There are so many amazing natural potent, highly nutritious ingredients that grow in Jamaica- and that are easily accessible (perhaps even growing in your “yaad”- as we say here in Jamaica) I want to say that NO ONE SHOULD BE GETTING SICK IN THIS COUNTRY!!!
The list below highlights a selection of “superfoods” that meet most (and not necessarily all) of the following criteria:
- Low saturated fat
- Low in cholesterol
- High fiber
- High in complex carbohydrates (vs simple, refined “empty” carbs)
- High in minerals (ex: calcium, potassium, magnesium)
- High in vitamins (ex: Vitamin C, A, E, B6 etc)
- High in healthy fats
- Fairly easily available & affordable
- Can be used for edible consumption and topically
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Moringa: this tree bears some highly potent leaves and seeds! For many, it’s a drought- resistant tree growing in their yard, for others, it’s an ingredient commonly available at most supermarkets. The seeds can be ground up or chewed. The leaves can be dried, ground and added to smoothies- but the raw leaves can also be cooked with your veggies such as callaloo (stir-fried moringa leaves is common in parts of South East Asia)! It is nutrient packed and contains a very high level of antioxidant activity. It is also documented to fight inflammation and contains polyphenols that protect your liver (your liver is such an important organ!)
Soursop: this is a fruit that has been widely talked about in recent years (particularly as a natural treatment for cancer patients), its benefits can be found in it’s delicious flesh but also in it’s leaves (soursop tea- commonly found at most supermarkets for a very affordable price). It is packed with Vitamin C- which means it’s a fruit that can fight free radicals, disease and pre-mature skin ageing. The leaves in particular are of interest: with anti-microbial and containing bioactive components that have been documented with cancer-fighting effects.
Irish Moss: mostly sold in canned beverages at the supermarkets and touted for its “strong back” benefits, or found with roadside vendors in country (i.e: outside of Kingston), Irish Moss is a highly nutritious seaweed! Colourless and almost tasteless, it’s great as a thickener and provides a lot of fiber, protein, minerals and vitamins. It is also rich in iodine- which is helpful in regulating thyroid function. It can also be used externally to soften skin (similar to aloe). Before using Irish Moss, remember to soak it in water for 3-10 hours.
Cerasee: most people reading this probably have a bitter taste when thinking of cerasee! While it may not be the best tasting thing out there, like most bitters, it’s incredibly healthy. Traditionally used as a tea, it is a great detoxifier and blood cleanser. It helps kill parasites in the stomach, cleanse the liver, relieve skin rashes and to ease menstrual cramps. Cerasee is also high in Vitamin A & C- and the fruit has been studied to contain a cancer-fighting enzyme. Cerasee grows in the wild, and if it’s not in your yard, the tea is found at every supermarket in JA!
Jamaican Cherry: these little red fruits come in season and are highly potent- fruit and leaves! The leaves contain an anti-nociceptive agent that helps block pain (skip the pill!) when consumed as a tea. They also help reduce blood pressure! The flowers of the tree have been documented to relieve abdominal cramps. As for the fruit: it contains plenty of fiber, vitamins & minerals- and is low in sugar. Which makes it an ideal fruit to consume! Enjoy the cherry fruits as is- or turn them into a juice!
Turmeric: While it’s not endemic to Jamaica (like most of the ingredients on this list), it’s fairly abundant and a big bag of fresh turmeric will cost you very little. I’m always a little weary with ground turmeric and how pure it is! Turmeric is notoriously known as an anti-inflammatory thanks to it’s active ingredient: curcumin. When curcumin is consumed with black pepper, it is better absorbed by the blood stream FYI. It is also fat soluble- so use a bit of oil when you’re cooking with it to reap its benefits. Curcumin also increases the body’s anti-oxidant activity, better fighting free radicals. Turmeric can also be used in DIY face masks, it is particularly GREAT for healthy looking skin! Use your turmeric in curries obviously- but also in juices, tea, coffee (I make turmeric coffee 🙂 ), to season rice, quinoa and other grains.
Ginger: just like turmeric, this other spicy aromatic root is full of benefits. And anyone who has tried local vs imported ginger knows that Jamaican ginger is in a class of its own! I think that was one of the first things that hit me- it is really super potent, taste wise. Ginger contains therapeutic compounds known as gingerol, shogaol, paradol and zingerone that bring a plethora of benefits. We often talk about ginger’s anti-inflammatory properties, but it’s also great to treat nausea, to ease stomach pain or indigestion, to fight fungal disease and PMS cramps. It is also said that it may inhibit cancer growth. Use it as a tea, to season your curries, soups and more, in baked goods (if you can keep them fairly healthy) and the oil to cook with.
