What is a superfood? Chances are you’ve heard of superfoods over the years and even incorporated them into your diet to boost your health and help lower your risk of disease. These nutrient-rich foods have been lauded as going above and beyond the nutritional value of average fruits, vegetables and whole grains, earning them a place in the spotlight and a glowing health halo.
Superfoods are nothing new. Popeye launched one—spinach—decades ago. We’ve been racing to the health-food store, supermarkets and smoothie shops for superfoods like acai and goji berries, kale and pomegranate ever since—all in the name of extraordinary health. What is new for 2015 is the growing sentiment in the nutrition community that superfoods don’t have to be new, exotic and nearly unpronounceable. Some long-forgotten foods may be just what your diet needs.
Move over kale. Take a seat flax. These up-and-coming superfoods are about to take back the spotlight and elevate your diet to a whole new level of exceptional taste and nutrition.
While quinoa is the reigning whole grain, those in the know are branching out to take advantage of many of the lesser-known ancient grains such as amaranth, teff and millet. Amaranth has a slightly crunchy texture and, like quinoa, is packed with protein. This grain is also a good gluten-free option for those with celiac disease and similar dietary requirements. Use amaranth as you would other grains—toss it in salads or add it to soups. Or create a hearty breakfast with other classic superfoods like this Blueberry Amaranth Porridge.
From kimchi to kefir, fermented foods are getting more and more attention for their powerful health benefits. Researchers are finding that consuming beneficial bacteria, like that found in fermented foods, can help with a strong immune system, build a healthy digestive system, and positively impact blood sugar and the absorption of certain hormones. Some preliminary studies even suggest it may affect mental health. Great Grandma may have been on to something with all her homemade sauerkraut! As with any food, moderation is key due to the higher amounts of sodium in many fermented foods like kimchi. To make your own fermented foods, use trusted guides such as this one from the USDA.
Kale is the current top green, but other dark leafy greens like dandelion greens, collard greens and mustard greens are waiting in the wings to change up the flavors of your salads and sides--and with outstanding nutrition to boot. Dandelion greens, in particular, are an excellent source of vitamins A, K and C, and a good source of fiber, calcium, manganese, iron, and vitamins B1, B2 and B6. Many of these nutrients are often lacking in the average person’s diet, including iron and fiber. Combine these somewhat bitter greens with a flavorful vinaigrette for a tasty salad or sauté them with a touch of olive oil and garlic and pair with your favorite lean protein.
Once known as “forbidden rice,” thanks to its honored spot on the tables of emperors, this uniquely beautiful variety of rice is gaining popularity for its outstanding whole-grain nutrition. According to the Whole Grains Council, black rice contains antioxidants called anthocyanins in amounts similar to blueberries—approximately six times higher than the common brown or white rice varieties. Anthocyanins and other flavonoids like them have been inversely linked to coronary heart disease and are believed to have a positive effect on heart health. Use this unique rice as you would other varieties—in stir fries, risottos, soups, sides and even topping salads.
What will you be adding to your superfood list in 2015?
American Heart Association. Phytochemicals and Cardiovascular Disease.
Fruits & Veggies More Matters. Dandelion Greens: Nutrition. Selection. Storage.
Tufts University (2014). Discover the Digestive Benefits of Fermented Foods. Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter.
Whole Grains Council. Amaranth-May Grain of the Month.
Whole Grains Council. Health Benefits of Rice.