In the past few years, I’ve found myself often talking about superfoods. I eat them daily. I bake and cook with them in my home, and on TV. I talk about them in my cookbooks, and now here I am writing about them. I’m definitely not the only one. There are currently about 10 million online results if you search for superfoods. The concept of superfoods is a popular one, especially when it comes to food and health. The media is full of reports of ultra-healthy foods, from blueberries and beetroot, to cocoa and amaranth. But what really is a superfood and why are they, well……so super?
The Oxford English dictionary, describes a superfood as “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being.” Generally speaking, a superfood can be categorized as a food whose nutrient content and health benefits surpasses other foods. But one key ingredient that often puts fruits and vegetables on the path to superfood stardom is antioxidants. I know we’ve all heard of antioxidants. But for those of you who maybe don’t know what they are, or why we should be consuming them, antioxidants simply means Anti-Oxidation. You might know oxidation by its more common name, rust! Unlike the tin man, or that bicycle you left parked by the side of your house, our bodies might not be rusting, but they are decaying. What happens is that the free radicals in our bodies expose our cells to oxidation, which leads to decay. In order to fight this we need antioxidants. So before you run out and buy that bottle of WD-40, try my list of the top 10 (antioxidant-rich) superfoods to add to your shopping list!
1. Amaranth – Amaranth has been cultivated as a grain for 8,000 years. The word amaranth means “everlasting” in Greek. Indeed, this tiny seed has endured the ages. It’s a hearty grain and was a staple food of the Aztecs. Amaranth is a gluten free grain and contains more protein than any other gluten free grain, with 28 grams per cup! It’s also rich in calcium, magnesium and iron. You can cook amaranth similarly to rice. Also try baking with amaranth flour, you can even pop the kernels, much like popcorn, and enjoy it as a savory snack, or even add it to your cereal.
2. Quinoa – Quinoa was originally cultivated high in the Andes, where it is still grown today. Botanically, quinoa is related to beets, chard and spinach. In fact, the leaves of the plant can be eaten as well as the grains. Quinoa certainly has come a long way in the last five years! Most people now know it’s pronounced KEEN-wah, not kwin-OH-a. Researchers have recently taken a close look at the protein rich grain to further explore quinoa’s health benefits. Quinoa contains certain antioxidant phytonutrients. Two flavonoids found in quinoa, quercetin and kaempferol, are now known to be provided by quinoa in especially concentrated amounts. In fact, the concentration of these two flavonoids in quinoa can sometimes be greater than their concentration in high-flavonoid berries like cranberry or lingonberry. You can cook quinoa similarly to rice. You can also cook it and serve it like an oatmeal porridge, or even add it raw into granola bars and cereals.
3. Kale – You’ll want to include kale as one of the cruciferous vegetables you eat on a regular basis! Kale is a great detoxifying food. It’s rich in fiber and sulfur, both of which are great for cleaning out the body and keeping the liver healthy. Kale also packs a nutritional punch, with its rich levels of vitamins A, C, K and iron. Kale also is rich in antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids. You can thinly slice kale and add it raw to salads, or try steaming your kale and drizzling a little olive oil and fresh lemon juice on top.
4. Blueberries – With only 80 calories and 0 fat, per cup, beautiful blueberries make the perfect snack! Blueberries are rich in vitamin C, fiber, antioxidants, and manganese (which incidentally helps the body process cholesterol and carbohydrates). They are also low on the glycemic index, meaning that people with blood sugar problems, such as diabetes, can still enjoy this sweet fruit, and its health benefits. Try eating blueberries on top of Greek yogurt as a snack, or add them to your cereal for breakfast. They might even be a good excuse for you to start eating more blueberry pie….well I don’t know if I’d take it that far!
5. Greek yogurt – According to some physicians, yogurt is considered a superfood for several reasons. One, it has the ability of fat reduction (due to its high protein and calcium content). It also improves digestion because it’s loaded with good bacteria known as probiotics. The probiotics also aid in a healthy digestive system, decreasing the risks of Colon Cancer. Good bacteria in the digestive system plays a very important role in our health. It can easily be thrown out of balance by stressors found in everyday life, which is when bad bacteria can run rampant. Probiotics help keep harmful bacteria in check. It has also been shown that daily consumption of yogurt improves one’s cholesterol profile, lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, while raising HDL (good) cholesterol. Try using Greek yogurt in place of sour cream or crème fraiche. Add it to smoothies, try topping it with honey for a sweet treat and even add it (one of my favorite tricks) to baked goods!