Scotch Bonnet: this is not just one of my favourite hot peppers in the world (it brings heat and a beautiful flavour too)- but it’s specifically the heat of this pepper that is the good stuff, as it contains antioxidants 🙂 This antioxidant is the famous one you hear about for most hot peppers, known as capsaicin. Various studies have now demonstrated that capsaicin may be helpful in treating cancer. It may also help kill the bacteria that sticks in our stomach lining – that can eventually turn into gastritis. Capsaicin is also documented as an effective anti-inflammatory, beating pain in the body. Aside of this antioxidant, scotch bonnet is also rich in Vitamin C and can help clear out a runny or congested nose (if you’ve had scotch bonnet during a flu- you know what I’m talking about :)). Lastly, scotch bonnet contains insecticidal properties thus can be used as a natural insecticide. Enjoy this amazing pepper- in moderation though if you can’t tolerate the heat 😀
Callaloo: this is a staple green on the island and most certainly one of my faves 😀 It is more nutritious than kale and is accessible to all! Something that every person can enjoy almost everyday of the year- the most democratic superfood out there! Callaloo, aka amaranth greens, contains a certain peptide that helps reduce inflammation. Whenever you hear that something helps reduce inflammation, it means it helps prevent disease. Callaloo is also rich in calcium which helps strengthen bones and preventing osteoporosis. The other major benefit of this leafy green is fiber. If there’s one good thing you can do to your diet, is add more fiber to it. Fiber is like the little broom that comes and scrubs the dirt out of your body. It keeps things clean and keeps toxins away! On top of that, callaloo is cheap, fat & cholesterol free and contains minimal sugars.
Cabbage: yes this humble little veg is extraordinary and definitely underrated! Cabbage is your stomach’s best friend because it’s rich in fiber! And as I mentionned above, fiber is the broom that keeps your insides clean. An intoxicated digestive system is what causes disease- and cabbage (raw particularly) has been shown to cure stomach ulcers. Red cabbage (specifically) also contains anthocyanins- which reduces inflammation and boosts brain function. Another benefit is that cabbage prevents bile (the fluid secreted by the liver that aids digestion) in absorbing fat- which means cabbage may help lower cholesterol. Lastly, cabbage contains glucosinolates, a well documented anti-carcinogenic with the potential to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. The best way to benefit from these health benefits is to consume cabbage raw- or lightly cooked.
Gungo peas & red peas: for starters, almost all peas, dried legumes, lentils are good for you! Virtually fat & cholesterol free, this group of foods is high in fiber, protein & iron. Here in Jamaica, red & gungo peas are staples and both are extra healthy! Let’s talk about gungo peas for a minute: don’t eat them just for Christmas! They’re rich in potassium, lowering blood pressure and good for those dealing with hypertension. One cup of cooked pigeon peas contains 11gr of protein- which helps build muscles & enables healing and regeneration of body cells. Pigeon peas is also rich in folate which helps with anemia. Most dried legumes also contain B vitamins- which are essential in providing energy to the body (so you can get through life getting shxt done!) They’re the perfect meat substitute that are free of saturated fats and cholesterol- but providing more benefits that meat ever would!
Pear (Avocado): mmmmm pear. So yummy- creamy, rich & satisfying! Quite frankly, I never was a fan of pear until I moved to Jamaica. The stuff out here is x10 more flavourful than abroad (in Europe- it was imported and a different variety). Pear is incredibly nutritious! Healthy fats? You got it. Fiber? You got it. Potassium? You got it. Pear has you covered, y’all! While pear is notoriously known for its’ healthy fats (great for skin & heart health), it has zero cholesterol. ZERO. The fats in pear are of very high quality: oleic acid that helps reduce inflammation and linked to prevent cancer growth. It is also resistant to heat oxidization- which means even in high temperatures, you are still reaping the benefits. This is a fruit (yes, it’s a fruit) you want to enjoy on the regular!
Susumba: this is one we don’t see on our plates enough- but susumba is another of those bitter tasting things that is actually really good for you. Known as “Turkey berry” or “Pea eggplant” (they are part of the eggplant family) in other parts of the world, susumba is documented to help reduce the risk of diabetes (within a healthy lifestyle obviously), treat indigestion (all bitters aid in better digestion FYI), and help relieve asthma, colds, flues, anemia, high blood pressure, kidney disease… and apparently much, much more. In Ayurvedic medicine, they are used as a diuretic & sedative. Susumba is full of powerful antioxidants that prevent cardiovascular disease. Cook with the berries (add them in your veggies or ackee!) or dry them up and grind them into a powder- that you can use in your smoothies.
