Cacao and Mushroom superfoods
Can superfood powders make you superhuman? Perhaps. Read on to discover which of these trendy add-ins is worth the investment.
Once upon a time, bananas were considered a “superfood,” but today’s health-minded folk are continually on the hunt for new, exciting items that pack a nutritional punch. Currently on trend: adding all manner of plant-based powders to food and drinks in order to reap the benefits of their bioactive compounds in a tasty way.
However, not all these products are beneficial, and often there’s a gray line between the scientifically supported truth and the fluffy marketing hype. Don’t waste your hard-earned money on a questionable can of dust. Instead, invest in one of these seven science-backed powders to boost your nutrition — and protect your bottom line.
Cacao powder is made by cold-pressing raw, unroasted cacao beans; cocoa powder is made from roasted, processed cacao beans.
- Reduces blood pressure
- Improves performance
- Enhances weight loss
With Wonka-like exuberance, we’re happy to report that cacao possesses a wealth of health-giving compounds, including flavonols — antioxidants that have been studied for their ability to reduce blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health — and phenylethylamine, which has been shown to improve athletic performance, decrease depression and enhance weight loss. Cacao also (surprisingly) contains almost 2 grams of fiber per tablespoon!
But not all cacao powder is created equal. Choose “natural” or “raw” products instead of “Dutch-processed cocoa”: According to the Journal of Food Science, this processing alkalizes the product with the intention of mellowing out the flavor but damages valuable antioxidants, as well.
Research published in Chemistry Central Journal shows that cacao contains a higher antioxidant capacity than other fruit powders such as açai and blueberry.
- Use in any chocolate-flavored recipe, including puddings and cakes.
- Toss in a tablespoon to add flavorful depth to a pot of chili.
- Add to a spice rub for chicken, pork or steak.
- Builds muscle
- Strengthens bones
- Improves GI health
Hemp powder is rich in protein, providing roughly 15 grams in a ¼-cup serving, and it contains a complete spectrum of amino acids to spur on muscle recovery and growth. Hemp also contains heart-healthy omega-3 fats, plenty of fiber and a good dose of magnesium, an essential mineral for optimal bone health.
Taxonomically speaking, hemp and marijuana are the same genus of plant (Cannabis). They look and even smell the same, but that’s where the similarities end. Hemp contains no more than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight and will not elicit any psychoactive effects. Marijuana contains more than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight, and the kinds that get you high contain anywhere from 5 to 30 percent THC.
- Add to postworkout smoothies.
- Swap with some of the flour in pancakes.
- Add to a pot of simmering oatmeal or quinoa.
- Boosts brain power
- Prevents cancer
- Improves VO2 max
The mushroom business is, well, mushrooming, and when “functional” mushrooms like cordyceps, lion’s mane, reishi and chaga are dehydraed and ground into powder, they appear to have medicinal benefits: Research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease speculates that the bioactive compounds in fungi can improve brain function, and other studies indicate that mushrooms may help prevent certain cancers and reduce inflammation. Of interest to athletes: An investigation in the Journal of Dietary Supplements showed that consuming 4 grams of a medicinal mushroom blend daily for three weeks improved fitness metrics such as VO2 max (maximum oxygen uptake).
Mushroom powder comes in single-species powders or as a mix of fungi, but word to the wise: The taste can be reminiscent of loamy soil, so using them in smoothies or oatmeal might not please your palette.
Warning! Certain medications such as blood thinners may interact adversely with certain mushrooms, so check with your physician before using if you are taking prescription meds.
- Dissolve with hot water for an umami tea, or mix into your morning Joe.
- Blend into dips such as hummus.
- Stir into savory stews and soups such as minestrone.
