Many super foods are being displayed and marketed in our current society. It almost seems like there are new products popping up daily and it can almost be intimidating trying to stay on top of it all.
Good news is that it is not essential to include these in your diet. It is certainly possible to consume a healthy diet using common, natural ingredients from your local grocery store. However, these super foods that can usually be found at your local health food store can be used to supplement, and may further support your health goals if you choose.
Below is an outline and description of some of the most popular ingredients and how they can be used in your cooking.
- Quinoa– a seed high in protein, has no gluten and is a good source of fiber, magnesium and iron. It has a subtle flavor and can pretty much be used just like rice. You do need to soak it in cold water the night before. Used mixed with salads and vegetables or cooked as porridge mixed with various fruits such as apples and blueberries.
- Chia Seeds– a South American seed. They are high in protein, omega-3, fibre, anti-oxidants and calcium. They also contain many vitamins and minerals including vitamin B, C, and E, iron, magnesium and potassium. Chia seeds positively assist in balancing blood glucose levels and swell to 17 times their original size in water, therefore filling you up. Nutritionists recommend consuming 1 tablespoon a day for adults and 1 teaspoon a day for children. These can be added to smoothies, yoghurt, oats or salads.
- Psyllium Husk– comes from a herb called plantago ovata, most commonly found in India. It is a high source of soluble dietary fibre that can be used for digestion, intestinal problems, to reduce cholesterol and in regulating blood sugar levels. It can be used in gluten-free baking and can be added to cereals or smoothies.
- Spelt- an ancient grain. Spelt is high in protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. It is low in gluten and easy to digest. It has a slightly nutty flavour and can be substituted as a flour to make bread, pasta, biscuits, pancakes, muffins and waffles.
- Millet- a grain and a good source of the minerals copper, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus. It is gluten-free and high in protein, B-vitamins, folic acid, calcium, potassium and zinc. It can be used similar to quinoa or rice, used in porridge or as part of a salad. Millet flour can be used in baked goods.
- Amaranth– a gluten-free grain. Amaranth crop’s are tall willowy plants, similar in height to corn. They have a large shaggy head containing thousands of tiny seeds. High in protein, calcium, magnesium, iron and fibre. It is slightly lower in carbohydrates than other gluten-free grains and can be added to salads and used as a cereal or flour.
- Acai Berries– comes from an Amazon palm tree that is harvested in the rainforests of Brazil. It taste like a blend of berries and chocolate. They are full of antioxidants, amino acids and essential fatty acids. Acai berries can be used in smoothies or as a breakfast bowl mixed with fresh fruit and granola.
- Raw Cacao- raw, unprocessed beans. This is the healthiest option to satisfy your chocolate cravings. High in anti-oxidants and contains magnesium, iron and phenylalanine (precursor for two brain chemicals that make us feel good). Used to add a chocolate flavour e.g. to a smoothie, hot chocolate, chocolate oats, energy balls, cake or pancakes.
- Raw Honey- is not pasteurised, so its enzymes are still present. Raw honey is high in vitamin B and vitamin C and contains antibacterial and antioxidant properties, helping to keep your immune system strong. Can be used as a sweetener in baking or added to porridge or oatmeal.
- Stevia/ Natvia– natural sweetener made from the leaves of a Southern American herb (stecioside and rebaudioside). It can come as a liquid, powder or mixed with erythritol to form granules. Stevia contains no calories (Natvia contains a very small number of calories due to the erythritol) and no fructose. Used as a sweetener added to baking, smoothies, hot chocolate, oatmeal etc.
- Rice Malt Syrup– natural sweetener made from fermented cooked rice. It has a consistency like honey and is a fructose- free sweetener. It contains soluble complex carbohydrates, maltose and a small amount of glucose. It has a fairly mild taste and be used in a variety of ways e.g. on toast, in baking as a sugar substitute, added to porridge, or pancakes etc.
- Agave Nectar- a commercially produced sweetener derived from the agave cactus plant in Mexico (the same plant that gives us tequila). Its taste and appearance is similar to honey. Agave syrup has been marketed as a “healthy” sweetener, but has been the subject of criticism due to its very high fructose content and its potential to lead to insulin resistance.
- Xylitol- a naturally occurring alcohol found in plants, including fruits and vegetables. Known to not spike blood sugar levels. It has antibacterial properties and is also used in “sugar free” chewing gum. Our livers eventually convert Xylitol to glucose. Taste like sugar and can be used in drinks or baking. Also known to promote dental health by reducing incidence of cavities.
- Goji Berries (Wolfberry) – comes from a shrub native to China. Similar in texture to raisins. Rich source of antioxidants and have compounds rich in Vitamin A. Thought to offer health benefits such as protecting against heart disease and cancer, reducing blood glucose levels, improving immunity and boosting brain activity. The extent of such benefits is currently subject to some criticism. Can add them to salads or to breakfast cereals/muesli/granola, nut mixes or goes great with celery and almond butter.
- Spirulina– micro salt-water plant (edible blue-green algae). It is the world’s highest source of complete protein (65%), is rich in essential fatty acids, high in Vitamin B-12, and provides minerals such as calcium, iron, phosphorus, iodine, magnesium, zinc, selenium, copper, chromium, and potassium. Can be added to water or green smoothies and comes in powder or tablet form.