Coconut: for the last few years, all we’ve been hearing is that everything coconut is good for you! The flesh, water, milk & oil! Like pear, it’s a fatty superfood- but with the right kind of fats! The fats in coconut oil are known as MCTs (medium-chain-triglycerides) and are known to raise the good HDL cholesterol in your blood (hence reducing heart risk disease). MCTs are also said to help the body burn more fat than other long-chain type fats. Coconut oil is also anti-microbial and can kill harmful micro-organisms. Use it in your cooking, desserts but also on your skin & hair! It’s extremely versatile!
Passionfruit: there are multiple types of passion fruit that grows around the world- but the Jamaican passionfruit (mostly the yellow variety) is amongst the most prized passion fruit, thanks to its intense & aromatic flavour! Passion fruit is the “medicine” you need to take if you’re feeling under the weather, hit with a cold or a flu. It’s packed with Vitamins A, C, E, and K. It’s also rich in minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, and zinc. All together, this is a major immune-boosting cocktail that protects the body from illness. Passion fruit is also documented to be anti-carcinogenic: removing the free radicals that tend to mutate the DNA of healthy cells. The seeds in passion fruit also imply a source high in fiber- and as indicated previously, fiber is the best thing you can add to your diet to keep your body clean and acts as a great digestive aid! Get passionfruit at the market (about JMD$100-$150JMD for a dozen) or possibly off the tree, in your yard!
Okra: such a controversial ingredient- but so readily available and affordable- it’s one of the best things you can include in your diet! Originating in Africa, okra contains a mucilage substance that aids in healthy digestion- and healthy digestion means the elimination of toxins that sit in your digestive system (and make us sick). It also is a fruit (cooked as a vegetable) with the highest level of flavonoid anti-oxidants- that are good for healthy vision, skin and to protect against lung and mouth cancer. Okra is also rich in Vitamin C and minerals such as iron, calcium, manganese, and magnesium. If you can’t deal with the slime, I’ve shared a recipe on the blog as to how to remove/minimize it. If you’re not eating okra, you can also use the slime it for hair or skin care (similar to aloe vera).
Tuna (cactus pads): this is definitely another of my faves. Tuna is a GREAT for so many things! If you let it soak in water or coconut water, it helps reduce pain (namely back pain). If you blend the pulp as a juice, it helps flush out toxins from your system! You can even cook the young pads (<10cm) like they have in Mexico for centuries- it’s low in calories, high in antioxidants, vitamin, mineral, and fiber content. The fruit of the cactus (prickly pear) is delicious and contains the flavonoids kaempferol and quercetin, which are antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory properties.
Aloe vera: another of my favourites- aloe vera is as good as it gets! Use it on your skin daily for velvet-smooth skin, it helps reduce the size of pores and keeps skin supple, soft and healthy! It’s antibacterial properties (as polyphenols) also help kill dirt on your skin- so keeps zits and pimples at bay! If you got sun burnt skin, aloe vera is the remedy as it known as a treatment for sores, particularly burns, including sunburns. It’s also amazing for oral care: in a mouth rinse study of 300 healthy people, 100% pure Aloe vera juice was compared to the standard mouthwash ingredient chlorhexidine. Similar to cactus (tuna), it can also be enjoyed as a juice to flush those toxins out of your life!
Coffee: Jamaica produces some of the best coffee beans in the world! #Facts! Studies have shown that coffee may have health benefits, including protecting against Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes and liver disease, including liver cancer. Coffee also appears to improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression. If you can get a hold of pure, unfiltered, minimally processed coffee beans, you can reap all of its benefits!
Pumpkin: I must say, Jamaican pumpkin is DIVINE- especially the deep orange variety! It’s extremely flavourful- some of the most delicious pumpkin I’ve ever tried! Orange obviously = beta-carotene, something that is GREAT for skin & eye vision! Pumpkin also contains fiber, which cleanses your system of gunk! It is also rich in potassium- great for heart health and in maintaining healthy bones! Roast it, steam it, use it in porridge (there’s a recipe on my blog), or juice it- super versatile! The seeds are also amazing as are the blossoms- that you can consume as well!
Ackee: last but not least, let’s talk about ACKEE! This fatty fruit can well be cooked without high-sodium saltfish (look for the recipe on my blog) and is rich in fiber (again- a GREAT thing we don’t consume enough of in our diet!) and healthy fats! It is also rich in potassium, which plays the role of a vasodilator, reducing the strain on your cardiovascular system, thereby lowering your chances of hypertension and atherosclerosis. It is also rich in complex carbohydrates- which helps regulate your sugar levels and great for diabetics!
All the above is based on documented research- but none of the above will prove to be efficacious outside of a healthy lifestyle. If you’re still eating processed foods and thinking coconut oil will help “cancel” the effects of junk food- well you’re wrong. Adopt a healthy lifestyle and consume nutritious foods on the regular to feel the benefits!