Featured Foods: Sacha Inchi and Cacao Beans

Look at this wonderful scene, it’s no wonder that South America produces some great little culinary treasures. When I was at Whole Foods I found a package of roasted Sacha Inchi seeds. What really drew me to the package was the word omega written really big on the front (and we all know that I’m all about Omega-3s- hello fish oil!) Anyway I bought some to try. They definitely had a different taste, (I admit at first I didn’t like them), but the more I tried the more they grew on me. I think they have potential in a trail mix (like with nuts, some unsweetened coconut flakes, and some cacao nibs, which I’m about to talk about). They’re not going to be for everyone, but they’re interesting and have good numbers, plus it’s great to have variety and be able to add spice to your daily eating rountine. As I tried to find out more about these little seeds, I discovered cacao nibs. I figured we could discuss both since they both come from South America, plus everyone loves chocolate (and where does chocolate ome form- cacao duh).

Sacha Inchi is believed to be used pre-Inca and Inca, more than 3,000 years ago. It’s high in protein- 27%. The greatest part is it’s omega fatty acid content, which is more omega-3 (48%) to omega-6 (36%). They’re also a good antioxidant (with high numbers of vitamin A and E). What do these things do for you health wise?

  • reduce triglyceride levels
  • reduce hypertension
  • regulate blood sugar
  • regulate nerve transmission and nerve communication
  • reduce arterial inflammation

   You can also find it in oil form. With all these benefits, they can’t hurt to try, can they?

cacao nibs

Cacao– Warning this is not your traditional milk chocolate, it is extremely bitter and is probably mixed with something than eaten solo. We’ve all heard about the benefits of dark chocolate right? Let’s check it out them out then. Cacao has a long history. Since the 16th century there have been no less than 100 medicinal uses for cacao listed in medical texts. The Maya, Olmec, and Aztec used the whole cacao plant, and it’s use spread further after the Spanish conquests of the 1500’s. Above all, I think its most redeeming quality is its high antioxidant level (which is higher than wine, most vegetables and fruits, and 4 times the concentraion of green tea!) They’re a rich source of:

  • magnesium (stress relief, plus it relaxes muscles, while building strong bones and teeth)
  • calcium
  • iron
  • zinc
  • copper
  • manganese
  •  potassium
  • plus a good source of: vitamin A, B1, B2, B3, C, and E

    They also contain two chemicals (phenylehtylalamine and andamide) which elevate mood and increase focus, by stimulating the production of serotonin and endorphins. The flavanol epicatechin in studies has shown promise in preventing stroke damage. What are some other benefits? Cacao may:

  • lower blood pressure
  • anti-inflammation
  • anti-platelet function
  • higher HDL
  • decreased LDL oxidation
  • greater insulin sensitivity
  • stimualte nervous system
  • improve digestion and elimination
  • improve endothelial function in overweight adults

    In addition the antioxidants may help with arteriosclerosis and may lower the oxidative stress of strenuous activities (therefore helping athletes recover). Once again I’m not encouraging you to go out and mow down on some chocolate bars. The health benefits come from the raw, unprocessed beans or nibs.

    Step out of your comfort zone and try some South American treasues. Mix them in a trail mix (maybe even throw in some goji berries) or eat them by themselves. I know that you can find them at Whole Foods stores (note that they can be a little pricey).

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