March is National Nutrition Month, making this the perfect moment to check in with your eating.
Believe it or not, there are still new discoveries being made in the world of nutrition – it’s an exciting time to explore healthy and delicious foods you might not already know. That’s why I’m using this opportunity to introduce the Peruvian Superfoods diet.
Peruvian superfoods, direct from the Andes and the Amazon, promise health benefits with a Latin American flair. Fortunately, these once-obscure foods are now available in mainstream American supermarkets.
The Peruvian diet has an extraordinary number of superfoods, enough to rival the widely-touted Mediterranean diet. There’s no universal definition of the term "superfood," but I use the term to describe hardworking, functional foods that far surpass basic nutritional content. They can include products rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients, anti-inflammatory fats and other naturally-occurring chemicals that have been associated with prevention of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes; weight control; blood-sugar regulation and reduced inflammation.
There may already be some Peruvian superfoods in your diet – avocados and sweet potatoes are popular examples. But those are just the beginning, because the Peruvian diet contains an incredible number of them, including some that many North Americans may have never tasted.
After spending decades in the U.S. as a dietitian working with clients in my practice in San Francisco, I returned to my birthplace and culinary roots in Peru to travel from the fertile Andes, where over 3,000 kinds of potatoes and 200 species of corn are grown, to the Amazonian jungle, source of thousands of extraordinary fruits, nuts and seeds. I visited open markets, restaurants, humble food stands and family kitchens, gathered stories and recipes, and savored dishes packed with phenomenal disease-fighting, immunity-strengthening ingredients.
I introduced these foods to my clients, who experienced weight loss, improved moods, increased energy and glowing skin. That inspired me to write my new book, Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet, which constructs a diet plan for health and weight management using a series of recipes created around Peruvian superfoods.
The program begins with an optional five-day smoothie reboot, featuring different-colored fruits and vegetables each day so your body receives the widest array of nutrients while revitalizing your cells. I then created recipes for delicious Peruvian-inspired meal plans that you can mix and match to your tastes and needs, whether you are male or female, an omnivore, vegetarian or vegan, or you follow a gluten-free diet.
Growing up in Lima everything I ate was made from scratch – whole, fresh ingredients are the true origins of the Peruvian diet. Nowadays Peruvian supermarkets, especially those in cities, are full of the usual suspects of packaged and processed foods, history remains strong among rural Peruvians. Especially in the Andes and the Amazon – where, not coincidentally, there is a lower incidence of metabolic syndrome, hypertension, diabetes and obesity – superfoods are still widely consumed.
So, what is in the Peruvian superfoods diet? I can’t sum it up by mentioning just one or two products, because the real strength of the Peruvian superfoods diet is its variety. Peru has an incredibly variable landscape, ranging from deep jungle to great mountain peaks and fertile farmland.
Starting in the Amazon, you will find memory-boosting foods that improve brain health, such as sacha inchi seeds, which are high in complete protein and omega-3s. Lucuma is a fruit rich in antioxidants and a good source of beta-carotene and calcium. Looking for an anti-aging fix? Camu camu is extremely high in vitamin C.
Moving into the Andes, you will find quinoa, kañiwa and kiwicha, three seeds that are full of antioxidants, high in protein, and high in fiber. And you will also find the root maca, which has been shown to increase sexual drive.
Anti-inflammatory fats come from sacha inchi seeds, avocados and chia seeds. There are also many immune-boosting spices in the Peruvian diet such as turmeric, ají peppers and cumin.
Benefits of the Peruvian diet
Omega-3s and anti-inflammatory fats can lower triglycerides and blood pressure and monounsaturated fats help reduce cholesterol and risk of heart disease.
Sources: sacha inchi and chia seeds; a good source of monounsaturated fats: avocados
Disease-fighting antioxidants and phytochemicals act as free radical scavengers and contain anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome, cancer, diabetes, obesity, arthritis – all while increasing immune system support.
Sources: ají, pichuberries, purple potatoes and purple corn
Anti-aging vitamins and nutrients help increase vitality, longevity, energy, and improve memory, vision and skin.
Sources: lucuma and sweet potatoes
Digestive health through probiotics and fiber, which help reduce bloating, gas and stomach pain and cramps.
Sources: papaya and yacon
Obviously there are real health benefits to the Peruvian superfoods, but it’s important to remember that none of these foods are a “magic bullet” that will lead to overall good health.
By the same token, there are many other foods that are healthy, and many paths to nutritious eating. My point is to not replace all your current healthy foods with Peruvian ones! But, if you’re looking to make Nutrition Month your moment to change up your diet or to put some new flavors in your already health-conscious eating, incorporating Peruvian superfoods is a good way to bring into your diet fresh, whole, healthy foods with a tasty pop for your palate.
Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian in private practice, MV Nutrition, award winning nutrition and weight loss center in San Francisco. He is the founder and creator of Eating Free, an international weight management and wellness program and author of three books, Eating Free: The Carb Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Peruvian Power Foods: 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes, and Anti-Aging Secrets from the Amazon to the Andes and his newest book, Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet to Detoxify, Energize, and Supercharge Fat Loss.