The 7 Healthiest Wonders from Around the World

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You likely have never heard of these superstar foods and supplements of tomorrow—including herbal extracts and elixirs—but you likely will start hearing about them in the near future. What’s more, nearly every find on Bowden’s list also has potential as an interesting uber-healthy holiday gift idea.

Everyone knows that one of the healthiest wonders of the world comes from one of the most beautiful places on earth. I’m talking, of course, about the Mediterranean diet, with its emphasis on nutrient-rich foods like olive oil, wild-caught fish, vegetables and nuts.

But what other health treasures come from far away?

Here are some of my favorite “finds” from around the world—foods, supplements and beverages. Most of these are not yet famous—at least not in the United States—but, like talented and undiscovered actors, they’re likely to be the superstars of tomorrow.

1. Pata de Vaca Tea. I first heard about the benefits of pata de vaca from Dr. David Williams, one of the world’s leading authorities on natural healing, who lauds it for its ability to lower and balance blood sugar. Derived from a small tree native to tropical rainforests in countries like Brazil and Peru, locals have sipped pata de vaca tea after meals for decades. The tea has a reputation as a diuretic, a blood cleanser and a good skin cleanser. Though many of those benefits are anecdotal, what’s not anecdotal is its use as an herbal remedy for diabetes and insulin resistance. Brazilians even refer to this tea as “vegetable Insulin.” A study in the Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research found that insulin-like proteins in the leaves of pata de vaca play a role in carbohydrate metabolism. If you have any sort of carbohydrate intolerance–and let’s face it, most of us do—pata de vaca tea makes an excellent addition to your blood-sugar managing arsenal.

2. Malaysian Palm Fruit Oil. Move over coconut oil: love you, but you’ve got competition for the title of “most underappreciated and misunderstood cooking oil.” Palm fruit oil is a very healthy saturated fat that’s wonderful for cooking and loaded with nutrients. Rich in vitamin D, it also contains powerful antioxidants such as tocotrienols from full-spectrum vitamin E. And the rich, reddish tint of the oil is from the carotenoids, a family of healthy compounds that includes beta-carotene.

Malaysian palm fruit oil performs beautifully under high-heat cooking. Sautéing veggies in this flavorful oil means you better absorb their fat-soluble nutrients. Debates rage about palm oil’s sustainability, but this doesn’t apply to palm fruit oil from Malaysia. The Malaysian palm oil industry has been an outspoken advocate of sustainable practices and wildlife protection.

3. Citrus Bergamot Extract. Citrus bergamot is a fruit that’s endemic to the Calabria region in Southern Italy (it’s what gives Earl Grey tea it’s distinct flavor). If the extract from this polyphenol-rich fruit lives up to its promise, it may turn out to be one of the most important supplements for the prevention of metabolic syndrome. Also known as “pre-diabetes”, metabolic syndrome is a collection of symptoms (high blood sugar, high triglycerides, high blood pressure, abdominal fat, etc.) which greatly increase the risk for heart disease.

Citrus bergamot extract lowers blood sugar. It lowers triglycerides. And it lowers blood pressure. As cardiologist Stephen Sinatra, MD, says, “It’s a trifecta of cardiovascular health.” What’s more, it appears to raise HDL cholesterol while lowering the worst kind of LDL cholesterol.

To get the effects seen in the research, look for a bergamot extract oral supplement product with 38% polyphenols; that’s the kind that’s been shown to suppress inflammation, inhibit plaque formation and improve arterial responsiveness, thus contributing mightily to cardiovascular health. My personal favorite is BergaMet Pro http://bergametpro.com/

4. Alaskan Wild Salmon. To use a bad pun, wild and farmed salmon are very different animals. Farm-raised fish are fed grains (most definitely not fish food), trapped in “net pens,” shot up with antibiotics when they get sick, and as a result have a much higher proportion of inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. Don’t even get me started about the color swatches called SalmoFan, which farmers use to decide if they’ve added enough carotenoids to their farm-raised fish feed, because if they didn’t, their salmon would come out gray and who wants to eat gray fish? How sad, considering salmon is one of the healthiest foods on the planet loaded with omega-3s, protein, and nutrients like selenium that help chelate mercury. Alaskan wild salmon comes from pristine waters where they swim in their natural environment and graze on algae, krill, and other foods rich in omega-3s. My favorite brand is Vital Choice (available online, flash frozen and shipped to your door directly from Alaskan waters). http://www.vitalchoice.com/shop/pc/home.asp

5. Black Elderberry. Next time you feel a cold or fever coming on, consider black elderberry. Poisonous in its unripe state, black elderberries are edible after cooking and often used for jelly, jam and chutneys. Thankfully, the plant also offers medicinal benefits. The extract of black elderberry—marketed under the name Sambucol—reduces inflammation as well as bronchitis, respiratory infections, fever, flu and colds. A study in the Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine found that people with influenza who took black elderberry extract had significantly greater improvement of symptoms (including fever) compared to those who took a placebo. And a study in the journal European Cytokine Network found that elderberry extract activates a healthy immune system and also provides immune-protective benefits.

6. Indian Gooseberry. Amla or amalaki fruit, more commonly called Indian gooseberry, has ancient spiritual traditions: half an amalaki fruit was the final gift to the Buddhist sangha by the Indian emperor Ashoka. Ripening in the fall, Indian gooseberries have a greenish-yellow appearance and a sour, bitter flavor. Indians steep them in salt water and turmeric to make the taste more palatable. If you’re adventurous, give it a try, since Indian gooseberry is rich in antioxidants and fiber. Among its purported medicinal benefits, in vitro research shows Indian gooseberry can ameliorate osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, acute pancreatitis and even some forms of cancer. One study inThe British Journal of Nutrition also found gooseberry provides powerful anti-coagulant and anti-inflammatory properties. Ayurvedic formulations have used gooseberry for centuries to prevent and treat numerous inflammatory conditions.

7. Greek Coffee. Upgrading your coffee doesn’t mean hiring a full-time barista or buying 100% organic Kona. Instead, try Greek coffee. “The Greek or Turkish method of coffee preparation combines very fine grinding of beans with quick boiling,” says my friend Chris Kilham, The FOX News Medicine Hunter. “This method produces a brew that is modest in caffeine compared to drip coffee, but high in the beneficial antioxidants of chlorogenic acids.” A study in Vascular Medicine found elderly residents on one Greek island who had at least one cup of Greek coffee a day had overall stellar heart health. That alone is worth swapping out your Starbucks habit.

Try any one of these terrific imports—or all seven of them. They’re sure to brighten your day with interesting and unexpected flavors while improving your health at the same time!