The new wave of superfoods includes moringa, chocho, and basil seeds. They’ve actually been used medicinally for centuries in other parts of the world and now are making their way to the forefront of current nutritional research because of their unique health-promoting properties.
While not a regulated term with an official definition, you can think of superfoods as foods worthy of special recognition based on their unusually high concentrations of certain vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants and their potential benefits for optimizing health in addition to preventing, and even fighting against, a variety of diseases.
These are some of the latest superfoods you’ll start to see pop up in supermarkets.
Moringa, a plant native to many countries in Southeast Asia, is a distant relative of the cruciferous vegetable family and has similar nutritional value to crucifers such as broccoli, kale and cabbage. The most common way to consume it is by drying the moringa leaves and grounding them into a velvety green moringa powder. Drying the leaves serves to concentrate its antioxidant properties.
Just 2 tablespoons of moringa powder contains a whopping 60 percent of your daily recommended iron intake and is rich in antioxidants and vitamins A, B2, B6, C, E and K. Moringa is also a good source of calcium and magnesium in addition to its surprising fiber and protein content—2 tablespoons contains 6 grams of each! Moringa also contains other potent antioxidants such as beta-carotene , quercetin and chlorogenic acid which have been shown to have a variety of positive effects on the body including helping to lower blood pressure, stabilize blood sugar, and strengthen immunity.
Moringa leaf extracts have shown to protect against gastric ulcers , liver damage and elevated cholesterol levels in animal studies, it has also been researched for its benefits in improving thyroid health and hormones which help to support increase energy, low libido, and insomnia .
In recent years, moringa has been used in early clinical trials for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, and has been shown to balance neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which may make it useful to manage stress and balance mood.
Everything from moringa teas to moringa powders are now widely available for purchase online and at your local health store. Because moringa powder is highly concentrated, a small amount packs a big nutritional punch when you add it into smoothies, sprinkle it on top of avocado toast, or mix it into a favorite soup or stew recipe.
Chocho, also known as andean lupin or by its scientific name, lupinus mutabilis, is part of the lupini bean family native to Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia and a popular ingredient in many South American dishes.
These small, dense, white beans are now on our superfoods list since they pack in a ton of nutrition, with a single cup containing 26 grams of protein and just 16 grams of carbohydrate — 5 of which come from dietary fiber. With such a high protein content, chocho beans contain nine essential amino acids including histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Chocho beans aren’t lacking in micronutrients either: They’re a good source of calcium, iron and vitamin C and boast a high concentration of plant phytosterols that have been shown to fight free radicals in the body. Unlike other beans and legumes, chochos are thought to be more easily digestible given they lack specific antinutrients common in other plant based proteins that can interfere with digestion.
With their low glycemic index, chocho beans have an ideal combination of high fiber and complex carbohydrates in addition to high protein content which aids in their positive effects on blood cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.
Clinically, chocho beans have been shown to help reduce cholesterol and fatty liver disease. In animal studies, rabbits fed lupin protein isolate for 90 days had a 40 percent reduction in blood cholesterol levels and chickens fed the seeds of lupini beans in place of grains experienced a reduced accumulation of fat in their livers and a subsequent improvement in blood cholesterol. Recently, a study with 75 people found that taking 25 grams of lupini bean protein per day produced significant blood cholesterol lowering effects when compared with those given the same amount of milk protein over a 4-week period.
Several studies have also shown that lupini beans have positive effects on lowering blood sugar , particularly in people with diabetes, and helping to manage high blood pressure . The powerful beans appear to help positively influence genes that regulate glucose metabolism in addition to inhibiting the action of enzymes that can contribute to hypertension.
Similar to other legumes, chocho beans have a fairly mild flavor and have been historically incorporated into the diet as a snack or an ingredient in soups, stews or ceviches. Until recently, chochos and other lupini bean varieties have been difficult to find in the U.S., but companies like Five Suns Foods and Brami are bringing them to market. A recent popular use of chocho is as a high protein gluten -free flour alternative in which the beans are ground and can be used to make breads, baked goods, and pastas.
When looking for chocho beans, be mindful not to confuse them with chayote squash, a starchy vegetable native to Central America, often nicknamed chocho. Lastly, because chochos belong to the same legume family as peanuts, those that are allergic to peanuts should be cautious as there may be risk of reaction in highly sensitive individuals.
Basil seeds are the small black seeds from the sweet basil plant also known as Thai basil, falooda or sabja seeds. Similar to chia seeds, basil seeds belong to the same family of herbs and contain many of the same nutritional properties and culinary uses. As a great emulsifier, basil seeds easily absorb the liquid they’re submerged in and bloom into gelatinous pearls, just like chia, when soaked.
From a nutritional perspective, basil seeds contain an average of 2.5 grams of fat per tablespoon , half of which is in the form of an omega 3 fat, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). The ALA content of basil seeds is likely in part what contributes to their anti-inflammatory properties. They also contain 7 grams of fiber in a single tablespoon, almost a third of what Parsley Health doctors recommend daily, and are a good source of calcium, potassium, copper, manganese, magnesium, and iron.
While studies regarding the clinical use of basil seeds are limited, recent research from 2016 found that when diabetic rats consumed aqueous solutions of basil seeds it helped stabilize their blood sugar and reduced associated complications including anemia, kidney damage, and liver dysfunction. Individuals who consumed 30 grams of basil seeds daily for one month also experienced an 8 percent reduction in their total cholesterol levels , found research. With their high insoluble fiber content, particularly from pectin, basil seeds also come with gut healing benefits as their prebiotic fibers can help to feed and foster the growth of anti-inflammatory bacteria in the intestine.
Think of basil seeds as an alternative to chia seeds. They can give an easy and textured nutritional boost to your morning smoothie, homemade salad dressing, favorite dip, or coconut milk or avocado pudding recipe. While less popular than their more well-known superfood counterpart chia, basil seeds can be found in local specialty Asian markets or online at most organic grocers like Thrive Market.
Kelly Candela is a registered Dietitian Nutritionist with six years of experience in the health and wellness field, four of which have been spent right here at Parsley Health supporting members with everything from gut issues and autoimmune disease to cardiometabolic health concerns and fertility. She holds a Master's of Science in Nutrition from one of the leading science-based natural medicine schools in the country, Bastyr University, and completed her dietetic internship at Sea Mar Community Health Center in Seattle, WA.