Perhaps you’ve heard about the recently acclaimed superfood sacha inchi. Despite its newfound popularity, it’s been used around the globe for hundreds of years. It boasts an impressive nutrient profile, has many potential health benefits, and is versatile, delicious, and easy to enjoy in a variety of recipes. All these attributes make it a great addition to a well-rounded diet. This article takes a closer look at sacha inchi, including what it is, how it can affect your health, and how to add it to your diet.
What is sacha inchi?
Plukenetia volubilis, or sacha inchi, is a perennial plant native to certain parts of South America and the Caribbean. It produces a fruit that’s cultivated for its large, edible seeds. Because it was traditionally consumed by indigenous groups in Peru, it’s sometimes referred to as mountain peanut or Inca nut.
Although the fruit itself is not commonly consumed, the seeds are roasted and eaten. They’re also ground into a fine powder and added to food products. Plus, the oil is extracted from the seeds and used in cooking or skin care products. Additionally, the leaves of the plant can be dried and brewed to make an herbal tea.
Sacha inchi seeds are rich in protein, fiber, and heart healthy fats. A 0.4-ounce (10-gram) serving of sacha inchi seeds contains:
Protein: 3 grams
Fat: 5 grams
Carbs: 1 gram
Fiber: 1 gram
The seeds are particularly high in unsaturated fat, which may be associated with a lower risk of heart disease when used in place of saturated fats or carbohydrates in your diet. They also contain other important micronutrients, such as phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and zinc. What’s more, they contain antioxidants and phenolic compounds that may reduce inflammation in your body and protect against chronic disease.
Sacha inchi seeds may be linked to several powerful health benefits.
This double blind randomized trial was realized in Colombia, where researchers from three different universities (San Buenaventura University, Pontificia Javeriana University, and Icesi University) joined forces in order to analyze the effects of Sacha inchi oil on glucose metabolism after the ingestion of meals rich in saturated fat.
During the trial, 42 adult men were randomly given two meals rich in saturated fat for breakfast, one of them enriched with 15 mL of sacha inchi oil. Blood samples were obtained one hour before the meals, as well as four hours after, in order to register changes in the levels of glucose, insulin, and lipids in all the participants.
The addition of sacha inchi oil slowed down glucose production in 16 (38.1%) participants that showed a higher concentration of triglycerides before meals (fasting hypertriglyceridemia), whereas an improved expression of sirtuin-1 (SIRT1), a gene responsible for regulating energy within the cells and coordinating cellular functions, was registered four hours after ingesting the meal enriched with sacha inchi oil, and linked to lowered levels of blood sugar measured at the same time.
Enriching fatty meals with sacha inchi oil can improve insulin sensitivity in people with high levels of triglycerides, as well as in those who experience blood sugar spikes after consuming fatty food. However, far from encouraging people to consume unhealthy fats, this promising outcome may result in new therapeutic uses of Incas’ peanut for the treatment of both hypertriglyceridemia and type 2 diabetes, as well as in new ways of preventing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.
May improve cholesterol levels
Some research suggests that sacha inchi could support healthy cholesterol levels.
A small study in 30 people found that participants who took 10–15 mL of sacha inchi seed oil daily for 4 months had improved blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and HDL (good) cholesterol levels compared with a control group who received sunflower oil.
In another small study in 42 adults, consuming sacha inchi oil with a high fat meal prevented increases in cholesterol levels and inflammation, but the outcomes also depended on the individuals’ metabolic status.
Sacha inchi is also a great source of unsaturated fatty acids, a type of fat that could help reduce cholesterol levels and support heart health.
Supports gut health
Although studies in humans are limited, some animal studies suggest that sacha inchi could improve digestive health. For instance, one study found that administering sacha inchi oil to rats on a high fat diet helped balance the beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Another study similarly found that extract from the seed’s hulls improved the health of the gut microbiome in rats. The seeds also contain a good amount of fiber in each serving. Fiber is a beneficial plant compound that can improve regularity by bulking up your stool. This can help protect against conditions like hemorrhoids and diverticulitis, a condition characterized by infection or inflammation in the gut.
Could promote weight loss
One 0.4-ounce (10-gram) serving of sacha inchi seeds provides 70 calories along with a good amount of protein and fiber. This makes them a great excellent addition to a well-rounded weight loss diet. Protein, in particular, can decrease food cravings and support appetite control to increase weight loss.
Similarly, fiber can increase feelings of fullness to help reduce your overall food intake, which could contribute to weight loss and fat loss. Lastly, sacha inchi is rich in heart healthy fats, which can slow the emptying of your stomach and promote feelings of fullness.
Potenial side effects
When enjoyed in moderation, sacha inchi is associated with few side effects and can be a healthy addition to a balanced diet for most people. In one study, the most common side effect linked to taking sacha inchi oil was nausea, although this decreased over time with continued use.
Although rare, allergic reactions to the plant have also been reported. If you experience any negative effects after consuming it, it’s best to discontinue use and talk with a healthcare professional if your symptoms persist. It’s also worth noting that raw sacha inchi seeds contain antinutrients and alkaloids.
Antinutrients are compounds that can hinder the absorption of micronutrients in your body, and alkaloids can negatively impact health. Alkaloids may even be lethal if consumed in large amounts.
Thankfully, research shows that oven-roasting the seeds significantly reduces their content of alkaloids and antinutrients while enhancing antioxidant activity. Therefore, it’s important to roast them before eating them.
How to use
Sacha inchi is available in several forms. The seeds, in particular, are often roasted or ground into a powder. The roasted seeds have a mild, nutty flavor and can be enjoyed as is for a simple snack on the go. You can also swap them in for other nuts in your diet and add them to salads, trail mixes, or granola.
Meanwhile, the ground seeds are found in plant-based protein powders, great to use in smoothies, baked goods, or energy bites. The leaves of the plant can be dried and steeped in water for a few minutes to make a flavorful herbal tea. Lastly, you can apply the oil to your skin or drizzle it over salads, smoothies, or sautéed veggies to boost the flavor and health benefits.