Superfoods are getting a lot of buzz lately. So many items are being called superfoods now and you may have a general sense that this is a good thing (super equals good, right?), but not know what this term really means or how to start incorporating them in your diet. So here’s a crash course to superfoods and some easy ways you can start enjoying them.
What is a Superfood, Laila?
In a nutshell, superfoods are foods that are very nutrient rich – they have high amounts of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants or polyphenols. They’re full of the good stuff, generally lower in calories, and you can get a lot of value from small portions of them. Some of the general benefits of superfoods include supporting your immune system, reducing inflammation in the body, fighting free radicals which damage your cells, reducing your risk of cancer and heart disease, providing a source of energy and assisting with weight loss. The great news is superfoods also pair really well together, so it’s easy to get a variety of them in one dish. Want to start using more? Some great ones include cacao, chia, coconut, hemp hearts, goji berries, mulberries, spirulina, quinoa, walnuts and açai. Here’s a little info on a few.
Cacao (chocolate baby!)
By far my favourite superfood, cacao (pronounced cah-COW) beans are what chocolate is made from. Raw cacao, which is available as whole beans, little nibs and as a ground powder, contains high amounts of antioxidant power. Even in the superfood family, cacao is a top dog. While helping to prevent disease, it also helps relieve stress and raise your serotonin levels, making you feel happy, relaxed and content. Cacao is also rich in magnesium, a mineral that helps with muscle relaxation.
Just to clarify, raw cacao powder is different from cocoa powder, which has been further processed and doesn’t contain the same nutritional value. I will use cocoa powder in some of my baking because I like its rich flavour, but try to use cacao powder mostly so that I get the full benefits of what the plant has to offer.
Chocolate pairs really well with berries, so I often do a chocolate and berry combo in my smoothies, or make a raw chocolate bark with goji berries sprinkled on top. I will sprinkle cacao nibs on puddings and into homemade granola. I even add cacao powder to my chili.
Try this delicious raw Superfood Chocolate Bark. It is so tasty, easy to adapt and stores in the freezer so it’s ready whenever you need a little treat. Or try my Ultra-rich Chocolate Smoothie. If you’ve ever wanted a chocolate milkshake for breakfast, this one’s for you.
Chia seeds have numerous health benefits. A great source of omega 3 fats, protein and fibre, they help support healthy cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, are anti-inflammatory, protect against arthritis and cancer, support your liver and stabilize blood sugar levels. I have a tablespoon of chia seeds in my morning smoothie everyday and my husband adds them to his oatmeal when he’s prepping it the night before to make them nice and plump the next morning. You can also try this seed bread which is loaded with chia seeds (and 9 g of protein per slice) or chia pudding.
Try these Protein Energy Balls with Chia Seeds.
Coconut is kind of a wonder food. It can be used in so many ways (including for oral health and as an aftersun) and has loads of benefits. A great source of healthy fats, coconut is considered heart healthy by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. It’s also antibacterial, antiviral, a great source of electrolytes such as magnesium and potassium, and healing to the gut.
You can use coconut water as a hydrating liquid for your smoothies, or as a replenishing post-workout drink with a pinch of sea salt. I add coconut milk to my oatmeal, stews, and even my grains to make coconut rice! I sauté my greens and other veggies in coconut oil and, lastly, ever tried coconut whipped cream? It is so lucious and yummy. This is the perfect time of the year to serve it with a bowl of fresh fruit.
This hearty Sweet Potato and Chickpea Stew uses coconut milk and is really flavourful and satisfying. It can be a little spicy so I would try starting with 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper.
I recommend starting with a couple of superfoods, becoming familiar with them, and then building your repertoire. I also suggest starting with a modest amount if you’re not used to incorporating them in your cooking – don’t go to the store and buy a pound of goji berries, and then have them sit in your pantry for six months. Start with a smaller amount (bulk bins are great for this) and experiment with how you like to enjoy these new foods. Once you get a sense of what you like to do with them, and how much you consume, your quantities will build and they’ll become regular items on your grocery shopping list!
Word to the Wise
A final thought is to be cautious not to associate just anything containing a superfood as being healthy. For example, that açai yogurt might be marketed as a great, healthy way for you to get more antioxidants (which could be true) but might also contain 20 grams of sugar. Just because something has one healthy item – or super item – doesn’t necessarily make it a healthy food. At the same time, consuming superfoods is not a license to eat poorly the rest of the time. Still be conscious of the overall value of what you’re eating.
Hope you enjoy all of these recipes! Give one a try this week and let me know which superfoods you enjoy!