With such a large selection of increasingly exotic fresh fruit and vegetables now available year round in grocery stores and supermarkets, you’d be forgiven for thinking that vitamin deficiencies are a thing of the past. Unfortunately, much of the produce that makes up your five a day has been intensively farmed on depleted soil contaminated with fertilisers, pesticides and other harmful toxins, leaving it with less beneficial nutrients than it did say fifty years ago. A landmark study by the University of Texas published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in 2004 revealed “reliable declines” in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C in 43 different vegetables and fruits over the past half century. According to lead researcher, Donald Davis, “efforts to breed new varieties of crops that provide greater yield, pest resistance and climate adaptability have allowed crops to grow bigger and more rapidly, but their ability to manufacture or uptake nutrients has not kept pace with their rapid growth.”
As the human body is unable to effectively absorb the type of isolated vitamins and minerals found in commercial supplements, pills are clearly not the answer. In fact, the only way to obtain a full spectrum of supportive nutrients is by enjoying pure, organic, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods direct from Mother Nature. And one such ‘superfood’ will provide your ABC of vitamins in one simple serving – Incan berries.
Incan berries – Mother Nature’s Amazonian treasure
Incan berries are the smooth, yellow/orange fruit, which grows on the Physalis Peruviana – a perennial plant that belongs to the nightshade family and is native to Amazonian regions of South America. One of the first plants to be pioneered in degraded areas, the robustness and adaptability of the Physalis Peruviana means that Incan berries could be suitable for cultivation in many currently unused, marginal areas. The fruit, which is protected by papery husks resembling Chinese lanterns and known locally as mullaca, uvilla, uchuva, has been prized by indigenous tribes as a valuable source of food and traditional medicine for centuries, and is still common in markets from Venezuela to Chile today. Often referred to as the ‘goji berries’ of South America, Incan berries are packed with:
- Protein – Incan berries are made up of 16 percent vegetable protein, more even than wheat.
- Vitamins – as well as the ABC of vitamins explored below, Incan berries contain vitamin P or ‘flavanoids’, which boast powerful anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, antihistamine and antioxidant properties.
- Minerals – Incan berries contain phosphorus, which helps to build strong bones and teeth and release energy from food.
- Pectin – Incan berries contain this natural gelling agent that helps to regulate blood sugar levels, balance cholesterol levels, strengthen immunity and may also help to block cancer’s progress through the body.
- Melatonin – the melatonin found in Incan berries helps to regulate your biorhythm and promote a sound night’s sleep, which is why Incan berries are such a popular choice for stress relief (stress is typically precipitated or accompanied by lack of sleep).
- Withanolides – Incan berries are also a source of these naturally occurring chemical compounds, which are found primarily in plants belonging to the nightshade family and exhibit anticancer activity.
In addition, Incan berries are crammed with crunchy, citrus flavoured seeds that not only provide a welcome contrast to their sweet flesh (and result in a trademark sweet and sour flavour); they also boast a mildly laxative effect, which helps to promote healthy bowel movements and can prevent the build up of toxins in your body.
Incan berries – the ABC of vitamins!
As already mentioned, Incan berries, which are often sold as ‘Golden Berries’, ‘Aztec Berries’ or ‘Peruvian Ground Cherries’, are a valuable source of vitamins, including vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B12 and C.
Let’s take a look at why this ABC of vitamins is so beneficial.
Incan Berries for Vitamin A
Incan berries contain high levels of vitamin A – indeed, just 28 grams of Incan berries contains around 45% of the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) of vitamin A.
Also known as retinol, vitamin A performs several important functions within the human body:
- Vitamin A helps to strengthen our immune system and protect against infection and disease.
- Vitamin A aids vision in dim light.
- Vitamin A helps to keeps our skin and the lining of certain parts of our body, such as the nose, healthy.
As well as being crucial for both scotopic (vision in low light conditions) and colour vision, vitamin A is particularly useful in treating skin disorders, such as acne, and combatting diseases caused by viruses, including measles, respiratory viruses, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) – the virus that causes AIDS. It has also been observed that stroke victims who enjoy high levels of vitamin A in their diet are less likely to die or suffer disabilities as a result.