6. Goji berries -Goji berries are classically grown from an evergreen shrub found in China, Mongolia, and in the Himalayan Mountains of Tibet. Ironically, goji berries come from the nightshade family. Although one doesn’t typically associate nightshade with health and wellness, goji berries are most closely related to the edible nightshade fruits tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. But goji berries are definitely the super hero of the family! Goji berries have all 18 amino acids as well as mega doses of vitamin A (beta carotene), B1, B2, B6 and vitamin E. Goji berries contain lots of vitamin C, and more iron than spinach, not to mention 21 other key trace minerals as well as antioxidants. You can enjoy all the health benefits of goji berries by eating them fresh or dried. Try adding them to granola, yogurt, and salads.
7. Baobab fruit – The baobab fruit (pronounced Bay-oh-bab) has been harvested in Africa for centuries. The baobab fruit contains six times as much vitamin C as oranges, twice as much calcium as milk, and plenty of B vitamins, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, and of course, that superfood key ingredient……….. antioxidants! In fact, baobab fruit is richer in antioxidants than blueberries and goji berries! Did I mention it’s also richer in fiber? So much so that it can also be used as a super laxative (just something to keep in mind when you add it to your morning smoothing, sometimes moderation is best!). Outside of Africa it might be difficult to find fresh baobab, but you can easily find it in powder form. Try adding it to smoothies, yogurt, even sauces and dressings (it makes a great thickening agent).
8. Spinach – Spinach might just be the original superfood. Who remembers watching Popeye as a kid? Whenever he was in trouble, he’d pop a can of spinach and viola, his super strength would appear! Spinach is a great way to improve hair, skin, and bone health. It’s packed with calcium, protein, iron, vitamin A, and folate. Spinach is one of the best sources of dietary potassium, weighing in at 839mg per cup (cooked). Compare that to one cup of banana, which has about 539mg of potassium. Spinach is also one of the best sources of dietary magnesium, which is essential for energy metabolism, maintaining muscle, and a healthy immune system. Try adding spinach to your salads, smoothies, and omelets.
9. Oats – For some reason, as a kid I hated oatmeal. I found those instant packets flavorless and mushy. Luckily my Greek yiayia stepped in and started making it her way, cooked on the stove top, topped with butter, cinnamon, and honey. Now that was something I could dig my spoon into! Thanks to her I now love oatmeal, and oats! Oats contain a bio-active antioxidant compound called avenanthramide. Researchers have found that it cleans arteries (does that mean I can justify adding a bit of butter to my oatmeal?), prevents fatty buildup, and reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer. Oats are also rich in vitamin B, folic acid, protein (6 grams per cup), manganese, magnesium, as well as other minerals. Try using oats to make homemade granola, make a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, or add oat flour to your baked goods.
10. Chia Seeds – The word “chia” meant strength to the ancient Mayans, who often used chia seeds as a source of nutritious energy. For a while, at least in the United States, the chia seed was at best a household plant, at worst a bad joke. Yes, that ch-ch-ch-chia plant (sorry! I couldn’t resist) comes from those seeds that we are now gobbling up like Halloween candy. Once again the chia seed is a superfood star. It’s smaller than, and often compared to, the flax seed. But unlike flaxseeds, the nutrients of the chia seeds are easily absorbed by the body. Chia seeds are filled with two times more protein than most grains, five times more calcium than milk, and one of the highest levels of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. They are also full of soluble fiber, potassium, and antioxidants. Try adding chia seeds to your granola, yogurt, juices and salad dressing (think poppy seed dressing with a twist!)
Now that you have your grocery list complete, here are a few recipes to help you put all of those superfoods you’re going to bring home to use. Enjoy!
Kale, Avocado & Amaranth Salad
1 bunch Kale, washed and finely sliced
1 large beets, grated
1/2 cup cooked Amaranth or Quinoa
1 avocado, diced
¼ cup dried cranberries
½ cup blueberries
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon baobab powder or chia seeds
3 tablespoons cashew butter or finely ground cashews
Salt & pepper
Wash the kale and cut into thin strips. Place the kale strips in a large salad bowl. Wash and grate the raw beets into a separate bowl. Dice the avocado. To prepare the salad dressing, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, honey, cashew butter, and baobab powder. Pour the dressing over the kale and massage into the kale. This will help to tenderize the kale leaves. Massage for one minute, then toss in the grated beets, cooked amaranth, avocado, cranberries, and blueberries. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve.
Chia Seed Breakfast Pudding
235ml unsweetened almond milk
220 grams reduced fat Greek yogurt (I suggested Fage, or any brand with a low water content & thick texture)
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup (or honey)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt
37 (about 1/3 cup) grams chia seeds
135 grams (about 1 cup) strawberries, washed and chopped
80 grams goji berry granola
In a medium bowl, gently whisk the almond milk, yogurt, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, the vanilla and pinch of salt until just blended. Whisk in the chia seeds; let stand for 30 minutes. Stir the mixture once or twice to distribute the seeds if they have settled. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, divide the chia pudding into 4 bowls, top with the berries, and the granola. If you can’t fine goji berry granola. Top with granola and add some dried goji berries.