Summer is coming to an end and UAE residents are returning from their vacations and travels. For many, September represents the perfect chance to get back into healthy habits, and to reset eating and exercise schedules. Superfoods – or ingredients that have high nutritional value – offer one easy way of giving your body an extra boost of vitamins and goodness after all the fun and adventures of the summer break.
Below, we’ve put together a list of six alternative, delicious and genuinely healthy superfoods that come highly recommended by health and wellness experts. They’re sure to help you make this autumn your happiest, healthiest and most successful one yet.
Closely related to gourd family vegetables such as squash, pumpkin, zucchini (courgettes) and cucumber, bitter gourd brings huge health benefits.
One cup contains 93 percent of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin C, 44 percent of the RDI of vitamin A and 17 percent of the RDI for folate. It’s also packed with potassium, zinc and iron.
Dr Faryal Luhar, a naturopathic doctor at DNA Health & Wellness Centre in Dubai, notes that it bitter gourd is renowned for reducing blood sugar and improving diabetes-related conditions.
Meanwhile, Ratna Ray, PhD and professor of pathology at St Louis University in the US, indicates that bitter gourd may even prevent cancer from growing and spreading.
“The lab and animal studies we’ve carried out with bitter gourd show that it has potential to be used as an alternative therapy to complement traditional cancer treatments. We were looking to test new foods that we thought might have cancer-fighting properties, but were not being tested a lot already or weren’t readily available on the market. Items like green tea or curcumin. Eventually we settled on bitter gourd, and we found it led to an approximately 50 percent reduction in tumour growth.”
Bitter gourd is readily available across the UAE, including in Carrefour, Lulu Hypermarket, Park n Shop and on delivery options like Kibsons, Farm Box and Barakat Fresh.
Coconut oil is said to improve cholesterol, kill harmful bacteria, and boost metabolism. Containing 90 percent saturated fat, it is very heat stable. It also has a high smoke point, meaning it can be heated to a high temperature safely.
Dr Nasr Al-Jafari, medical director at DNA Health Corp, explains that seed oils like soybean, corn, canola, sunflower and safflower produce high levels of free radicals when heated. Over time, these can cause damage to fatty tissue, DNA and proteins, and lead to various diseases over time.
“Preferable oil choices are minimally refined, cold-pressed, organic, non-GMO fats and liquid oils, such as extra virgin olive oil and extra virgin coconut oil. These are oils of the best quality. Fats and liquid oils break down in heat, light, and oxygen, so the quality and storage of oil is also important. Keep oils in dark glass, not plastic, containers and discard if they smell rancid.”
Long before camel milk was commercialized, Bedouins relied on it for their daily sustenance. Known as the “white gold of the desert”, the tribes swore by its nourishing properties, crediting it for their vigor and vitality in the harsh desert landscape.
The 3,200 camels that live at Al Ain Farms produce around two million liters of milk per year. This milk is sold locally to residents and businesses, and exported overseas to China, the US and parts of Europe.
Dr Abdelaziz Sanad Awad, vet and production manager at Al Ain Camel Farm, says that interest in camel milk has grown over the past 20 years.
“In recent years, demand has really grown a lot. More people than ever before are invested in their health and wellbeing and are turning to camel milk for its medicinal benefits. There’s been a lot of research into camel’s milk, and studies show that it can be beneficial when treating autism and diabetes, and it can improve immunity.”
Arguably the biggest superfood trend of the moment, fermented foods such as kombucha, sourdough, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut and miso are increasingly touted for their health benefits, including the way they boost the gut microbiome. Yoghurt, pickles, tempeh and apple cider vinegar are other widely used fermented foods, and all have undergone controlled microbial growth.
The high levels of good bacteria, vitamins and enzymes found in fermented foods make them great for physical and mental health. Dr Abhinav Gupta, specialist in internal medicine at Life Medical Centre in JVC, Dubai, explains that the benefits of eating fermented foods range from weight loss to boosted immunity and gut health, and reduced chances of developing diabetes, insulin resistance and even autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases.
“The maximum quantity of fermented foods that can be consumed without complications varies from person to person. Start with small portions and gradually increase them so that your body can adjust. I would recommend one or two servings a day. It’s important to diversify your intake and incorporate different fermented foods into your diet. Each one offers unique strains of probiotics and nutritional profiles.”
Brightly colored smoothie bowls are not just ultra-Instagrammable. They’re also extremely delicious, and, when made with vitamin and nutrient-packed superfood powders, genuinely healthy.
One superfood powder that every health-conscious foodie should try is Pink Pitaya from homegrown brand Superfoods.ae. Also known as ‘The Dragon Slayer’, this freeze-dried, hot pink powder is derived from dragon fruit, a plant that is native to South America. Pink Pitaya is high in vitamin C, iron, gut-protecting albumins and anthocyanin, which is an antioxidant. Per 100g, it delivers 210 calories, one gram of protein, two grams of fiber and 11 grams of naturally occurring sugar. (You could just eat some dragon fruit.)
Superfoods.ae founder Laetitia Friggit-Konate started her company after discovering that quality superfood powders were hard to find in the UAE.
“I wanted to boost my diet with vitamin and mineral supplements.”
Sweet potato was once the trendiest superfood around, and it is still a favourite amongst healthy eaters.
For instance, Dubai nutritionist Laura Holland, author of Your BeUtiful Body, is a big fan.
“Sweet potatoes are rich in fiber, which helps to promote healthy digestion, reduce cholesterol and balance hormone levels. They also contain beta carotene, more than four times your daily vitamin A allotment, and antioxidants. Easy to digest, comforting and nourishing, eating sweet potato helps to calm your body and mind and relieve stress. They simultaneously strengthen your immune system and provide lots of sustainable energy that won’t upset your blood sugar balance. They make a good toast swap because they’re nutrient-dense, gluten-free and much easier to digest than your regular bread.”