Food is powerful medicine. Each day we need to feed ourselves and I believe that we should make those meals count. As a naturopathic doctor I regularly council people on diet and nutrition. But I learned early in my career that it isn’t enough to tell people what they should eat. Food needs to be satisfying to our senses and emotions. Most importantly, in our fast-paced lives it needs to be easy to prepare. That is why healthy recipes are integral to healthcare.
It is much easier to focus on the foods we should eat than on the ones to avoid. One of the best ways to boost nutrition is to include superfoods in our daily diet. They provide more than nourishment, they are nutrient dense and have specific health benefits. For example, darkly colored berries such as blueberries, goji berries and raspberries are one of the richest sources of antioxidants and flavinoids. Eating them regularly reduces inflammation and strengthens blood vessels. They also protect against a variety of diseases including heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
After recommending medicinal foods for years, I decided to create my own recipe for superfood snacks. To be honest I needed them myself. With a highly demanding job and two small children it was becoming increasingly difficult to eat a balanced diet. I found myself missing meals and the six-hour lag between lunch and dinner was a set up for low blood sugar. It may be ideal to sit down to three well-rounded meals, but when that isn’t possible it helps to have Power Balls.
I designed these snacks to provided sustained energy. They are high in protein and fiber, low in sugar and gluten-free. They also contain the superfoods flax and maca to balance hormones and improve mood. The other ingredients are extremely versatile and can be easily adapted to suit individual taste or avoid allergens.
Cheap and tasty flax seeds are one of the original power foods. Flax seeds are the best vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fatty acids (EFAs) are extremely important because they include anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and hormone balancing properties. One of the most common uses of omega-3s is in the treatment of mood disorders and depression. Unfortunately, EFAs are scarce in the modern American diet and supplementation is often necessary.
Flax is also a rich source of fiber. This helps to lower cholesterol, bind toxins and prevent constipation. Some of the most important components of this fiber are the lignans. Lignans are phytoestrogens. By binding to estrogen receptors, phytoestrogens can both balance hormone levels in premenopausal women and improve low estrogen symptoms on post-menopausal women. Some lignans are also potent anti-oxidants. The lignan SDG for example has recently been shown to protect against radiation damage, and has potent anti-cancer effects. Flax seeds are available in both brown and golden varieties but the nutrition profile is similar. It is important to grind the seeds to get their full benefit and to refrigerate or freeze them after they are ground.
Also known as Lepidium peruvianum, this South American medicinal food has long been used as an aphrodisiac and energy tonic. Clinical trials have shown that Maca can improve libido and may even reverse the sexual side effects from anti-depressant medications. It can increase sperm count and motility in men and is used to treat menopausal symptoms in women. The most remarkable thing is that maca has these effects without increasing hormone levels. Maca has also been shown to reduce anxiety and depression while increasing energy. Herbs with these properties are called adaptogens because they help the body adapt to stress. Maca is available in many forms — capsules, tincture and roasted or raw powder. For cooking the powder is best. The raw powder is bland and mildly sweet while the roasted powder has a rich flavor similar to coffee or chicory.
The recipe below combines flax and maca with a high quality protein powder, nut butter, cocoa and raspberry jam. The ratios provide a good balance of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats. These flavors complement each other, but don’t be afraid to vary the ingredients to suit your own taste. Remember to use organic ingredients whenever possible.
Recipe: Power Balls
- 1/2 cup of ground flax seed*
- 1/2 cup of protein powder (either plain or vanilla flavor), rice or whey is best
- 1/4 cup of raw maca powder
- 1-2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder (depending on taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon of finely ground sea salt
- 1/2 cup of hazelnut butter or try another nut/seed butter such as peanut butter, tahini or almond butter
- 1/4 cup of raspberry jam or other all fruit jam
- 1-2 tablespoons of honey
- 1/4 cup of goji berries, dried blueberries or dark chocolate chips (optional)
- unsweetened, shredded coconut for coating (optional)
Makes: Approximately 1 dozen balls
- Combine the flax, protein powder, maca, cocoa, salt and stir well. This is very easy to do in a food processor, but a bowl and spoon works as well.
- Add the nut butter, jam and honey and blend all of the ingredients together. When well mixed the dough should stick together (but not to your hands!) when it is pinched between two fingers. If it is too dry add another tablespoon of jam or water and blend it again. If it is too moist and sticky add another tablespoon of protein powder and work it evenly into the mixture.
- Add the goji berries, blueberries or chocolate chips if desired and stir them into the dough.
- Coat the bottom of a large plate or cookie sheet with shredded coconut.
- Gather approximately 1 rounded tablespoon of dough it the palm of your hand and roll it into a ball squeezing gently to make it stick together.
- Roll the ball in the coconut and then gently press the coconut into the surface of the ball until it sticks. Place it on wax paper or a plate and repeat this process with the rest of the dough.
- Store the power balls in the refrigerator for up to a week or in the freezer for up to three months. Just take them out as needed; there is no need to refrigerate them if they are consumed within a day. Be sure to keep the balls in a tightly sealed container or they will dry out.
* Ground flax seed is easily purchased. However, this flax meal is usually coarsely ground and will result in a gritty texture. It is better to grind your own flax meal in a home coffee or spice grinder. Process it until it is a fine powder and then store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.
All Photos: Wendy Goodfriend