It’s a flavor most all of us grew up eating, whether in ice cream or another type of dessert. Vanilla might seem boring, but it’s truly one of the most classic flavors you can never go wrong with. In fact, vanilla extract is a top ingredient in most all types of dessert recipes for this very reason; it adds a warming, sweet, and rounded flavor that compliments just about any sweet treat it’s added to. And, if you’ve ever had a dish made with raw vanilla bean powder versus an extract, you know there’s nothing out there like the real thing. But vanilla bean isn’t just delicious and a flavor to enjoy in ice cream and desserts… it’s also a nutritional powerhouse we often forget about due to chocolate’s health benefits normally taking the reign.
We’re certainly not negating the benefits of chocolate, which would be a total shame, but it’s time to give vanilla bean a little more attention and appreciation for all the nutritional secrets and majestic powers it holds. Did you know the vanilla bean is the birth child of the only fruit-bearing orchid that exists? The beans are sun-dried and cured which produces their flavor, then sold either in whole bean form, pre-scraped or powdered form, vanilla bean paste (often with added sugars which should be avoided if possible), or soaked with alcohol or alcohol-free alternatives (like glycerin) to produce an extract or food flavoring.
Vanilla is a true medicinal food that has been used for centuries, and an everyday ‘superfood’ if you want to call it that. It’s especially powerful at enhancing brain and mood health. So, if you want a delicious way aside from chocolate to provide a natural mood boost, keep some vanilla around to get in on the benefits. Better yet, stock up on some real vanilla beans or real vanilla bean powder to gain access to some truly remarkable, nutritional secrets that this timeless food holds.
The mineral we’re hearing a good bit about these days is found in most all plant-based foods, including vanilla beans. Magnesium is a vital mineral necessary for overall health because it regulates the nervous system and acts as a balancing mineral. It assists with both relaxation and energy production. Magnesium is also responsible for many enzyme reactions in the body that assist everything with digestion to assimilation of nutrients to the regulation of muscle and nervous system cells. For your brain and mood, it relaxes nervous tension, prevents or helps with mild depression and PMS, and optimizes neurotransmitter function for optimal serotonin and dopamine production (our “feel good” hormones.) Magnesium is also necessary for healthy blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
All plant-based foods are also rich in potassium and vanilla beans are no exception. One tablespoon of vanilla bean powder has over 100 milligrams, equal to around the powder of one large bean. Potassium is another mineral needed for healthy blood pressure levels, and it assists with water regulation in the body, proper heart contractions, and helps balance the body’s electrolytes. For your mood, it can help relax blood vessels (which is why it’s great for blood pressure) which in turn reduces stress and tension.
Another mineral everyone is looking to get more of without the cow’s milk, is calcium. Though it’s known as a crucial mineral for bone health, it’s commonly overlooked for its benefits on the mood and mind. Calcium reduces cortisol in the body, the stress hormone that’s associated with anxiety, depression, moodiness, and even weight gain. In fact, here’s an interesting note: one reason dairy was linked to weight loss in various studies years ago was because of its calcium content, not because the milk came from a cow or because other sources of calcium don’t exist outside of dairy. Calcium is found abundantly in the plant-based kingdom, with vanilla beans (and many other common foods) being an overlooked source. While foods like greens, white beans, and chia seeds are higher in calcium than vanilla beans, just one tablespoon of vanilla bean powder will still provide you with an ample dose that helps relax the mind and lower stress.
There’s a little bit more buzz surrounding this mineral than there used to be, and thank goodness for that! Manganese is essential to a healthy mood, metabolism, optimal nervous system function, and assimilation of other nutrients. It’s found in many nuts, seeds, and superfoods like cacao, vanilla, goji berries, and chia seeds. Vanilla bean powder actually has 30 percent of your daily manganese needs in just one tablespoon!
And finally, let’s not forget the power of aphrodisiac foods on the brain. These foods aren’t just good for your libido, but also at enhancing hormones in the body that are associated with love and happiness, with oxytocin and dopamine being two of these. These make you feel happy, lighthearted, and in love with all things in life. And yes, they’ll up the libido for you too if that’s a concern. Vanilla and chocolate have been used for hundreds of years for these two reasons alone, so why not take advantage of them and honor tradition, eh?
How to Get the Most Benefits: Whole Beans Versus Extract
Here’s the deal on nutrition with vanilla beans: you’ll need to opt for the whole beans and scrape the powder out (the pods really aren’t as edible, though you can use them and they won’t hurt you), or you can buy vanilla bean powder (which is pre-scraped beans that you don’t have to fool with but much more pricey). The extracts will still boost your mood because of vanilla’s natural mood-enhancing scent and flavor, however, don’t look to it as a nutritional source because it’s more diluted and more processed. Vanilla beans are much cheaper if you buy them whole, and the pre-scraped powder is much easier, convenient and still an option if you’d like to treat yourself to something special, or have a special recipe you’d like to make.
Try out real vanilla bean in a smoothie, hot blended coffee, cookies, cakes, whatever you want! It’s exceptional in a variety of muffins, waffles, energy bites, pancakes, ice cream, and dessert-like drinks. such as shakes, too.
Now, let’s give one of the most well-loved flavors out there a little more love no matter how simple it may seem to the outside eye. What’s your favorite way to use vanilla?
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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