Suffering from superfood fatigue? We hear you. As much as we love kale (which is a lot, in case you couldn’t tell), even we are starting to get sick of it in our daily salads.
But just when we thought superfoods may have lost their luster, we came across nine nutritionally stellar, totally under-the-radar powerhouses. Forget salmon, avocado, and walnuts — these yummy foods and spices stem from a mix of ancient Japanese, Korean, Indian, and Middle-Eastern diets, and pack one heckuva better-body punch. Read on to get the scoop straight from the experts on these exciting new superfoods. Sorry, kale, but we may have found a new nutritional love of our lives…
“Sprinkle some of these glorious little seeds on your next salad or roasted vegetables, toss them into your morning scramble or dinner stir-fry, even chew on them alone after any meal,” suggests Candice Kumai, chef and star of E!’s new showPlaying with Fire and author of Cook Yourself Sexy.
Here’s why: Fennel seeds have been used in alternative medicine for over 4,000 years to help naturally de-bloat and detox the body. They also aid in digestion and have inherent anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, they’re rich in antioxidants, fiber, and iron.
“This golden-hued Indian spice (also known as Indian saffron) is a member of the ginger family that has strong antioxidant properties and has been well-researched for its cancer-fighting and anti-inflammatory properties,” says Samantha Lynch, R.D., founder ofSamantha Lynch Nutrition in New York City.
“Home remedies and uses date back thousands of years for relieving menstrual cramps, respiratory conditions, intestinal worms, liver obstruction, ulcers, and inflammation,” says Lynch. “Local folklore says that the herb strengthens the immune system, relieves inflammation, and improves digestion, among other conditions.”
Yet, it’s the spice often overlooked on the kitchen rack when it should be the frontrunner. “I have been sneaking turmeric into our family meals for the past year without anyone noticing — I sprinkle it on fish, in spinach, and even on eggs in the morning,” says Lynch. Bring. It. On.
Considered by some as the king (or queen, for that matter) of “alkaline foods,” these pickled plums are deeply rooted in Japanese culture and are actually more like an apricot than a plum.
Ume-plums offer a complex taste explosion — they are simultaneously very sour and salty. As for health pros: They may aid in digestion and help with bloating, and also contain some immunity-boosting properties — even possibly helping the liver in metabolizing fat. Their prime pairing is a bowl of steamed rice, or simply use them to create a paste or marinade by removing the fleshy party of the fruit from the seed, suggests Kumai.
Think veggies only sprout above sea level? Au contraire, landlubbers: While they aren’t the broccoli and asparagus you may be used to, veggies are exactly what seaweed (wakame, kombu, and nori Japanese varieties), kelp, sea palm, and agar (a Japanese red algae) are. “Some are used as natural thickeners and stabilizers in many processed foods,” says Kumai, “but when in their whole and natural form, they are full of iron, fiber, chlorophyll, and some varieties contain magnesium, potassium, and vitamin A.”
Kombu is also known to be an anticoagulant, helping to aid in better blood circulation. According to Kumai, nori (yes, the seaweed that’s wrapped around your sushi) is the most “super-packed” of the bunch, nutrient-dense with protein, fiber, and packed with more omegas than avocados. It’s also full of vitamins C and B12, as well as the compound taurine, which may aid in lowering cholesterol.
Don’t be afraid to drop some in your quinoa salad, or marinate them and then add some classic, roasted vegetables into the mix.
While it sounds foreboding, black garlic is simply garlic that has been left to ferment at high heat. “There is a science behind it that takes a certain amount of heat and humidity that prevents it from getting to the point that it would rot and not ferment,” says Lynch. So, what does it mean for your taste buds? Sweet yet savory, a perfect mix of molasses-like richness and tangy garlic undertones, describes Lynch. “It has a tender, almost jelly-like texture with a melt-in-your-mouth consistency similar to a soft dried fruit.”
