Sacha Inchi: The Star among Superfoods
Sacha Inchi: The Star among Superfoods
By Bindi Shah
The buzz on the health front today often revolves around omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids play a role in every cell in the body. Omega-3 makes up cell membranes, keeps the nervous system functioning, reduces the risk of early death and offers critical neuroprotective benefits. These neuroprotective effects are important for the prevention of age-related brain shrinkage that often leads to memory loss, cognitive decline and an increase in depression. It has also long been known that higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids are strongly linked to improved cardiovascular health; while lower levels of Omega-3s in the blood are linked to increased rates of hypertension and risk of heart attack.
Clearly, the health benefits of Omega-3 are hard to ignore or overlook. In fact, LifeExtension magazine notes that there are now close to 20,000 published studies on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Among the many debates prevailing about the best vegan and vegetarian sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, here we present to you oil that is often cited to be the richest plant-based source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Thus, it is particularly relevant and noteworthy for vegans as an alternate to fish oils etc. that are generally touted to be rich sources of proteins and Omega 3 acids.
I know it’s time to break the suspense. I am talking about Sacha Inchi oil – the essential oil extraction of the seeds and flesh of the Sacha Inchi or Sacha Peanut fruits. This highly nutritious oil is rich in various beneficial fatty acids. It is used for diverse edible and medicinal purposes. The color of this transparent oil ranges from golden amber to yellow. It has a pleasant aroma and a delicious, nutty flavor and taste.
Sacha Inchi (Plukenetia volubilis) is a plant native to the Amazon Rainforest in Peru, South America. Also known as the mountain peanut or Inca peanut, this plant has been grown and used by natives in the Amazonian rainforests for over 3,000 years now for its astounding nutritional profile and medicinal value.
The seeds of Sacha Inchi are high in proteins (27 percent) and oil (35-60 percent). In return, the oil is rich in essential fatty acids, such as omega 3 linolenic acid (≈45-53 percent of total fat content) and omega 6 linoleic acid (≈34-39 percent of fat content), as well as non-essential omega 9 (≈6-10 percent of fat content). The protein content of the seeds is also retained in the oil.
If you know Omega-3s, you are bound to be excited when you read this ratio and you can easily guess the health benefits of the Sacha Inchi nuts and oil. Sacha Inchi is one of the few vegan sources of Omega-3s that has a higher proportion of Omega-3 fatty acid than Omega-6, which is also a health USP for the oil in the broader context.
Once Omega 3 is in the body, it also gets converted into the fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These fatty acids are also incredibly important for health. Research suggests that Omega 6 inhibits the conversion of Omega 3 into DHA and EPA. A healthy Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio thus, assumes all the more importance in the analysis of nutrients. So there, you have the USP of Sacha Inchi oil explained.
Because of the Omega-3 content, Sacha Inchi nuts and oil are likely to positively benefit your cardiovascular and nervous system health. The omega-3 fatty acids are said to protect against heart disease, cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and depressive disorders. They also help to decrease inflammation in the body.
Spiritual Teacher and Master Herbalist for over 30 years, Dr Paul Haider, claims in one of his articles published in OMTimes magazine that Sacha Inchi seeds contain over 17 times the amount of Omega-3 oil found in salmon. They have three times the amount of Omega-3 oil found in walnuts. Clearly, it’s a win-win situation here.
Multiple health benefits
Helps control cholesterol levels
The herb’s unsaturated fat content also helps to reduce cholesterol, especially LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol, while simultaneously increasing the level of HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol in the body.
The seeds are also great for lowering triglycerides, which in turn lowers high blood pressure and prevents blood clots.
Promotes eye health
The seeds and oil are also great for promoting eye health and preventing macular degeneration.
Enhances moods and heals insomnia
Going further, Sacha Inchi seeds are a great source of tryptophan – a protein that helps the brain to produce more serotonin. The latter has many advantages to its credit. Serotonin leads to a peaceful feeling, helps mood enhancement and is good for treating insomnia.
A rich source of protein and fiber
Sacha Inchi seeds contain 9 grams of plant protein per oz, which is a very high amount for a plant-based food. Thus, the seeds assume that much more importance for a vegetarian and vegan diet.
As far as fiber goes, they contain twice the amount of fiber found in walnuts. This fiber helps to strengthen our immune system.
A good antioxidant
Finally, Sachi Inchi’s antioxidant action is attributed to its alpha-linolenic acid and vitamin A and E content.
Culinary and cosmetic applications
As Sacha Inchi oil is manufactured using the cold press method, it should not be heated for cooking. It is a healthy alternative for salad dressings.
The oil can also be sprinkled on vegetables, rice and pasta dishes. You can even add it to smoothies and popcorn.
It has a nutty flavor to it and is easy to digest. It works just like olive oil for cooking.
The roasted nuts with a little salt make for a crunchy, healthy snack option just like other nuts.
The pulp of the seeds can be ground into a very high protein flour that can be used for making bread and other baked products.
The antioxidant properties of Sacha Inchi make it relevant for the cosmetics industry. Antioxidants work against free-radical damage, helping your skin fight off cancer and protect itself from sun damage.
Primarily, the antioxidants found in Sacha Inchi are vitamins A and E, both hot shots in the skin care world. Topically, these nutrients help speed up skin repair and can reduce the appearance of scarring and wrinkles.
The oil is also used in products like soaps and shampoos.