A new year has arrived. We've had our share of heavy holiday meals. Light and green may be in the future. So here's to new, healthy beginnings with a top ten list of our favorite superfoods!
Quinoa: Native to the dry, mountains regions of western South America, quinoa has been cultivated and valued as a staple food for thousands of years. It is not a true grain, (like wheat or oats) but is actually closely related to spinach and beets. Its ratio of protein by volume is higher than most grains, and it contains all 9 of the amino acids necessary to support a human body. It also contains higher amounts of mono-unsaturated ("heart-healthy") fats, including Omega-3. Perhaps best of all, it cooks quickly and has a mild, nutty flavor that works in lots of recipes. Add it to soups or salads, use in place of rice, or drizzle with maple syrup for a power-packed hot breakfast.
Nuts: We're nuts about nuts! Nuts and seeds are, by their very nature, designed to grow into a complete plant, and their nutritional profile is a testament to this potential feat. Nuts and seeds are nutritional superheroes- they contain protein, fiber, healthy fats, and a whole slew of micro nutrients. Toss them on your cereal, add to salad, or combine with dried fruit for a custom trail mix. Remember- a little goes a long way- nuts are dense in calories too, so limit serving size to about 1/4 cup.
Hemp Seeds: Don't let size fool you- these tiny granules are packed with powerful nutrients including protein, essential fatty acids, and fiber. With a perfect ratio of omega-3 and omega-6, hemp seeds are easy for the body to digest. Hemp seeds also include other vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, iron, zinc, chlorophyll and potassium. Hemp seeds have a nutty flavor and are usually found crushed or ground. Use them to top a salad, casserole, or try toasted.
Maca Root: Traditional food of the Andes, this ground dried tuber is high in protein, vitamin C, and minerals including iron, calcium, potassium, manganese, and copper. Related to the radish and turnip, the benefits of the maca root are expansive. Micro-nutrients like iodine and zinc are also found in maca root which are great for strengthening cells in the body. Maca root powder is very popular in smoothies and can be made into an energy bar, mixed with oatmeal, made into a soup or salad, and even comes in a gelatinized form that is cooked so it's easy on the digestive tract.
Chia Seeds: A member of the mint family, chia seeds are high in fiber as well as a good source of omega fatty acids, calcium, phosphorous, and manganese. Chia gel is also easy to make at home and is a natural thickener but otherwise chia seeds can be used as an egg substitute, salad topping, breading, or eaten alone!
Goji Berries: Grow in the Himalayans and also known as wolfberry, these brightly colored fruits have exceptionally high antioxidant levels as well as high levels of vitamins A, B, E, zinc, riboflavin, phosphurus, and iron. Enjoyed for over 2,000 years, these berries have been used medicinally in many Oriental cultures and more recently this superfood has gained popularity in the Western world.
Carrots: Your mom wasn't kidding when she told you to eat your carrots. This is one veggie you can't afford to skip out on! High in Vitamin A and full of fiber, carrots are also a great source for Vitamins K, B6, and antioxidants, all of which are essential to a healthy diet. Originally purple, carrots can also be orange, red, white, and yellow. Carrots also contain carotenoid which is the organic pigment that provides many benefits depending on which color of carrot is eaten. This is also one superfood that can be enjoyed in a multitude of ways. Carrots can be eaten raw, steamed, pan-fried, boiled, roasted and even juiced.
Dark Chocolate: Chocolate is derived from the seed pod of the tropical cacao tree. It is high in antioxidants and a variety of plant sterols and flavonols- compounds that may have positive effects on everything from cholesterol levels to cognitive function. When it comes to chocolate, darker is better for you. Milk chocolate can be loaded with sugars and added fats that may undermine any nutritional value. Choose dark chocolate with at least 60% cocoa content. Very dark chocolate is lower in sugar and even has significant amounts of soluble fiber (yep- fiber is in chocolate!) If you're a real chocolate hound, try snacking on crunchy cacao nibs -these roasted, crushed cacao seeds are low sugar, high fiber, and pack a serious chocolate punch.
Kale: Kale is the king of greens when it comes to nutrient-density. One 100-gram serving will give you 200% of your recommended daily value of Vitamin C, 300% of Vitamin A, 1000% of Vitamin K1, 2 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein, a healthy dose of Vitamin B6, potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper and manganese and it will only cost you 50 calories! If you are looking for an extra kick of energy or a vitamin boost for the new year, kale is a must for your shopping list. It's nutritiousness paired with its tastiness and versatility will make it a very easy addition to your diet. Some favorite ways to use kale are in smoothies, omelets, soups, salads, and pasta dishes but it has hundreds of uses so feel free to experiment.
Camu-Camu: With 60 times more Vitamin C than an orange, the camu-camu berry is used for not only culinary purposes but also medicinally. The camu- camu berry is native to Peru and also contains other nutrients such as amino-acids, potasium, and gallic-acid. Camu-camu is most widely consumed in powder form in drinks, smoothies or yogurts.