Superfoods seem to come and go as frequently
as the latest fashions, but many of the tried-and-true options
often get overlooked. They don't have to be exotic or expensive
-- in fact, many are grown in Canada and locally, easy on
the budget and readily available at the grocery store. Here
are some top choices you may be overlooking.
Despite its exotic-sounding name, quinoa (pronounced "KEEN-wah")
is grown in Canada, and it's as easy to cook up as rice.
This ancient Incan staple has more protein than any other
grain, not to mention higher levels of fibre, calcium,
vitamin E, iron, magnesium and phosphorus. It has a balance
of essential amino acids, and it's gluten-free and easy
How to use it: You
can use quinoa in place of rice or couscous in side dish
recipes, soups, stews and salads, or enjoy it as a breakfast
cereal topped with fruit or honey. Buy it in the bulk
food section (rather than fancy packages) to save money.
Some berries get all the glory -- like blueberries, strawberries,
acai and goji berries -- but they can be expensive or
hard to find during certain times of year. Cranberries
offer the same antioxidant benefits as other red berries,
not to mention vitamins A and C and 2 grams of fibre per
1/2 cup, but we often neglect this potent fruit outside
of holiday season because they're too tart to be eaten
How to use them:
Use fresh or frozen berries in a rice pilaf or bruschetta,
in a fruit crumble or crisp, in stuffing, chutneys or
jams and in breads. Watch for recipes that incorporate
other super-fruits like cherries, blueberries and pomegranate
-- the sweet will balance the tart. Dried cranberries
can be enjoyed alone or used in trail mix, cookies and
baked goods, or toss a handful on your cereal or salad.
This food gets top marks from health experts, yet
we often ignore it once the fall harvest is over. However,
there are many reasons to eat it all year long because
it's packed with beta-carotene, vitamin A and other antioxidants.
It helps support the immune system, provide protective
benefits for the heart, fight aging and protect our eyes.
How to use it: Pumpkin
doesn't need to be fresh to be healthy. While canned pumpkin
has less fibre, thanks to the heating process it often
has more bio-available beta-carotene. Like winter squashes,
pumpkin can be roasted, stuffed, used in baked goods (like
muffins, pies and cakes) and soups.
If you're using fresh, don't throw out the seeds! They're
high in magnesium and a source of plant proteins and healthy
fats. Roast them up for a snack, use them in baking or
toss them on a salad.
(beans, lentils, split peas, etc). There are few excuses
to avoid legumes -- they're cheap, easy to find (dried
or canned) and an excellent source of those plant-based
proteins we should be getting in our diets. In addition,
they're a good source of fibre, omega-6 fatty acids, water-soluble
vitamins and phytochemicals. They're also low-glycemic
index foods -- meaning they won't cause a spike in blood
sugar -- so they're useful to help prevent diabetes. With
the exception of soy beans, they're also low in fat.
How to use them:
Salads, soups, stews and dips are a just a few of the
countless options -- but you can also use them in baking
and desserts. Canned legumes are more convenient (though
more expensive) than dried versions which need to be soaked
prior to cooking. If you're short on time, opt for dried
lentils which don't require soaking or long cooking times.
Serve them up with some rice to balance out the amino
acids. (And yes, you can freeze them too.)
Because legumes are staple foods around the world, they're
also a great ingredient for international cuisine enthusiasts.
You can buy it just about anywhere, and it's one of those
essential leafy greens we hear so much about. It's got
a solid fibre content, calcium, iron, vitamins A, C and
K. Kale is also packed with antioxidants, and sulforaphane
and a compound called indoles -- both of which are known
to help prevent cancer. Like cabbage (and unlike spinach),
kale holds its shape well when cooked.
How to use it: Use it as a salad green, shred it in stews,
stir fries, soups and omelettes, braise it, steam it or
sauté it with garlic and soy sauce. You can even
bake it to create kale chips -- or blanch and freeze for
If kale isn't your taste, try Swiss chard or cabbage
-- both have topped experts' superfood lists.
