Have You Heard of Adaptogens?

They're the latest functional food ingredient.

By Kara Nielsen

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Although their name may be unfamiliar, adaptogenic plants are age-old herbs, roots and fungi that traditional Eastern medicine has relied on for centuries. Ginseng is the most familiar to Westerners, but today adaptogens such as maca root, ashwagandha herb and reishi mushrooms add functional benefits to wellness beverages, superfood snacks and grain bars.

These functional benefits are just what the doctor ordered: relief from physical and mental stress. The plants take their name from how they adapt to what a body needs. They work to bring balance to fatigued organ systems, including the adrenals, which are overly taxed by frequent surges of stress.

Adaptogens also provide energy—not in short bursts like other energy-boosting ingredients, but by supporting endurance over the long haul. Some also improve mood and increase libido; others relieve menopausal symptoms. These are holistic helpers, intended to be consumed regularly. Until recently, they were mostly available in supplement form.

Maca root, one of the most popular adaptogens, is conveniently featured in a variety of beverages. Dubbed Peruvian ginseng, maca root comes from the Andes mountains. Califia Farms makes three kinds of ready-to-drink almond milk with 8 grams of plant-based protein and 1 gram of maca root powder. Vanilla, chocolate and cold-brew-coffee flavors make these attractive sips with functional flair.

The Indian herb ashwagandha headlines Rebbl Ashwagandha Spicy Chai, made with coconut milk, Assam tea and Ayurvedic spices. The Rebbl brand is built around adaptogenic “super-herbs” with a range of elixirs and protein beverages that blend different plants with coconut water into enticing flavors like Maca Cold-Brew and Reishi Chocolate.

Reishi mushrooms are one of several medicinal fungi featured in Purely Elizabeth’s latest: functional granola bars. Each bar sports 2 grams of mushroom powder from Om, Organic Mushroom Nutrition, as well as shiitake and lion’s mane mushrooms, which contain healing and stress-relieving properties.

With traditional adaptogens enhancing new herbal teas, protein bars, and popcorn and nut snacks, it won’t be long before they join other superfoods in many a nourishing diet.


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