True that ‘superfoods’ is a marketing term coined by the industry. But we dare say that the term is apt because some foods are indeed super and do deserve the hype they are getting! And Sri Lanka is proud to contribute to the global superfood basket with some of the most exquisite and exotic culinary treats that the East has to offer. From grain varieties to humungous fruits like jackfruit, Sri Lanka brings you a range of superfoods, all packed with exceptional levels of nutrients and health benefits.
Ancient grains or heritage rice are the grain varieties that have been subjected to minimal change and processing over the past centuries. Referred to as the superfood of the future by the Huffpost, these grains have been the staple of ancient civilizations from all around the globe. Unlike the modern grains we consume daily, ancient grains haven’t been modified and therefore retain most of their highly nutritious parts. Some of the well-known ancient grains from Sri Lanka’s rice culture include Kaluheenati, Maa Wee, Suwandel, Dik wee and millet. All these grain varieties come with a range of health benefits.
Ancient grains can be used as a healthier substitute for modern grains such as wheat and corn; they can be consumed boiled and with accompaniments. If you are someone looking to incorporate a daring new twist to your meal plan, we recommend you go with the Sri Lankan way to boil the ancient grain and pair it with an accompaniment. However, if you are someone who likes to play it safe and stick to what is familiar, the best and the safest way to consume ancient grain is through ‘grain bowls.’ A popular trend at the moment, grain bowls have cooked grain folded between layers of vegetables. Also, you can add ancient grain to your soup.
According to research, finger millet, a major ancient grain variety and the third most important grain variety cultivated in Sri Lanka after corn and rice, contains high levels of dietary fibre. The research found that three varieties of millet (Rawana millet, Ravi millet and Oshadha millet) are a good source of dietary fibres which also include resistant starch (1). They are highly important to gut health and help to maintain smooth bowel movements.
Ancient grain varieties come with a multitude of minerals that are pivotal to the human body. For instance, the aforementioned study found that finger millet from Sri Lanka contains significant amounts of sodium, magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, zinc and phosphorus. The average amounts depicted are 12.04 mg, 141.78mg, 407.15mg, 345.62mg, 3.49mg, 1.89mg and 331.07mg per 100 g, respectively (1).
Ancient grains contain less sugar and aids in reducing blood sugar levels. A recent study found that miller- based food effectively reduced post-meal blood sugar levels of participants. According to this research, replacing rice-based meals with millet-based meals leads to the reduction of postprandial glucose levels by 27% (2).
What pizza is to Italy, is Tea to Sri Lanka. The only difference is that Ceylon Tea from Sri Lanka is healthier and comes packed with manifold health benefits. Ceylon Green Tea in particular is a healthy beverage that has successfully retained both its popularity and fame as a superfood over the centuries. Grown in the central highlands and the warmer lowlands of the country, green tea is a beverage that is celebrated for its therapeutic effects, distinct taste and subtle yet powerful aroma.
Green tea can be consumed hot or cold. When brewed and added milk and/or sugar, it makes a refreshing beverage capable of chasing away those Monday blues. If you are keen on a low-calorie diet, you can drink just the brewed tea; it truly is a treat. Also, bottled or packaged iced tea made of green tea is highly popular today.
Green tea does not contain a lot of caffeine, but it contains enough to increase your brain functions without making you high on caffeine. Thanks to the just-right amount of caffeine green tea contains, it not only increases alertness but also positively impacts your mood, memory and reaction time while also helping you with anxiety (3).
Research has found green tea to be effective against cancer. For instance, according to research that focused on the link between green tea consumption and the risk of breast cancer, “increased green tea consumption may be inversely associated with risk of breast cancer recurrence. (4)” Similar results were achieved through research that examined the association between tea consumption and colorectal cancer, again suggesting that the consumption of this age-old beverage may reduce the risk of cancer (5).
The effects of green tea on diabetes have been talked about for centuries. And now, there are evidence-based studies that prove the effectiveness of green tea against diabetes. For example, longitudinal research focusing on Japanese adults from 25 communities across Japan for over 5 years found that the consumption of green tea has a significant effect on reduced risk of type 2 diabetes (6).
Avocado is a commonly found fruit in Sri Lanka. This fruit goes by the scientific name Persea Americana and belongs to the family of Lauraceae. While it is not known exactly when the tree was introduced to Sri Lanka, available records and documentation suggest that avocados were locally available for sale by the 1880s (7). Today, avocados are a fruit loved by locals and it is a common sight to see stacks of neatly piled avocados for sale by the roadside.
Cultivated in orchards for commercial purposes and backyards for personal consumption, Avocado makes a sweet treat as a dessert and a smoothie in Sri Lanka. Thanks to its buttery texture, it is also used as a substitute for butter in baking, making it a great addition to vegan recipes.
