With aquamarine beaches, lush tropical forests and the best coffee in the world, South America is a popular destination for sun-seeking travelers. And yet one look at the locals, and you’ll see glowing skin in spite of decades spent drenched in UV rays. That’s because regional foods with rejuvenating nutrients are eaten whole daily without processing, says Fernando Aciar, co-owner of New York City’s feelfood café, where he brings the healing Latin American superfoods of his childhood to the frenzied masses in Manhattan.
“Long before there was sunscreen, South Americans worked for generations out in the fields under sun—and they intuitively ate richantioxidant foods to help the skin and body replenish,” says Aciar. Many of these gems come from the Amazon rainforest, which houses some of the most medicinal plants in the world. Indeed, indigenous South American diets (as in, ways of eating, not weight loss tools) are growing in popularity among nutritionists who champion the low-processed, high-fiber foods as ideal for health and beauty.Here, we highlight foods that are especially helpful in mending sun damage in particular. You can look for them at Whole Foods and your local health food store, or in Latin American markets that may be found around immigrant communities.
Pitaya, aka Dragon Fruit, to soothe inflammationThis stunning fuschia-colored produce is popular in Asia, but actually originates from South America. Locals mash it with cucumber and use it as a cold press directly on skin to soothe sunburn and swelling. Aciar serves pitaya mixed with apple or orange juice in a bowl, and topped with coconut flakes, toasted buckwheat and cacao nibs. Shown here: feelfood Super C Bowl
Caju to brighten dark spotsSure, we’ve all had cashews, but did you know that the popular nut grows on the bottom of the caju apple fruit? Brazilians adore the tasty fruit, which contains five times the vitamin C of oranges and helps contribute to a brighter complexion. Locals often juice and bottle the refreshingly astringent liquid, which is rich in polyphenol tannins that are also present in red wine and black teas. Caju fruit is mixed into coconut yogurt with raisins and figs to create a lusciously sweet and healthy dessert at feelfood. Shown here: feelfood Floresta Life
Mesquite for firm skinPeruvian mesquite trees grow pods that are harvested and crushed to create a sweet, nutty-tasting powder that locals use as an alternative to sugar in both sweet and savory dishes. It’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, the good fats also found in avocado that help power healthy skin turnover, as well as a variety of vitamins and minerals. Aciar blends mesquite into an incredible Arabica smoothie with cold brew coffee, pumpkin chia milk, cashew milk, coconut sugar and hemp protein. We’ll take two, please! Shown here: ingredients for feelfood Arabica Smoothie
Chia for hydrated skinIncreasingly favored among runners and marathoners, chia seeds are known as an energy source that dates back to the ancient Aztecs. One serving has the same amount of omega-3s as a salmon dinner, making it a great alternative if you’re vegan or if the skin-saving fish isn’t available or in your budget. The dark seeds are plunged into coconut milk where they expand and thicken the consistency, and are then mixed with maple syrup, orange zest and Vietnamese cinnamon to make a flavorfully memorable pudding at feelfood. Shown here: feelfood Coconut Chia Pudding
Açai to get a glowAs more people become familiar with antioxidant-rich healing powers of açai, it’s no wonder this superfood is so beloved by Brazilians. It must be frozen to maintain integrity, though Aciar says that doesn’t affect the nutrient value. An açai bowl is the most popular way to indulge in the powerful fruit, which is bitter like cranberries before sweetened. Feelfood blends açai with apple or orange juice and a banana, and you can top it with raw granola and your choice of sliced fruit and seeds. Shown here: feelfood Acai Bowl
Cacao to reduce wrinklesBefore the cocoa that makes chocolate goes through production, it’s born into a pod as cacao. With a high concentration of antioxidants, Aciar says most of that goodness is lost through processing, so it’s best to look for the most authentic version as raw or organic cacao nibs. Try topping porridge with coconut flakes and the nibs, and sweetening the comfort bowl with raisins and maple sugar as seen here. This version of “chocolate” is truly medicinal. (Sorry, Snickers!) Shown here: feelfood Porridge