Unlike its unfermented counterpart, the cloves can be eaten raw and not have any sulfurous bite — although you can just put some in your salad or simply smear them on Ezekiel bread, too. Plus, it’s loaded with nearly twice as many antioxidants as standard raw garlic (such as vitamin C) and contains a naturally occurring compound called s-allylcysteine, which studies suggest are a contributing component in cancer prevention, as well as lowering of bad cholesterol.
Raw hemp, what now? These tiny seeds contain heart-healthy omegas three, six, and nine, and are believed to have a slew of benefits including weight loss, increased and sustained energy, rapid recovery from disease or injury, lowered cholesterol and blood pressure, reduced inflammation, improvement in circulation and immune system, and better blood sugar control, according to Lynch.
But what on earth do you do with them to get them into your daily diet? Lynch suggests adding them to your morning smoothie or cereal, using them to whip up a gluten-free breadcrumb alternative, or go crazy and just down a spoonful plain.
Derived from an herbaceous plant that grows in the high plateaus of the Andes Mountains in Peru, maca (a.k.a. lepidium meyenii) is a root vegetable that’s a relative of the radish and the turnip and has an odor similar to butterscotch, explains Lynch. And it boasts some crazy healing powers: “The root is used to make medicines to treat anemia and chronic fatigue syndrome, used by athletes to help increase energy, and believed to help depression, as well as balance hormones,” she says. Your best bet is to cook the root and use it to make soup, or ground it up to a powder for some homemade bread.
This ancient grain (pronounced free-kah) is gaining popularity in modern American kitchens. “Compared to other grains, it is higher in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, andlower in glycemic index,” says Lynch. Freekeh is made from young wheat (typically durum, the wheat used to make, most notably, macaroni) that is harvested while still green and put through a roasting and rubbing process during production. “It has a smoky, nutty flavor, and a firm, chewy texture that’s versatile and easy to work with in the kitchen — it takes 45 minutes to cook and can easily be substituted for rice or couscous in a meal; mixed into cereal, oatmeal, and soups; or as a side dish just for its nutty texture.”
There are several health benefits of freekeh, says Kumai. “It may help you lose weight because it is high in protein and fiber, which may lead you to consume less calories because of its satiety. And not only does freekeh support digestive health, but it acts like a prebiotic by increasing the healthy bacteria in your digestive tract,” she says. If that wasn’t enough, she also says that it may protect your eyes because it is rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids (a type of antioxidant) which has been positively associated with prevention of age-related macular degeneration. See why we’re obsessed?
“Fermented foods have been used in Chinese medicine for centuries — they can help to aid in digestion and detoxification, help break down enzymes, plus some can help to boost immunity and others are possibly known to even aid in weight loss,” says Kumai. “They are truly one of the most underused superfoods in many diets.” Kumai’s favorite fermented foods: kimchi (essentially, Korean pickled napa cabbage), sauerkraut, dill pickles, kefir, kombucha tea (Kumai says she drinks this every week, for optimum health), sourdough, prosciutto, Tabasco, daikon pickles, miso, sake, soy sauce, pickled beets and onions, and as mentioned earlier — umeboshi plums, and black garlic.
Lynch agrees on the crazy-good, health-boosting benefits of fermented food: “They improve digestion and thus support the immune system — fermented foods are rich in enzyme activity that aids in the breakdown of our food in supporting the beneficial bacteria in our digestive tract, helping us absorb the important nutrients we rely on to stay healthy.”
So, why do they get a bad wrap? “The idea of a fermented food can turn people’s noses up, yet they are not only valued for their health benefits, but as a means of food preservation,” says Lynch. “Fermented, stinky cheese is a delicacy, just as a glass of fermented red wine is for many — and just a little bit will do. A spoonful of sauerkraut on your sausage offers benefits and adds flavor; so do a few sips of miso soup to begin a meal, or a few pickles on a turkey sandwich.”
Photographed by Ingalls Photo,
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