One of the things that irritated me the most about being a teenager was how adults wrote everything off as “just a phase”. Of course, that turned out to be mostly true, and I have left many of those behind – thank goodness – but I have definitely taken with me the tendency itself to have phases.
There isn’t really a period that goes by that I am not obsessed with some food or flavour. Recently, I have been craving vanilla-everything, and I couldn’t even begin to tell you where that came from. I remember when any avocado within reach would be promptly devoured; now, three or four can sit in our fridge begging to be folded into a salad. Tahini on everything often still occurs, but whereas a few months ago I couldn’t have conceived of a meal without a drizzle of sesame, many of my meals are now tahini-free. I would love to know what causes certain flavours or textures to stick in our minds and on our palates, but that might be a topic for another day.
I used to take about three scoops of protein powder per day, mainly out of convenience (I was out all day with just a backpack for breakfast and lunch and my many snacks, and came home late from training). I ate a limited amount and variety of fruits and vegetables (though still more than the recommended 5-a-day!) and although my health was fine, I didn’t feel like I was bubbling over with wellness.
Nowadays, though, my focus is on fresh produce, building a colourful and vibrant plate at every meal or snack, rather than narrowing in on my daily protein intake: breakfasts and snacks are mainly fresh and dried fruit, nuts and seeds, and in my case the odd soy yoghurt; dinners are often composed of tofu or sausages, sweet potatoes and veg; and we’ll throw in the odd pizza or cake, and, obviously, chocolate. Add to that heaps of water, various teas and tisanes, and a cup of coffee here and there. We both feel great.
So although I’m not feeling the need to take any supplements besides the daily iron tablet I take, it is always nice to have the option of boosting a smoothie’s nutritional value with a single scoop, and I always like to keep an eye out for new blends. Whereas I used to look for highest protein content per serving, and lowest price, I’m now happier to pay more for something with more healthful ingredients, particularly those I don’t routinely get in large quantities from my diet.
I’m also finding myself increasingly interested in the remedial values of herbs and spices. I don’t see myself as the sort of person who would ever entirely reject modern medicine in favour of its ancestors, and I don’t like the use of the term “superfood” as I think it is misleading to suggest that a certain food can provide concrete health benefits outside the context of diet and lifestyle, but I do think there is a lot of value to adding a variety of herbs and spices to our diets.
Some of my favourite spices both for their taste and their healing properties, are turmeric and ginger. Turmeric is widely accepted to have an anti-inflammatory effect, while ginger (which, actually, also contains a small amount of curcumin, the active molecule in turmeric) has been found to help with nausea and vomiting. Curcumin has been found to be a powerful antioxidant which, in addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, makes it a key player in the prevention or management of many diseases associated with ageing. Cinnamon, another favourite of mine, has shown promising results in lowering blood glucose and cholesterol levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
With all this being known, it is somewhat surprising that – to my knowledge – there aren’t more protein shakes that boost their nutritional profile with these remedial herbs and spices. Greens powders and berry extracts abound, but I have yet to see turmeric or ginger in a protein shake – and yet, it would seem ideal as a post-workout to mitigate the inflammatory effects of exercise. So when Omni Superfood contacted me about sampling and reviewing their blend, I was curious and enthusiastic (once I had fished the email out of my junk mail folder).
They sent me a package of their superfood blend for women, which has a hemp protein base with cacao, maca, lucuma, MSM, and Ayurvedic herbs and spices. The men’s blend is similar, but with added pea protein. I enquired about this and was told that: “for women it’s slightly more important to get the hormone-balancing effects, so a greater percentage of the total is made up of maca and cacao. The male blend has instead extra protein.”
About those ingredients, then:
Hemp protein has been widely accepted as a complete protein, meaning it contains all eight essential amino acids (“essential” in nutrition meaning a nutrient that is required for normal cell function and health, but that the body can’t make itself from other ingested nutrients). It isn’t necessary to combine complementary “incomplete” proteins at every meal as it was once thought, but if you can eat a source of complete protein, why not? Hemp protein is also reportedly highly digestible, reducing the bloating and cramping that can be associated with protein supplements or whole-food sources of protein.
Cacao, of course, is rich in flavonoids which, for all intents and purposes, act as antioxidants helping to repair the damage caused by being alive. Although the cacao bean is high in saturated fat, most of that is stearic acid which hasn’t been found to impact on cholesterol levels in humans. Meanwhile, cacao is also rich in minerals (one of my few memories of my French grandma are the way she would remind us all that chocolate was rich in magnesium, whenever she’d offer a bar around after dinner) and it’s also delicious.
Maca is one of the few supplements I haven’t tried. I have just found out that it is related to broccoli and resembles a turnip, but I have been hearing about it for a couple of years now, mainly in association with its effects on fertility and hormonal regulation (traditionally it has been used as an aphrodisiac). As far as I can see, evidence is lacking regarding the hormonal effects of maca on humans, but red maca (there are three varieties of maca; black, yellow, and red) has shown some promise with regards to preventing the prostate growth induced by testosterone.
Lucuma is another Peruvian “superfood” that has gained popularity in more recent time. In particular, it peaked my interest a few weeks ago, purely for its delicious caramel-like flavour. There isn’t much other evidence that I could find to back up the reported health benefits of consuming lucuma; however, it is sweet and thus can replace refined sugar or artificial sweetener, and being a brightly-coloured tropical fruit it is characteristically high in carotene and antioxidants.
MSM (methyl-sulfonyl-methane) (also, according to my research, Men-who-have-Sex-with-Men – is there anything that isn’t an acronym?) is associated with joint health through anti-inflammatory effects and a key role in collagen production, which is important for tissue repair. It is generally taken as a supplement to alleviate pain and symptoms associated with osteoarthritis.
As for Ayurvedic herbs and spices… well, that’s a secret blend. But Ayurveda is one of the oldest forms of traditional medicine, originating in India, with a focus on the mind-body connection and the improvement of human life. Although I knew nothing about Ayurveda before researching this post, its general concepts of balance and mindfulness resonate with me. Herbs and spices could include some I have already mentioned such as turmeric or ginger, but also a whole lot more I have never heard of.
So I was pretty excited to try this blend!
While it blends easily even with a spoon (always a good sign!), the taste of this wasn’t a hit for me. After tasting it on its own, I added some frozen banana and blended, but I couldn’t ignore a strange, astringent background taste.
I then added a few small but super-sweet dates – my secret smoothie weapons – and although it resulted in a smooth, sweet, and refreshingly drinkable smoothie, I was still aware of that odd aftertaste. Having said that, there are very few flavours that my tastebuds haven’t warmed to (we’re still working on rocket and radish), so it is certainly a product I would continue to experiment with particularly as I am happy with this particular blend of ingredients. I have certainly tasted far worse powders and eventually gotten used to them!
The serving suggestions on the package include mixing the powder with coconut water, which I haven’t tried yet, but which I have had success with in the past with other powders that haven’t been to my taste on their own.
Unfortunately, I’m quite lazy and unimaginative with my shakes and smoothie-making, but I would recommend this product to anyone who enjoys blending up more elaborate smoothie concoctions. I’m sure you can create something delicious out of it, particularly if you don’t regularly buy or consume a variety of herbs, spices, and so-called “superfoods”. Plus, if you subscribe to their email updates, Omni Superfood will send you a free smoothie e-book to inspire you!
If you do try one of the Omni Superfood blends, please let me know what you have been enjoying it with!