Family Vegetables. We're familiar with the health
benefits of garlic and onions, but experts like Dr. Perricone
extol the virtues of the entire Allium family, including
chives, leeks, shallots and scallions. This family contains
flavonoids which prompt the body to produce more glutathione
-- a chemical which helps get rid of toxins and carcinogens.
Members of this family can also help lower cholesterol
and blood pressure, reduce the risk of blood clots and
certain cancers and help fight neurological diseases.
They also help support the immune system.
How to use them:
Recipes aren't hard to find because these ingredients
are commonly used, but try to find ones where they get
a chance to shine. To switch things up, try milder leeks
or shallots in a stir fry or vegetable dish instead of
onions, or toss them in a salad. Some alliums like garlic
should be enjoyed raw for maximum benefit because cooking
can harm some of their protective properties.
Nutritionist and author Jonny Bowden calls them "red
spinach" for a reason: those potent pigments are
thought to help ward off certain cancers like colon cancer.
They're also high in folate (an essential B-vitamin) and
manganese, and the betaine found in beets can help fight
inflammation in the body.
How to use them:
Cooked is okay, but the best benefits come from the raw,
fresh form. Grate it onto a salad or vegetable dish for
an attractive splash of colour. You can also marinate
them in olive oil, fresh lemon juice and herbs.
They're not as sexy as other superfoods, and often elicit
a few jokes and giggles. While known for helping to promote
regularity (thanks to the fibre), they're also packed
with phytonutrients called neochlorogenic and chlorogenic
acid -- which are powerful antioxidants that help prevent
cell damage. They're also a good source of beta-carotene
and potassium -- which offers a helpful boost for the
heart and the bones. Prunes also help the body absorb
iron, and despite their sweet taste they won't raise blood
sugar levels like other dried fruits.
How to use them: Enjoy
them on their own, or chop them up and use them as a topping
for cereal or in a trail mix. You can also use them in
appetizers, stuffing and with roasted meats. Serving sizes
don't have to be huge -- a quarter cup is sufficient.
chocolate. Yes, experts agree that chocolate can
be part of a healthy diet. Various studies have shown
that chocolate has antioxidants which help decrease the
risk of heart disease and stroke. It's also a great way
to give our mood a little boost.
However, most of us reach for the wrong stuff when that
sweet craving hits, so we're not reaping the full benefits
of those disease-fighting flavonoids. Cocoa is the key
-- but milk chocolate and some dark chocolate don't have
enough, and white chocolate doesn't have any. Look for
dark chocolate that's at least 60 per cent cocoa, though
some sources recommend 70 per cent and above.
How to use it: Do
we really need advice on how to enjoy chocolate? Yes,
because dietitians warn to keep the portion sizes small
-- a small piece each day is enough. Sprinkle some chocolate
shavings on a fruit salad, or make your own hot chocolate
from scratch. Many appetizer, side dish and main course
recipes also use chocolate as a flavouring so they're
a good way to get some of this superfood without the fat
and sugar of chocolate desserts.
If you're feeling brave, try a Chocolate Beef Stew or
a challenging Mexican mole sauce.
spices. What you put on your food can be just
as important as what you cook. For example, one teaspoon
of cinnamon has as many antioxidants as a serving of blueberries
-- making it a superfood favourite. Hot pepper (think
cayenne or ground red pepper) contain capsaicin, another
antioxidant which is also thought to boost the metabolism.
Allspice, cloves, ginger, oregano and sage are also packed
full of antioxidants.
How to use them:
Give bland cooking a pass and get creative in the kitchen.
Cook vegetables in ginger or your favourite herb blend.
Try a Mexican Hot Chocolate or sprinkle some cinnamon
in your coffee, or on your toast or oatmeal. Look for
soups that contain turmeric, or add some herbs to your
grilled cheese or mashed potatoes.