Pregnant women and those following a vegan diet are considered more at risk of a vitamin A deficiency, which can lead to an increased likelihood of respiratory infections and gastroenteritis, delayed growth and bone development, infertility, and vitamin A deficiency anaemia. Scientific research on cellular immunity in mice, published in the Journal of Nutrition in 1987, determined that a lack of vitamin A is also linked to a functional immune system defect.
Incan Berries for B Vitamins
Incan berries contain a wide range of B vitamins, including:
This water-soluble vitamin, also known as thiamine or the ‘anti-stress’ vitamin (because it strengthens the immune system and improves your body’s ability to withstand stressful conditions), works with other B vitamins to break down and release energy from your food. It also helps to keep your nerves and muscle tissue healthy. As your body cannot store water-soluble vitamins and leftover amounts are lost via urine, you need to obtain a continual supply from your food.
Although vitamin B1 deficiency is rare, those with Crohn’s disease or undergoing kidney dialysis are more at risk. Symptoms of a vitamin B1 deficiency include fatigue, irritability, depression and abdominal discomfort.
Vitamin B2, also known as riboflavin, is vital for healthy growth, skin, nails, hair, vision and the breakdown of protein, fat and carbohydrates. The elderly are considered more at risk of a vitamin B2 deficiency, which can cause fatigue, slowed growth, digestive problems, eye disorders and sensitivity to light. Preliminary research suggests that riboflavin can to help prevent cataracts (damage to the lens of the eye which causes cloudy vision), reduce the frequency of migraines by up to 50%, and reduce the level of abnormal organic acids found in autistic children.
Another water soluble vitamin, vitamin B6 helps your body to make antibodies (which are necessary to fight disease), maintain normal nerve function, manufacture the haemoglobin that transports oxygen to your cells and tissue, break down proteins, and balance blood sugar levels. A lack of vitamin B6 can cause confusion, depression, irritability and vitamin B6 anaemia. It is usually associated with low concentrations of other B-complex vitamins, such as vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 is essential for the manufacture of red blood cells and the formation of nerves. Many people over the age of 50 lose their ability to absorb vitamin B12 from food, whilst vegetarians and vegans often receive insufficient levels of vitamin B12 from their diet. If it isn’t addressed quickly, a lack of vitamin B12 can cause fatigue, depression, and poor memory, and may lead to permanent nervous tissue damage, anaemia, mania, psychosis and even Alzheimer’s. Studies conducted in 2008 by the University of Oxford indicate that low levels of vitamin B12 are directly linked to brain shrinkage. And researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago discovered that elderly people with a vitamin B12 deficiency tended to have smaller brains and suffer from poorer thinking, reasoning and memory function.
Incan Berries for Vitamin C
Incan berries contain 9.2 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams – more than raisins, apricots or dates. Vitamin C is known to boost the immune system, offer protection from viruses and bacteria, heal wounds, reduce cholesterol, increase cell lifespan and actively prevent scurvy.
Mark Moyad, lead researcher of a study published in Seminars in Preventive and Alternative Medicine, which analysed 100 studies over 10 years, believes that ‘higher levels of vitamin C may be the ideal nutrition marker for overall health’, and claims that ‘the more we study vitamin C, the better our understanding of how diverse it is in protecting our health from cardiovascular, cancer, stroke, eye health and immunity to living longer’. Vitamin C also assists in the manufacture of collagen, a natural substance that is known to reduce fine lines and wrinkles and helps to keep your skin looking younger for longer. A study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007 proved that those who eat foods rich in vitamin C have fewer wrinkles and less age related, dry skin than those who don’t.
Incan berries – for a daily dose of love
In France Incan berries are affectionately known as ‘love in a cage’ – you can now benefit from a daily dose of ‘amour’, as well as your ABC of vitamins, by enjoying Incan berries straight from the bag, as a sensible snack between meals, or combining with cacao nibs, nuts and other dried fruits and berries in a tasty trail mix. And don’t forget that Incan berries also make a particularly delicious addition to raw chocolate, snack bars and cakes, as well as an exceptionally colourful topping on breakfast dishes and desserts!