They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but if recent buzz around baobabs is to be believed, our Granny Smiths might have some serious competition on their hands.
Pronounced ‘bey-o-bab,’ the ‘superfruit’ has been eaten by communities in Africa for thousands of years. However here, it seems to have piqued the public’s interest relatively recently - most notably following the broadcast of Channel 4’s ‘Superfoods: The Real Story’ programme that was broadcast earlier this month. Providing an insight into some of the compelling research that’s been conducted into its far-reaching benefits, demand soared, with Africa-inspired health food brand Aduna seeing sales of their baobab fruit powder skyrocket by 1300%.
The baobab tree which bears the fruit is known as the ‘tree of life’ and considering its multitude of uses, it’s unsurprising why. Its bark is used for making strong ropes, its leaves and roots for medicinal purposes, its flower petals for glue and its seeds brewed as a coffee alternative. The fruit, although hard and yellow on the inside, has a chalky white pulp on the inside which is separated from the seeds and broken down into a powder and used in snacks and drinks. Rich in vitamins and minerals, delicious and versatile, it’s the ‘superfood’ that could be worth the hype. Here’s why.
1. It’s one of the most nutritious fruits on the planet
We know, it’s a bold claim. Especially when you you take into account the emergence of several other ‘superfoods’ in recent times such as goji berry, moringa powder and maqui berry. However, its vital stats stack up very well against theirs. “Baobab stands out from these others in that it has one of the highest levels of vitamin C, fibres, high levels of antioxidants, minerals such as calcium, iron, and magnesium and vitamins which may be useful for a variety of concerns,” says natural health specialist and co-founder of Victoria Health , Shabir Daya . As a result, it makes for a multifaceted general health booster that slots very well into modern life. “Baobab is aimed to support the immune system, low energy levels and for those who just need nutrients without wanting to take a pill,” says Shabir. “It also has a great tangy taste and is easily mixed into smoothies making it a very versatile supplement.” Also high in potassium, it’s a great all-rounder.
2. It can boost your gut health
The importance of a diverse gut microbiome has been stressed in recent times due to it being linked to a lower risk of disease and better mental health . However, due to modern eating habits and an increase in consumption of processed foods, it is believed that the richness of the community of microbes in our gut is under threat. To see whether this might be reversible, King’s College Professor of Genetics, Tim Spector embarked on a project that involved him living and working among the Hadza in Tanzania, one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer groups in Africa. In possession of a microbiome diversity that is one of the richest in the world, it’s thought that their diet plays a huge role in this.
The baobab fruit is a staple food within it. For breakfast for example, the Hadza would mix the chalky parts of the fruit with water and whisk it vigorously for a few minutes until it was a thick, milky porridge. In combination with meals featuring other high fibre fruit and veg, the Hadza’s no-waste hunting ethos and huge variety of plant and animal species that they eat (around 600), Tim found that his gut microbial diversity had increased by an impressive 20% in three days. Although it returned to where it was before the trip after a few days, the increase was significant.
It is believed that the high fibre-content of foods in the diet (such as that in the baobab fruit), could be a key factor. In another experiment conducted by Tim where the effect of different diets on the microbiome of twins was looked into, he found that a positive increase in diversity was seen when a diet rich in dietary fibre was eaten due to the beneficial bacteria having extra fibre to feed on. If you’re looking to up your fibre intake, baobab could have a valuable place in your kitchen. “Baobab is nearly 50% fibre, half soluble and half insoluble,” says nutritional therapist Eve Kalinik , “So adding a couple of teaspoons of sweet and citrusy baobab powder to a fresh smoothie or stirring it through porridge is an easy way to support a healthy gut.”
3. It can help stabilise your blood sugar
If blood sugar spikes have you riding an energy roller coaster all day long, baobab can help you get of it. In Channel 4’s ‘Superfoods: The Real Story,’ Dr Sarah Venter, MD of EcoProducts, a company that exports baobab powder and baobab oil out of South Africa, shared that locals were eating the powder to reduce their blood sugar levels and even manage their diabetes. With three and a half million people currently diagnosed with diabetes in the UK and two people diagnosed with it every two minutes, the implications of this use could be pretty incredible.
Presenter Kate Quilton decided to dig a bit deeper and spoke with Dr Shelly Coe from Oxford Brookes University, a lecturer and researcher in nutrition and health whose trials on the effect of baobab on blood sugar levels have led to positive findings so far. In the interest of experimentation, Kate replaced her breakfast for two weeks with six slices of white bread (with crusts cut off) and then at 50 minute intervals, recorded her blood sugar which as expected, spiked.
After two weeks, she returned to the lab and ate her test breakfast as usual, but washed it down with a baobab smoothie. Over the next two hours, her blood sugar levels were tested at regular intervals. Interestingly, the effects of the smoothie were found to have a stabilising effect on them and so they didn’t peak and trough to such extremes. “Baobab is rich in fibre so that can slow down the rise in your blood glucose,” said Dr Coe. “It also has polyphenols in it which have been shown to affect the release of sugars from bread and how you absorb them into your bloodstream.” They do this by binding to the carbohydrate molecules released after eating starchy foods, which prevents the stomach enzymes from turning some of them into glucose.
The conclusion reached was that if combined with exercise and a good diet, baobab could be useful in regulating blood sugar levels. While further trials are needed to show whether baobab can help with the epidemic of type 2 diabetes, the research was highlighted as promising.
4. It has beauty benefits too...
…the oil that is rather than the powder. It’s still a pretty new category though, but we have noticed it cropping up in a few skin and hair care launches. Rich in vitamin C, antioxidants, fatty acids and omegas 3, 6, and 9, it has the potential to perhaps give argan oil a run for its money.