“Power foods is not just a trendy term anymore”. There is mounting evidence to suggest that many natural foods do so much more than simply satisfy our appetites. Dermatologists, nutritionists and other health professionals are raving about these “vitamin bombs “ packed with nutrients that can do wonders for our digestion, fight inflammation, improve our cardio vascular and eye health and even contain anti-aging properties, which give us glowing skin and envy-worthy hair.
However, living in Vietnam, you’ll quickly learn that these trendy power foods are often imported from far-flung places and can come with a hefty prize tag. But did you know that Vietnam has its own selection of power foods that you can buy easily and affordably without having to scour the shelves of a multitude of stores or purchase online from abroad. The key is to know what to ask for and, of course, what to do with all those green leaves and strange fruits once you get home! With just a little bit of knowledge, a simple trip to the local market can have your shopping basket brimming with produce that will leave you feeling energized and glowing from the inside out.
Here’s what to look for on your next trip to the market:
Gac is truly a wonder fruit that is packed from seed to skin with nutrients and age-defying antioxidants. It’s shaped like a thorny ball and doesn’t exactly look delicious. The young, raw fruits are greenish-yellow in color but they turn a bright orangey red when ripe. The size of ripe fruits varies between 200g to a whopping one kilogram.
Why it’s healthy: In just the arils (the soft, deep red membranes surrounding the seeds) you can find lots of carotenoids, vitamins, polyunsaturated fats and even protein. Gac fruit is also known as the superfruit for your eyes. It contains more carotenoids and Vitamin A than many common fruits and vegetables found in the Western diet—more than yellow corn, green leafy vegetables and even tomatoes and carrots.
Beauty Bonus: Best of all, according to dermatologists, the rich nutrients in gac can benefit our skin because the carotenoids and vitamins A, E and C found in gac can prevent collagen, the strengthening protein in the skin that keeps it firm and youthful looking, from being broken down over time.
How to eat it: The soft pulp of the gac fruit can be eaten fresh when it’s ripe but it’s a bit mushy like avocado and has a mild flavor. When it is still green, it is most commonly eaten steamed or grilled and added to rice and salads. Once ripe, it can be juiced or made into gac fruit tea.
Daikon is a type of white, winter radish that grows primarily in Southeast and East Asia. It can be recognized by its large, rapidly growing leaves and its long, white root. It is technically considered a cruciferous vegetable and therefore has many of the same benefits in its leaves as in the vegetable itself.
Why it’s healthy? Daikon has many amazing benefits that include cancer prevention, an immune system booster, lower inflammation and improved digestion. Furthermore, it helps strengthen bones, detoxify the body, improve respiratory health and stimulate weight loss. Like most other cruciferous vegetables, daikon is a rich source of calcium, which is essential for bone health. If you are at risk of developing osteoporosis or are beginning to feel aches and pains related to aging, adding some daikon and calcium to your diet can improve your condition.
How to eat it: Daikon is most commonly used diced or in thinly sliced rings as an ingredient in soups, salads, curries, rice dishes and various condiments especially in Asian food. Daikon leaves can be eaten as well as a green salad. If you’re brave enough, you can even juice it but be sure to mix it with something sweeter or use it as an ingredient in dipping sauce.
These little white or black super seeds are used in many parts of the world but are especially common in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine and they boast an impressive nutritional profile. They are highly rich in magnesium, copper, calcium and other minerals that play an important role in fortifying our immune systems.
Why it’s healthy? The seeds also play a crucial role in maintaining a good digestive system. An excellent source of fiber, sesame seeds take care of the colon and ensure the smooth functioning of the intestines. In addition, sesame seeds contain significant amounts of zinc. This mineral is known to stimulate the mineral density of bones and prevent the onset of osteoporosis because they also contain calcium, which is important for good bone health. Finally, and maybe best of all, these tiny seeds contain an impressive amount of protein. Just 100g of sesame seeds has 18g of protein (32% of our recommended daily requirement).
Beauty Bonus: It’s good to know that since these seeds are packed with all essential fatty acids including omega-3, omega-9 and omega-6, they are a natural hair growth stimulant. Not only do they nourish the scalp but they also promote follicular production. For anyone after luscious locks, adding them to your diet just became a no-brainer.
How to eat them: Sprinkle on whole bowls, add to salads, roll your protein balls in them or use to coat chicken or fish instead of bread crumbs. Just a sprinkle of these seeds is a sure fire way to pump up the protein content of any meal while delivering on all the other health benefits.
Many people use lotus root as a substitute to white potatoes as its nutritional density is far superior. Lotus root is said to have a potato-ish taste, which can help you overcome your cravings for this starch. It is rich in fiber yet low in carbohydrates, helping you to achieve optimal blood sugar levels. Consume lotus root when you need something filling to keep you satisfied before your next meal. It’s especially great for those who exercise a lot and tend to snack on several meals a day!
Why it’s healthy? Lotus root is extremely rich in Vitamin C, which plays a pivotal role in bolstering the immune system and reduces the likelihood of picking up respiratory illnesses such as the common cold. Vitamin C also increases the production of white blood cells, which are the body’s defense system for tackling pathogens that may cause infections. If this weren’t enough, lotus root is also considered “ brain food”. This is due to the presence of Vitamin B6, which is involved in the synthesis of serotonin and dopamine. Increased consumption of this vitamin is associated with greater brain levels that help improve your mood and general wellbeing.
Beauty Bonus: Lotus root is full of vitamin B complex, antioxidants and a list of minerals that lead to a more nourished and brighter complexion. Consuming sliced lotus root can help control our sebum production, balancing out oily skin, but can also hydrate and improve elasticity as well. How to eat it: Lotus root can by pureed and added to soups instead of potatoes. It is commonly steamed and added to salads in Vietnam and it can even be stir fried or coated like tempura. It’s a versatile vegetable and can be prepared and seasoned in so many ways so feel free to experiment. Water Spinach: Water spinach, also known as morning glory or rau muong, in Vietnamese, is ranked high among the world’s healthiest foods. It’s widely available at every street market stall in Vietnam for next to nothing and is served in all restaurants as a side dish stir fried with garlic. Why it’s healthy? Just like other dark green leafy veggies, water spinach is a powerhouse of nutrients that benefit your body as well as your skin and brain. It contains abundant quantities of water, iron, vitamin C, vitamin A and other nutrients. The iron boost offered by these greens is great for those who suffer from anemia and for pregnant women and for general eye health.
Beauty Bonus: Green leafy veggies like water spinach are rich in antioxidants that prevent free radical damage of cells in the body. Meaning, its regular consumption can make our skin cells more resistant to damage from sun exposure and minimize wrinkles to a significant extent. That sounds like a win-win!
How to eat it: It can be eaten cooked or raw. It is often used in salads as well as other side dishes to boost their nutrient content. In Vietnam, it is most popular to stir-fry it with garlic (but just be sure that is it not doused in low quality oil or too much sugar to keep it healthy). The healthiest way to eat it and keep all of its nutrients intact is to poach it or add it to broth for flavorful soups.
Happy shopping and happy eating! Your body, your skin and your wallet will surely thank you for loading up on these cheap and easy power foods guaranteed to help you radiant health and vibrancy from the inside out.