Rich in fibre, avocados are beneficial for gut health as the high fibre content contributes to a healthy digestive system. Each avocado contains about 14 grams of fibre.
Avocados help you with cardiovascular health thanks to the high amount of potassium it contains. 100 grams of fresh avocado contains about 500 mg of potassium and provides 60% more potassium than a regular serving of banana. This potassium content helps with cardiovascular health and muscle function, regulating your blood pressure by modulating the liquid retention of the body, as reported in research (8).
The phytosterols contained in avocado are significantly higher than the other fruits. While other fruits contain about 3 mg of phytosterols per serving, a 68 g serving of Hass avocado contains about 57 mg of phytosterols. The high amount of phytosterols in avocado can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and it is recommended to take 2–3 g of sterols and stanols per day to maintain good heart health (8).
With a taste that is somewhat similar to potatoes and a starchy texture, taro is a root that is cultivated in Asia. In Sri Lanka, taro is cultivated as a backyard crop and is believed to have a lot of health and medicinal properties. It is also known by names like arbi, dasheen, and eddoe. It belongs to the Araceae family and is identified by the scientific name Colocasia esculenta.
Taro is a healthier alternative to other root vegetables like potatoes. It can be consumed boiled or added to savoury dishes fried, and as a snack. When cooked, it has a mild nutty taste and Sri Lankans have been using it as a savoury accompaniment to the local staple- rice for centuries.
Taro is packed with fibre and thereby helps weight loss. 132 grams of taro contains 6.7 grams of fibre and this high fibre amount keeps you fuller for a longer period. Fibre slows stomach emptying and consequently reduces the amount of food you tend to consume in a day, which in the long run leads to weight loss. Research also suggests that people who consume a considerable amount of fibre tend to have lower body weight and fat (9).
Oxidative stress is caused by the imbalance between free radicals (reactive oxygen species) and antioxidants in the body; it can have more harmful impacts than helpful ones, and often leads to lifelong diseases like cancer. Thankfully, the high number of phytochemicals found in taro seem to be able to reduce oxidative stress, thereby protecting you against lifelong diseases (10).
Taro mainly contains fibre and resistant starch, which are highly important to gut health. As the human body does not absorb either of these compounds, they become food for the microbes in the gut once they reach the colon and promote the growth of good bacteria, thereby maintaining gut health.
Moringa or the Drumstick tree is a tree of wonders that brings multiple health benefits. Though largely underexploited, it is packed with numerous nutrients from its leaves to the bark to the seed pods. In Sri Lanka, moringa trees are commonly found and locals use the seed pods- the drumsticks as a vegetable and consume the moringa leaves as a leafy vegetable. Apart from small-scale orchards, many homes have a moringa tree in their backyards grown for personal consumption as well.
In addition to being used as a vegetable, it also serves as a valuable herb used in alternative medicinal systems like Ayurveda and Unani. Almost all parts of the moringa tree including the root, bark, gum, leaf, fruit (pods), flowers, seeds, and seed oil have been used by practitioners to treat various ailments like “skin infections, swelling, anaemia, asthma, bronchitis, diarrhoea, headache, joint pain, rheumatism, gout, diarrhoea, etc. (11)” In addition, the powder made of moringa is also used in cosmetology and baking.
Due to the high content of flavonoids, alkaloids, tannins, and glycosides, moringa possesses anti-inflammatory properties and thereby can reduce inflammation through the suppression of inflammatory enzymes and proteins in the body. It is further reported that the moringa leaf concentration can significantly reduce inflammation too (11).
Research shows that moringa contains anti-cancer properties. The main anti-cancer compounds found in moringa leaf are glucosinolates, niazimicin, and benzyl isothiocyanate. A bioactive compound called Niazimicin in moringa also shows potential anti-cancer activities. In addition, Moringa contains Zeatin, an anti-ageing compound that is a naturally occurring cytokinin and it has antitumor activities. Research shows that it is effective against prostate and skin cancers, apart from being a strong antioxidant (12).
Moringa is reported to contain highly effective anti-diabetic properties. Research shows that moringa leaves are capable of reducing postprandial blood glucose levels significantly (12).
Jackfruit is very close to the socio-economic tapestry of Sri Lanka; considered a miracle tree, Jackfruit has served as a substitute for the local staple rice when the going was tough and starvation was an impending threat. Hence, locals have dubbed the jackfruit tree ‘Bath Gasa,’ which translates into English as the ‘rice tree.’ The edible fruit of the tree is somewhat peculiar-looking with a thick rind covered in spikes, yet, its appearance has not kept health-conscious individuals from embracing this miracle fruit.
