I bet there are lots of great foods right in your local natural foods store that have never seen the inside of your shopping cart. Sure, some of them seem intimidating or just for health nuts, but you could be missing out on your next favorite food and a whole lot of nutrition. Here’s a list of 5 fantastic superfoods and a few easy ways to incorporate them into your diet.
After suffering a bad rap for years because of its saturated fat content, coconut oil is now known to contain medium chain fatty acids which are used by your body quickly as energy as opposed to being stored as fat. It contains lauric acid, also found in breast milk, which has been shown to improve digestion, strengthen the immune system, and protect against bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. Look for “unrefined” or “virgin.” Raw coconut oil smells tropical, but once you cook with it, it just adds a subtle sweetness without imparting a coconut flavor. A bonus is that it has a high smoke point and can withstand higher heat cooking. How to use it:
- Stovetop popcorn
- Cooking pancakes and French toast
- Chicken and Vegetable Curry
- Baked goods
- Roasting vegetables like cauliflower and sweet potatoes
- It can do double duty as a skin moisturizer (just be sure to rub it in well, as I stained my favorite J Crew shorts once.)
(pronounced KEEN-wah) Although used as a grain, quinoa is a tiny, ancient seed native to South America which has a mild, nutty flavor and bouncy texture. It is gluten-free and super high in protein because it contains all the essential amino acids. Rinse the seeds well, because they are naturally coated with a bitter substance that protects them against birds and other predators. Quinoa cooks in 15 minutes, after which time its tell tale white thread curls from around the seed. How to use it:
- In place of less nutritious orzo or couscous
- Sprinkled in a salad
- As a breakfast cereal
- Added to pancake batter
- In a veggie burger
A member of the cabbage family, kale is loaded with health-promoting sulfur compounds, and it has been found to have the highest antioxidant capacity of all fruits and vegetables. It’s an amazing source of vitamins K, A and C, as well as manganese, and a very good source of dietary fiber, calcium, iron and potassium. All for very few calories! Supermarkets generally stock curly kale, the variety with the green, ruffled leaves. Keep an eye out for other varieties, including the dark green cavolo nero, plum-red Redbor kale and red Russian kale, which has purplish leaves and red veins. They can usually be used interchangeably. How to use it:
- As a raw salad
- Sautéed with garlic and olive oil
- Roasted into crispy chips
- Stirred into soups or tomato sauce
- Juiced for a green drink
It may surprise you that avocados are high in protein, enzymes, fiber, potassium, vitamin E as well as healthy fats. The fats in avocados, like those in olives and nuts, are mostly monounsaturated fats—particularly oleic acid, the primary fat in olive oil. They are rich and creamy and not just for guacamole! How to use them:
- Smooshed on top of toast with tomato and/or smoked salmon
- Blended into a smoothie
- On top of salad or omelet
- In a sandwich or tacos
- Mashed up as baby food
- Stirred into salsa
Seaweed contains a tremendous concentration of minerals, far more than are contained in land vegetables. They are a great source of vitamin B, magnesium, iron, folate, and calcium. Several varieties contain high levels of iodine which is essential in regulating the thyroid. Interesting fact: seaweed contains all the minerals found in human blood, as the minerals in seawater are similar to those found in our blood, with nearly identical concentrations. Different varieties you may find in the grocery store are Nori, Kombu (Kelp), Arame, Hijiki and Dulse. How to use it:
- Nori can be wrapped around sushi rice for sushi rolls; crumbled on top of salads or in soups; and roasted for a crispy snack.
- Kombu is great for soaking with dried beans to help improve their digestibility and alkalinity.
- Arame and Hijiki are wonderful rehydrated and added to soups, noodles, and Asian-inspired salads.
- Dulse can be found in flakes to be used as a condiment sprinkled over soups, salads, and whole grains.
Pamela Salzman is a certified holistic health counselor. She shares her approach to nutrition through her natural foods cooking classes and website, a resource for her healthful, family-friendly recipes and nutrition tips. She was recently profiled in Elle Magazine.