- Maca- root vegetable grown in the high Andes of Peru. High protein, rich in calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sulphur, sodium, and iron and contains trace minerals including zinc, iodine, copper, selenium, bismuth, manganese, tin and silicon. It is also rich in vitamins B1, B2, C and E and contains antioxidants. Maca is known to support hormonal balance, increase energy, endurance, strength and libido. Sold as a powder, it can be added to juice, smoothies or milk.
- Hemp Seeds– comes from the Hemp plant. Contains pure digestible protein, iron, amino acids, vitamin E, omega-3 and GLA (gamma linolenic acid), which work as an anti-inflammatory. Sold as a protein powder to add to juices or smoothies or can be added as whole seeds to salads or granola or used as flour when ground into meal. Also used in many packaged items such as muesli bars/cereal and sold as Hemp milk and Hemp oil.
- Bee Pollen– made by honeybees. It is a complete protein, contains nearly all B vitamins, some essential fatty acids, a wide variety of minerals and folic acid. It adds a crunch and honey flavour and can be used to sprinkle on pancakes, oats, and muesli or added to juice or milk. It is also sold as a capsule. The scientific research supporting health benefits related to bee pollen is currently limited. Bee Pollen is thought to have a vast number of health benefits including slowing down the ageing process, supporting weight management, reducing blood pressure and cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart disease. Also thought to provide an immunizing effect and support the improvement of allergies.
- Aloe Vera– gel of the aloe vera plant. It is a succulent plant and part of the lily family (Liliaceae), the same family that garlic and onions belong to. It is high in amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals and is one of the few plants to contain vitamin B-12. Can be used to heal wounds and moisture skin. Also great for digestion, increases nutrient absorption, and normalises PH levels. Sold as a juice drink on its own.
- Coconut oil- can cook with coconut oil. It has a high smoke point (103 degrees Celsius) so doesn’t go rancid when we cook with it. It is a saturated fat, but it’s a medium chain fatty acid meaning the body can use it quickly. Many people also use it as a body product e.g. as a hair or face treatment.
- Almond Meal– grain free flour. Almonds contain the highest protein content of any nut. They are also a great alternative to wheat flour for those with gluten intolerance. Used for baking e.g. banana bread, muffins, and pancakes. Also used for crumbing meats.
- Almond/Nut Butter– ground almonds or nuts in a jar. Great substitute to peanut butter and other spreads (free of preservatives and unfamiliar ingredients). Almonds include fibre, good fats, protein, magnesium and calcium. Can be used as a spread on toast or crackers, spread on banana or apple and also great in smoothies. Goes very well with chocolate smoothies and hot chocolate made with raw cacao (my favourite).
- Buckwheat- the fruit of a plant related to sorrel and rhubarb. It is not a grain as the name suggests. It can be sold as groats or flour and contains no gluten, so can be a good alternative for those with gluten intolerance. Can be used for porridge or granola, cookies, cakes or pancakes.
- LSA- ground linseed, sunflower and almond. It is high in fibre, good fats, B vitamin and protein. Can be used in pancakes, smoothies and sprinkled on top of salads.
- Tahini paste– made from crushed sesame seeds. There are two types called hulled (seed casing has been removed) and unhulled (made from whole seed). They are protein-rich and contain good fats. Can be used in salad dressings, dips and stir-fries.
- Tamari-made from fermented soybeans. Similar in colour and flavour to soy sauce. In comparison to soy sauce, Tamari is made with little or no wheat and more soybeans. Can be used in any recipe as a substitute for soy sauce.
- Nutritional yeast (savoury yeast flakes) – deactivated yeast, sold in the form of flakes or as a yellow powder. It is a source of protein and vitamins (especially the B-complex vitamins), and is a complete protein. It is also naturally low in fat and sodium and is free of sugar, dairy, and gluten. It is popular among vegetarians and vegans and has a nutty, cheesy, or creamy flavour, which can be used as a substitute for cheese.
- Apple Cider Vinegar– a type of vinegar made from cider or apple must. Unpasteurized or organic ACV contains mother of vinegar. Added to water or used in salad dressings, marinades and vinaigrettes. Rich in natural minerals, vitamins and enzymes. Known to maintain healthy PH levels, help detoxify the liver and support a healthy lymphatic system, support weight management, aid digestion, boost immunity, and assist with skin problems.
As a general tip, if you wish to experiment cooking with the above ingredients I recommend you select a small number to focus on and find recipes that use all similar ingredients. As you are probably aware, there is much controversy/ criticism regarding the researched benefits of some of the above products, particularly regarding sweetener alternatives. On a side note, it is important to remember that sugar is sugar (no matter what name is used) – topic for another blog post =).
As you continue to experiment you will find what ingredients do and do not work for you in your every day diet. This will help save on costs and reduce the possibility of wasting ingredients. The few ingredients I personally love and could not live without include quinoa, spelt, almond meal, raw cacao, almond butter, chia seeds, ACV, and Tamari.