When you think of Brazil, what first springs to mind? Sandy white beaches? Taut, toned bods in bikinis? Samba dancing? Carnival?
For us, it’s all that, as well as Brazilian superfoods. The country is absolutely bursting with them, mainly thanks to that gigantic bastion of life that dominates much of the land: the Amazon. The rain forest is basically like the planet’s medicine cabinet, chock full of natural fruits, leaves and nuts that can protect your health and in some cases, even cure illnesses.
Of course, today Brazil is hosting the world’s most elite athletes for the 2016 Olympics. With the spotlight on Rio de Janeiro, its beautiful people and its highly fit guests, there’s never been a better time to familiarize yourself with Brazil’s incredible superfoods. From berries to butters, these will have you looking—and feeling—like an Olympian.
1. Acai Berries
Bursting with even more antioxidants than blueberries, strawberries, or cranberries, packed with fibre and heart-healthy fats, no wonder this dark purplish berry has been a dietary staple of the Amazon’s indigenous population for generations. It’s now bottled and served all over the world as a juice, is a pretty and common ingredient for smoothie bowls, and is even sold in powdered form.
Where to get it: It’s hard to find fresh Acai berries outside of Brazil, so opt for it as a powder, which you can get here. Sprinkle it on cereal, in smoothies, or add to baking.
Brazilian coconuts aren’t just any coconuts: they’re Anão coconuts! The water inside the bright green fruit is low in calories and high in potassium, making it a perfect drink post-workout drink, or an antidote the dehydrating effects of a hot summer’s day. If you’re not able to pop a straw into one on the beaches of say, Ilha Grande, you can still try Brazilian coconut water thanks to brands like Pure Brazilian.
Where to get it: It’s not cheap, but you can find real Brazilian coconut water here.
3. Yerba Mate
This is one that models swear by, as it suppresses your appetite and helps keep you energised through long days of fittings and shoots, yet also provides your body with all the nutrients needed to sustain life including 24 vitamins and minerals and 15 amino acids. It has zero calories and more anti-oxidants than green tea, but it does taste a bit bitter – think, grass.
Where to try it: Buy the tea bag form here, though in South America it is usually drunk loose leaf style in a special gourd with a special straw.
4. Brazil Nuts
These rich, crunchy treats are something of a miracle food. They’re packed with selenium, which helps those with low thyroid function, as Brazil nuts help produce active thyroid hormone. But selenium does so much more: it hinders depression, protects you from cancer, supports immunity and helps wounds to heal. You only need 2-3 Brazil nuts a day to get all the selenium you require. Of all the Brazilian superfoods, this one is maybe the best. We’d recommend eating these every single day!
Where to get them: You can find these pretty easily online or in any health food shop.
This relative of the cocoa plant grows wild in the rain forest, and tastes just as good as its chocolately cousin! The cupuaçu fruit—derived from the tree of the same name and harvested in the north of Brazil—has something of the rich flavour of chocolate we all know and love, but it’s also punctuated with a citrusy tang. Its creamy white pulp is high in antioxidants, amino acids, phytonutrients, and triglycerides. You can also use this directly on your skin and hair by using it in ‘butter’ form, or add some of the butter to a smoothie for the benefits to show from the inside out.
Where to find it: You can get the butter right here.
6. Camu Camu
With around 100 times the vitamin C found in lemon, along with beta-carotene, fatty acids, and protein, the Amazon’s camu camu berry has been used as a homeopathic treatment for headaches, asthma, depression, and other illnesses. Unfortunately, like mate, its taste takes some getting used to, but camu camu is quickly gaining in popularity as powder or in supplement capsules. And proving it has applications beyond beauty from the inside out, it has recently begun turning up in breakout skin-brightening face creams and serums.
Where to find it: You can find the powder pretty easily online.
A mainstay of the Brazilian diet, yucca offers more than meets the eye. One cup of the raw root contains about half the recommended daily doses of vitamins C and manganese, along with significant levels of potassium, folate, and fiber. Eaten boiled, steamed, or even fried, yucca’s high nutrient content can fight free radicals and rebuild collagen, and also has a potent anti-inflammatory effect. For those on a gluten-free diet, it’s also a popular grain-free flour alternative that’s turning up in everything from baked fries to Paleo bread.
How to buy it: Yucca is easiest taken outside of Brazil in capsule or liquid form.