When it comes to superfoods, it often sounds like we’re speaking in a foreign language; from discussing the levels of chlorophyll in wheatgrass and spirulina, to whether reishi or lion’s mane are our favourite medicinal mushrooms, it can feel overwhelming. Plus, with the speed in which new ‘must-have’ superfoods enter the wellness scene, it’s understandable if you don’t know your acai from your acerola, or your matcha from your maca.
However, to keep you up to speed, the latest group of superfoods causing a storm are adaptogens. Whilst they’re not exactly a new phenomenon, having been used for centuries within Indian Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, they’ve become of relative recent interest in Western culture.
It’s understandable why; in a world where we’re all living fast-paced, stressful lives in polluted, busy cities, adaptogens offer a little glimmer of hope to the happiness of our bodies.
“In a world where we’re all living fast-paced, stressful lives in polluted, busy cities, adaptogens offer a little glimmer of hope to the happiness of our bodies.”
So what are adaptogens?
As explained by our naturopath, adaptogens are substances (a combination of amino acids, vitamins and herbs) that are used to improve the health of your adrenal system – the part of your body in charge of managing the body’s hormonal response to stress.
They enhance the body’s ability to cope with external stresses, such as toxins in the environment (e.g. pollution), as well as internal stresses such as anxiety and insomnia. So, basically, they’re a superfood that helps with the toll on the body of everyday stresses. We certainly understand the appeal.
The name ‘adaptogen’ comes from their ability to ‘adapt’ their function according to your body’s specific needs. They work together with your body to bring you back into balance. Think of them as a thermostat: when the temperature is too high, it brings it down; when the temperature is too low, it brings it up (just in the context of either calming you down, or boosting your energy).
“Think of adaptogens as a thermostat: when the temperature is too high, it brings it down; when the temperature is too low, it brings it up (just in the context of either calming you down, or boosting your energy).”
Adaptogens enable the body’s cells to access more energy, help cells eliminate toxic by-products of the metabolic process, and help the body to utilise oxygen more efficiently. Incorporating them into your diet constantly over a long period of time therefore does wonders for the body. However, even with initial usage, their subtle affects can be felt.
What exactly fits under the title of ‘adaptogen’?
Various different superfoods fit within it, all with slightly varying properties. Here are just some you could try:
– Asian Ginseng, Rhodiola Rosea, Lion’s Mane, Chaga and Maca are known for their stimulating properties, including enhanced mental clarity, boosted libido and enhanced psychical stamina.
– Ashwagandha, Reishi, Shitake and Holy Basil are known for their calming properties, which help to soothe the adrenal when stressed.
– Astagalus is known for its immune-boosting qualities.
How should you use adaptogens?
Depending on the type, they can be found as a powder, liquid, pill, or in natural form – and, as long as they’re from a high-quality source, there’s no single option that’s better than the next.
When we make our products at Pollen and Grace, we opt for the fresh or powdered form, depending on the type, and then blend them into our recipes – they’re generally quite a strong flavour though, so you don’t need a lot. It also depends on which once you choose to use too (maca isn’t as strong a flavour as ashwagandha is, for instance). In terms of their flavour profile, it’s hard to put them into one category.
The likes of maca have a strong, slightly sweet, earthy flavour, whereas reishi is much stronger with quite an overwhelming earthy taste. We prefer to mix them with other complementary flavours – generally quite prominent tastes, such as vanilla, creamy/caramel flavours and cacao.
“We recommend avoiding strong tropical flavours or distinct flavours such as matcha or citrus alongside adaptogens.”
Take for instance our mojo bar – we’ve mixed maca and ashwagandha with a creamy cashew base, then dates and a pinch of salt. We recommend avoiding strong tropical flavours or distinct flavours such as matcha or citrus alongside adaptogens, but otherwise they’re the perfect option to blend into your morning smoothie, add to salad dressings, or throw into a raw treat mix!
Kerry Hopkins is Head of Marketing for POLLEN + GRACE (www.pollenandgrace.com)