of providing numerous health benefits. Polyphenols or polyphenol-rich diets provide significant protection against the development and progression of many chronic pathological conditions including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular problems and ageing. (5) Abundant in plant foods, polyphenols have been demonstrated to increase Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus(1) the healthy bacteria found in the gut microbiome.
As a ‘pseudo-grain’ Amaranth checks all the boxes. Plant-based, protein-rich food that is easy to digest, gluten-free and versatile. The health benefits attributed include decreasing cholesterol, stimulating the immune system, reducing blood glucose levels, and improving hypertension and anaemia conditions. (6)
Cooking the grain in water or vegetable stock makes for a great alternative accompaniment to a curry instead of rice, quinoa or couscous. Added to stews or soups to thicken or used in tabouli as a replacement to cracked wheat, Amaranth can become an easy addition to a vegan menu. It has also been reported to possess anti-allergic and antioxidant activities and even exert an antitumor activity,(6) giving good reason to include it on the shopping list.
Swap your plant-based eating up and sweeten by cooking in coconut milk and serve with stewed fruit for a tasty porridge. You may also find puffed Amaranth which can be added to slices as an alternative to puffed rice (think healthy chocolate crackles!) or Amaranth flakes for a faster way to prepare porridge.
In a comparative study of legumes, the highest Iron availability among legumes was for Lima Beans. (7) Iron-rich foods prioritise a plant-based meal or diet, so Lima beans are worthy of the pantry space. Commonly known as Butter Beans due to their creamy consistency, this bean variety offers an alternative to the usual legumes on rotation in a plant-based dish. Swap it in place of chickpeas in a curry or kidney beans on Mexican night.
The benefits of legumes in the diet are clear and interestingly, preparing beans from scratch instead of canned appears to have extra nutritional benefits. In a comparison of canned vs dried, the dried, cooked beans were significantly more energy-dense, contained more protein, fibre, iron, potassium and magnesium; and less sodium than canned beans. (8)
Beans are already economical but buying dried in bulk and avoiding cans is a great idea for your own health by (avoiding BPA found in the lining of cans) but also to reduce our carbon footprint. Soak overnight, rinse well and consider using a slow cooker to allow for the extra time it takes to cook from dried—worth the effort with a little planning.
Variety is the spice of life. These food items are easily found in good health food stores. Next time you are in one, make sure to browse the shelves for a new addition to your culinary repertoire.
Stay tuned for the next Blog when we explore crops native to Africa!