Golden Milk Powder
- Alleviates joint pain
- Reduces inflammation
- Protects against muscle damage due to exercise intensity
This ayurvedic-inspired health drink contains turmeric, which, because of its high concentration of curcumin, has been studied for its anti-inflammatory and pain-alleviating properties. Research also suggests that curcumin may improve exercise performance by reducing the muscle damage associated with working out, according to the Journal of Inflammation Research. So why not just dump straight-up turmeric into hot milk? Many golden milk powders are formulated with piperine, a compound in black pepper that enhances curcumin absorption by temporarily increasing intestinal permeability, according to research published in Planta Medica.
- Add the powder to warm milk (or nut milk) for a true “golden milk” experience.
- Sprinkle on cauliflower before roasting.
- Add to scrambled eggs.
- Controls appetite
- Improves immunity
- Fights depression
Affordable and beneficial, nutty-tasting flax ranks in the upper echelons when it comes to nutrition. Its healthy fat profile works to promote heart health, reduce blood pressure and lower cholesterol, according to research published in Clinical Nutrition, and the lignans in flax have been shown to balance hormones and have been linked to a lower risk for breast cancer. It also helps control appetite: Its soluble fiber helps slow digestion and tames spikes in blood sugar, contributing to weight loss.
Whole flaxseeds have a hard shell that resists digestion, but grinding them into a powder frees its nutrients for absorption. Once ground, however, the clock is ticking until flax turns rancid, so store it in the fridge or freezer to maintain freshness.
- Add to homemade energy bars.
- Sprinkle on roasted vegetables.
- Use instead of breadcrumbs in recipes like meatloaf.
- Supports immune function
- Improves GI health
- Fights off free radicals
The benefits of green powders tend to be oversold, and enthusiasts report that they can cure just about anything that ails you. While not a panacea, greens powders do have a broad nutritional profile that can help round off an already healthy diet. Formulations vary by brand but usually consist of a blend of spirulina, broccoli, powdered fruits, herbs, digestive enzymes and probiotics. Some also add a plant-based protein to boost its nutritive value, while others contain energizing compounds such as green-tea extract. Together, these green-gredients support immunity and healthy digestion: A study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences reported that 2 tablespoons of a greens powder taken daily for four weeks raised circulating blood antioxidants, helping fend off free radicals.
- Stir in a scoop to boost the power of a juice.
- Mix into salad dressings.
- Add to homemade energy balls.
- Improves athletic performance
- Reduces blood pressure
- Fights inflammation
Nitrates, which beets have in spades, are converted in the body to nitric oxide, which works to vasodilate (widen) your blood vessels. This increases blood flow to your working muscles and allows them to perform more efficiently as you break a sweat, according to The Journal of Nutrition. Bonus: These same naturally occurring nitrates have been shown to keep blood pressure numbers in a healthy range.
Beet powder delivers a more concentrated source of nitrates than you’d get from gnawing on a whole beet.
- Mix with water about 30 minutes before hitting the gym floor.
- Whip into smoothies or stir into yogurt.
- Add to baked goods such as brownies.
The verdict is still out on the veritable health perks of certain popular powders. Take a pass on these products if your budget only allows for a few extra groceries.
Yes, this Amazonian fruit is packed with antioxidants and makes your smoothie bowls photo-ready, but so are less pricy fruits like blueberries and blackberries.
Moringa is everywhere these days, and the purported benefits of this plant include lowering blood sugar, improving digestion and fighting off cancer. However, it still needs to be vetted by actual researchers — not just social media influencers.
This ultra-tart exotic fruit contains off-the-chart levels of vitamin C for a healthier immune system. But rarely are people who eat enough fruits and veggies lacking in this nutrient, so save your bucks for something more beneficial.
Apart from the anecdotal, there are slim pickings when it comes to scientific evidence supporting the lofty claims surrounding maca root powder, including its power to boost libido and fertility. Plus, its malty flavor is pretty strong and might not be your cup of tea — literally and figuratively.
MCT (medium-chain triglycerides)
Yes, this keto-approved powder may offer quick, available energy to help power you through your day. However, no solid evidence is available that proves it will help you trim down and/or banish brain fog.
Written by Matthew Kadey for Oxygen Magazine and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.