coconut 'mac-ao' ice pops + superfoods / by Annie Jefferson

'Superfood' is a term used for foods that contain relatively high quantities of nutrients or minerals...to take it one step further, foods that, in theory, have health benefits with the potential to help protect from or heal disease. 

Scientifically, there's zero certainty around superfoods when it comes to their ability to visibly boost health or protect from disease. Dictionary definitions of the word include noncommittal language like 'may help' or 'considered to be'. Nutritionists and medical practitioners are wary of the word, and in the EU it's actually illegal to market products as 'superfoods' unless a scientific research-backed medical claim is provided. Blueberries, one of the original 'superfoods' - praised for its high antioxidant content - were actually disproven as such because of how the body processes the antioxidant properties, which are rendered inactive after digestion. 

None of this sounds very good, so what's the fuss about? There's inarguably a great seduction in the concept of superfoods - that there's a list out there of food items, many sourced from exotic places across the globe (where anything must be possible), and that you can buy at your local Whole Foods with the promise not only of glowing skin and increased energy, but longevity and disease prevention too. At a time when more than ever before we feel disconnected from our bodies - with the answers to our health held only by the few in white lab coats - buying into superfoods is an appealing opportunity to take control of our bodies back. Especially when the solution doesn't come in the form of a pill in a bottle, but a product straight from the earth (!).

The concept becomes less appealing when you look for the supportive evidence, and some express concern that the inclusion of 'super' encourages the over-consumption of one food, when we know that the key to health is variety and balance. For sure, classifying foods this way and then tossing the word around is, although perhaps not dangerous, certainly an example of oversimplification. 

I argue that whatever the controversy, the concept of superfoods can be helpful to us simply by urging the connection between sustenance and body, food and medicine.

To the popsicles. No they won't solve all your problems, but they're a great step toward awareness of how food can be used as medicine, and to cooling down if where you are is nearly as hot as it's been in LA!

MACA ROOT

Maca powder comes from the maca root plant. The plant originated in the Andes and has been used for centuries as a source of nutrition and enhanced fertility in humans and animals. Maca is rich in sterols, which are similar to steroids in their promotion of muscle tissue regeneration and stress alleviation, as well as adaptogens, which helps your body achieve hormonal balance. Consistent consumption of Maca therefore has the potential to manage tension and stress, support hormonal health and fertility, and encourage overall energy, vitality and positive mood. Maca has also been reported to increase libido, though supporting studies are hard to come by.

Maca's taste is malty, earthy and nutty, with hints of caramel and butterscotch. It's important to either buy Maca whole and cook it, or buy the gelatinized powder version, which has gone through a heating process that removes any anti-nutrients found in raw cruciferous vegetables. 

RAW CACAO

Cacao in its purest form is made from raw (not heated over 115 degrees) cocoa beans, which have not been processed or refined. In this natural state, cacao's nutrients are more easily absorbed by the body. Cacao is known for its high levels of antioxidants - which protect cells against disease -, theobromine - a stimulant that encourages positive mood and energy -, and as one of the highest food sources of magnesium - a mineral in which many adults are deficient, and which plays an important role in healthy sleep and overall calming of the nervous system.

Raw cacao has a bitter, chocolatey flavor, and when paired with nutty Maca, the two synergize together perfectly. In popsicle form, this essentially achieves a healthier, subtler fudgsicle. 

For variety and aesthetic factor, I added a top layer of coconut milk and chia seed. These too are lauded as one of the life-saving superfood. Aside from looking like perfect miniature beach stones, these teensy chia seeds are a big source of Omega-3, fiber, protein and antioxidants. They are a go-to for those of us looking to add protein to a plant-based diet.

In the end, these foods are absolutely super! But so are spinach and lemons and black beans and apples, and plenty of other ordinary foods that fail to make it onto top 10 lists. Leave the labels aside, but take with us the reminder to connect our foods to our bodies, and look to food as a source of medicine (and also disease). I hope at the very least you find these popsicles are a cool summer treat that makes you feel healthy and connected to your body, and of course that you all experience better energy, fertility, libido, sleep quality and cure of ailments from head to toe!

COCONUT 'MAC-AO' ICE POPS
Makes 8 popsicles

INGREDIENTS
20.4oz or 1 1/2 cans coconut milk
1 1/2 tablespoons chia seed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons raw honey
2 teaspoons raw cacao powder
1 tablespoon gelatinized maca root powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon himalayan pink sea salt, divided
2 tablespoons coconut sugar
2 medjool dates

Optional: 2 tablespoons each hemp seeds and sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey

METHOD
First make the top layer. Measure out 1/2 can or 6.8oz coconut milk. If your coconut milk has separated, you may need to warm it over low heat to help it come together. Stir in the chia seed, vanilla extract and raw honey until incorporated. Allow to sit in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to allow the chia seed to expand.

Meanwhile, make the maca and cacao layer. Warm the remaining 13.6oz/1 can of coconut milk in a saucepan over low heat. Add the maca powder, raw cacao, cinnamon, cloves, sea salt and coconut sugar. Stir until dissolved. Transfer mixture to blender and add medjool dates. Blend on high until no more date pieces remain.

Pour the chia seed coconut mixture into the bottom third of each popsicle mold. Place tray in the freezer. Wait 1 hour, or until completely hardened. Remove from freezer and pour the maca and cacao mixture into the remaining two thirds of each mold. Place popsicle sticks into each and return to freezer to harden. 

At this point, you can either let your pops continue to freeze for several hours or over night, or you can remove them from the freezer 2 hours into the hardening time and add the hemp and sesame seed mixture to the bottom of the pops (if you do this, be sure to leave half an inch or so of space at the top of each mold). Mix together hemp and sesame seeds, and maple syrup and using a small spoon, evenly place the seed mixture at the top of each mold. Press down firmly to make sure it is packed together. Return to freezer. 

*The chia seed layer adds variety and texture to the pop, but to make things even easier, if you prefer, you can always skip the chia seed layer, and go all maca and cacao! Just increase the ingredients by about one third each.