Maya Superfood….what makes it so SUPER???
When I first learned about Maya Superfood in the early 1990’s I was really excited to discover that the Mexican Instituto de Ecologia in Veracruz had done nutritional analyses on the seeds and that they were willing to share their information with me. Their data showed Maya seeds to be very high in calcium, magnesium, potassium, tryptophan and fiber. It also showed that Maya seeds supply moderate amounts of protein, iron, zinc and micronutrient vitamins B, C and A.
I was impressed with its nutritional content at the time, particularly compared to that of corn, rice, wheat and other staple foods commonly consumed in Central America at the time. I was also impressed with the testimonials I heard from elders throughout Central America who had consumed it regularly as children or as adults during war and famines. Time and again they told me things like “We ate Maya every day, sometimes it was all we had to eat”.“We ate only Maya seed for weeks, sometimes months, when we had no other food. During those times, when we had Maya to eat, no one got sick and no one died”. Those statements mystified me. I had never imagined such a complete food existed, and, looking at the actual nutritional content, it just didn't make sense. It is certainly nutritious, comparable to cocoa and close to soy in some nutrients, but it’s nutritional content wasn’t enough to explain what the people were telling me.
Fast forward to 2001 when I started working in rural communities to learn to harvest and process Maya seed. All of us adults loved it and the children too. The children loved it so much they would lick the powder off the equipment when we finished milling the seeds. Also, they would eagerly devour everything we cooked with it. During that time I and my team taught hundreds of workshops for women all over Central America and we would always encourage mothers to feed Maya to their kids, because it is nutritious and kids loved it. The feedback I got from the parents always seemed sort of ludicrous. They said things like:
“my kids never get sick anymore”
“my child’s asthma went away”
“my child is doing much better in school”
We heard these comments all the time, over and over again and it just didn't seem like this little seed could be having such a massive impact on health of these children. Finally, I saw it for myself when I was teaching workshops on Maya Seed cooking and nutrition for 3 weeks in Nicaragua. Chronic malnutrition of children in the communities in an area called Cosiguina was really severe, as the families lived on less than $1 a day and there was just not enough food due to frequent drought. We taught in a community called El Chorro early in my visit and the women produced a lot of Maya Superfood powder in that workshop. I told them to feed it to their kids as much as possible, because I thought it could help their health. When we first got there to teach the workshop I noticed the children in the community were underweight, their skin was really blotchy, their eyes were yellowish and they had really low energy. You know things are bad when the children in a community don't run and play, but lay in the hammocks all morning during a workshop. That, to me, is a huge indicator of malnutrition; the children just don't have extra calories and energy to burn playing. It’s really sad. Anyway, we taught that workshop and came back 3 weeks later to see if the women were actually using the powder we had taught them to make. I could not believe the change in the children in just those 3 weeks! Their skin was brighter, their eyes were clearer, they were more energetic and they were putting on weight. It was simply astonishing. I was amazed and the parents were ecstatic. At that time I had no idea what the “magic” was about this little seed, it was a total mystery. Now, 15 years later, I finally know! It's the fiber!!! It turns out Maya Superfood is really high in several types of fiber, most notably, prebiotic soluble fiber! Research on the effects of prebiotic soluble fiber supplementation indicate beneficial impacts, including:
- Improved glucose (sugar) and lipid (fat) regulation
- Reduced appetite and improved weight management in overweight subjects
- Improved absorption of calcium, magnesium, and other minerals, and increased bone density
- Increases in the number and metabolic activity of healthful bacteria, primarily Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus species
- Better immune function and regulation
- Improvements in symptoms related to gastrointestinal (GI) disorders and decreased risk of colorectal cancer
The prebiotic fiber in Maya Superfood selectively feeds beneficial human gut flora, helping us digest food more efficiently, absorb minerals, synthesize and metabolize vitamins, secondary metabolites, neurotransmitters, essential fatty acids and flavonoids. These biochemicals provide a myriad of benefits to us. One of the most interesting benefits of prebiotic fiber in the diet is that can protect our colons from leaky gut and subsequent autoimmune diseases, including asthma and skin conditions! Those malnourished children (and a lot of Americans) have depleted gut flora because they aren’t getting enough of the “right” kinds of fiber or the right combination of fiber plus nutrients to be able to thrive. Recent studies show that prebiotic fiber improves immune function and digestive efficiency and even increases lung capacity in asthma patients! The parents of those Central American children weren’t lying when they made those “outlandish” claims and I am so happy to finally understand some of the scientific basis behind the magic of Maya.
Critical to our understanding of the prebiotic fiber content of Maya superfood is our partnership with Dr. Richard Jeannotte of the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Jeannotte is interested in furthering our understanding of the nutritional components of Maya Superfood. He offered us the use of his lab and his research staff and students to help answer the questions about how and why Maya Superfood has so many inexplicable impacts on human health. After conventional nutritional analyses came back with unremarkable results, he decided to test for Oligosaccharides (prebiotics) in the Maya powder. Preliminary research revealed that: “Maya powder is high in oligosaccharides”. Pretty vague. We are still working with Dr. Jeannotte and plan to send Maya superfood to a lab that specializes in “novel fibers” including oligosaccharides and will publish the results on this blog as soon as possible. Stay tuned!
Erika Vohman, President
 Peter Swann,“Nutritional Outlook”. December 2016