Baobab: The “tree of life” can also be the “drink” of life

Baobab trees grow primarily in East and South Africa and can live for hundreds of years. In fact, they date back at least 200 million years.

The fruit from these gnarled, venerable trees has historically had an important role supporting the nutrition and health of people in Africa.

To Africans, baobab is known as the “tree of life.”

It’s a powerful symbol of viability because baobab thrives in a landscape where few plants can survive. Plus, it produces nutrient-dense fruits during the long, dry seasons.

Now, the science is finally catching up and shining a light on baobab’s extensive health benefits.

The fruit has a ton to offer nutritionally—and, as new research reveals, it could even be considered the “drink” of life.

Let me explain…

The bountiful baobab fruit

Baobab fruits are gathered after they’ve fallen from the trees. (Entire African communities center around this natural harvest.)

The fruit grows inside a hard shell, like a coconut, and has a citrus-like flavor. It travels well while still in the shell and is traded among traditional peoples in Africa.

Baobab fruit is a good source of vitamins A, B, C, D, and E—and its seeds are rich in essential fats and antioxidants.

The fruit also contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, which is important for gastrointestinal (GI) health and function.

(Some fiber supplements are even made with baobab. These products remain usable for long periods of time. They don’t firm up into a gel like psyllium, for example).

This is important because the U.S. Institute of Medicine estimates that a whopping 95 percent of Americans don’t get enough fiber in their diets1—making baobab a vital nutrient.

Research shows the fruit pulp also supports the GI microbiome. In fact, baobab can be considered a prebiotic food because it nourishes the beneficial probiotics in the GI tract.

Baobab has also been shown to effect satiety, creating a feeling of fullness after eating and satisfying hunger (while providing essential nutrients).

In addition, research shows health benefits specific to supporting healthy blood sugar and digestion.

A good addition to a balanced diet

Taking all of this into account, is it any wonder that baobab fruit, and the dietary supplement ingredients derived from it, are now being marketed as a trendy “super fruit”?

Of course, the idea of a “super food” has never made sense to me. Healthy foods and dietary supplements should be part of a balanced diet, and their use should be based on the science—not on a marketing campaign.

Not to mention, Africans don’t consume baobab because they think they’re eating a trendy product. Their traditional use dovetails with the new science showing the many health aspects of this nutritional fruit.

For example, research performed in Kenya shows 25 percent of children have low blood counts (anemia) and need more iron from their diet. So—scientists looked to see if baobab could help.

It’s thought that vitamin C can increase the ability of iron from the diet to travel into red blood cells. And, among its many nourishing attributes, the pulp of the baobab fruit has a much higher C content than most other fruits and vegetables.

Researchers gathered 58 Kenyan children, ages 6 to 12, and divided them into two groups.2 Every day for 12 weeks, one group drank a beverage with baobab powder. The other group consumed a drink without baobab.

After just five weeks, the children who consumed the baobab drink had higher intakes of dietary vitamin C, as well as calcium, compared to the placebo group. The baobab group also had healthier red blood cell counts and iron levels than the placebo group.

How to add baobab to your diet

If you don’t live in Africa, you’ll likely have trouble finding baobab fruit.

That’s another reason why the fruit is increasingly being dried and made into dietary supplement powders.

These powders contain all of the nutrients of the fresh, whole fruit—and can be combined with other healthy ingredients for extra nutrition.

I suggest adding a high-quality baobab powder (from a brand you trust) to water for a daily treat. You’ll end up with a citrus-flavored beverage that not only tastes good—but is good for you. You can find baobab powder together with other healthy water-soluble powders such as blueberry, rose hips and rooibos (red bush tea).

Sources: 

1“Closing America’s Fiber Intake Gap: Communication Strategies From a Food and Fiber Summit.” Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016 Jul 7;11(1):80-85.  

2“Can the supplementary consumption of baobab (Adansonia digitata L.) fruit pulp improve the hemoglobin levels and iron status of schoolchildren in Kenya? Findings of a randomized controlled intervention trial.” Eur J Nutr. 2021 Aug;60(5):2617-2629. 


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