Jackfruit is found in many cultures. In the North of India, it is considered to be a gourmet vegetable whereas in Kerala it is thought of as ‘tree mutton.’ In Sri Lanka, it is primarily an alternative to rice but also doubles as a vegetable dish. Locals consume it steamed with accompaniments or cooked in coconut sauce as a vegetable. Globally, jackfruit is gaining increasing recognition, making its way into pop culture as a filling for tacos and jackfruit wraps like the ones offered by Starbucks. In terms of its edible parts, almost all of the fruit, including the “inflorescence, young fruit, mature starch-rich fleshy perianth, starch-rich seed, and perianth of the ripe fruit” is suitable for human consumption (13).
Research suggests that the consumption of jackfruit leads to the reduction of high blood sugar levels. As a low GI food, jackfruit contains a significant amount of fibre and thereby slows down the process of digestion, which in turn reduces the blood glucose levels (14).
Jackfruit contains several phytonutrients such as lignans, isoflavones, and saponins that bring a multitude of benefits. One of the main activities of these phytonutrients is that they are capable of preventing the formation of cancer cells in the body (15). This is further contributed by the high amount of vitamin C in jackfruit that reduces inflammation and thereby reduces the risk of chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease (16).
Jackfruit is known to have a high content of fibre. A jackfruit serving of 100 grams contains 3.6 grams of fibre and the consumption of jackfruit leads to smooth bowel movements, and it also can be used to treat constipation.
Coconut water is the liquid inside the coconut shell. It nourishes the coconut flesh or the meat and is absorbed into the rind as the coconut matures. Coconut water is not to be confused with coconut milk, which is the liquid extracted from grated coconut flesh. In Sri Lanka, drinking coconut water is fairly common, though it is still an exotic novelty to the Western world. Nonetheless, it has marked its presence as a superfood in global markets.
Coconut water is mainly consumed as a refreshing beverage. It comes as a bottled drink and just one sip of coconut water will give you a fresh blast. If you are thinking of incorporating it into other beverages, you can make ice cubes out of coconut water and add it as a cooling agent to your favourite beverage.
Research suggests that coconut water contains antioxidants that may help neutralise or modify free radicals in the body. According to a study from 2016, coconut water shows “antioxidant potency” and also reduces cholesterol markers (17).
Research conducted on rats has revealed that coconut water contains anti-diabetic properties. It was found that L-arginine in coconut water is a major factor responsible for its antidiabetic and antithrombotic potential. This is mediated through the L-arginine-nitric oxide pathway, ultimately leading to the lowering of blood sugar levels (18).
Drinking coconut water may help prevent the formation of kidney stones. Research conducted on male Wistar rats found that coconut water inhibited the stone formation in renal tissue and reduced the number of crystals in the urine, meaning that coconut water may be effective against nephrolithiasis (19).
High in nutrients and rich in flavour, fish is known to those who stay abreast of nutritional science as the superfood of nature. The dubbed name is apt, as fish is a powerhouse naturally containing a multitude of vital macronutrients. As an island blessed with a coastline of 1340 km, Sri Lanka possesses an abundance of fishery harvest that is used to serve both the domestic demand and the global demand as a major export product of the country.
Fish is mainly consumed cooked, except for in Japanese cuisine where thinly sliced fish is consumed raw. Due to the venerated health benefits of fish, certain medicinal extracts of fish have been developed, the most widely consumed product being fish oil capsules. Sri Lanka exports many fish varieties and widely sought-after varieties include yellowfin tuna and bigeye tuna.
Fish is compacted with manifold essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Above all, fish contains a significantly high amount of Omega-3 fatty acids aka the good fats and they are highly beneficial to heart health. Several scientific studies have found that the consumption of fish is positively linked with the reduced risk of heart-related medical issues such as heart attacks, strokes and death from heart disease (20).
Fish is effective against deteriorating brain function, a common phenomenon that comes with elderhood. A prospective cohort study that focused on adults aged 65 and above found that the intake of fish is associated with the slower cognitive decline with age (21).
Research has reported that fish contains properties that reduce the risk of asthma in children. A meta-analysis that examined 11 studies of 99,093 individuals found that fish or LCn3PUFA intake could be beneficial to prevent asthma in children. However, it should be noted that further studies are needed to explore the link between fish intake and asthma in adults (22).
Sri Lankan food & beverage sector covers a wide range of products including processed vegetables, fruits, concentrates and juices, semi-cooked food, confectionery, bakery products, ready-to-serve food and beverages, animal feed and preparations of cereals
Processed Vegetables, Fruits & Juices
Rice, Cereals, Oil Seed and its Products