Sometimes the most powerful of superfoods are already sitting in our kitchens. While the term generally refers to fruits and vegetables that can do a number of things for one’s health, experts say many of them are overlooked.
“[These superfoods] don’t come with an exotic back story like a Himalayan pedigree,” says Desiree Nielsen, a registered dietitian based in Vancouver. “However, the more common — and less expensive — they are, the more likely it is that we will eat them in the meaningful amounts necessary to produce a benefit.”
Below, experts share their top underrated superfoods, those that are often inexpensive, taste delicious and can be found in a majority of grocery stores. And while they may not necessarily be fancy or promise to stop you from bloating, they are full of nutrients to get you through the day.
“Garlic gets all the press… but onions are truly superfoods in their own right. [With] anti-inflammatory flavonoids, in addition to sulphur-based molecules like diallyl disulfide, make them an important part of an anti-inflammatory and cancer-prevention diet,” Nielsen says. Onions also have prebiotic fibres called fructans that help to feed the beneficial gut flora, she adds.
Kyle Byron, a Toronto-based nutritionist, says psyllium husk has a lot of fibre. The ground-up grain, which is also gluten-free, can be added to smoothies to keep you regular.
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“It also will reduce cholesterol, the same way they advertise oatmeal and beans — it’s the soluble fibre. Soluble fibre also keeps us full longer which helps control body composition,” he says.
Nicole Fetterly, a registered dietitian based in Vancouver, says sardines are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and way more affordable than salmon. “[They are] also high in protein, vitamin B12 and D, and a host of minerals. Being a small fish, they only eat plankton and do not have the levels of heavy metals as some large fish [like some tunas],” she tells Global News.
Forget acai and goji berries, the simplest of berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries) are the healthiest. “These regular kind do the same amazing antioxidation duties. As little as 1/4 cup per day can make a big difference for your health,” Byron says.
Lentils are nutrient powerhouses, Nielsen says. “There is solid evidence that we need to eat more of them — eating legumes is associated with decreased inflammation, improved gut flora health and a lower risk of colon cancer.”
She adds a 3/4 cup of cooked lentils has six grams of fibre and 13 grams of protein. And the best part? They are grown in Canada and are inexpensive. “They deserve to be on regular rotation in your diet. We tend to overlook legumes because they are so simple, but they are powerful.”
Byron says cauliflower is like “the chameleon of foods.” “It’s basically an empty vessel. Any flavour you add to it is going to taste amazing. You can make it into a mash, pizza crust, stir fry, you can bake it, make biscuits with it, deep fry it, or eat it raw.”
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This fermented superfood is great for vegetarians. “[It is] more nutritious than tofu as the whole soybean is present, and is higher in protein, fibre, and minerals. The fermentation process makes the nutrients more bio-available to us,” Fetterly says.
Homemade sauerkraut in preserving jar
This sauerkraut is made with three simple ingredients: cabbage, salt and probiotic bacteria. “Make it yourself for an easy and affordable fermented food to include each day,” Fetterly says. “Cabbage is a great cancer-fighting cruciferous veggie, she adds. “Cabbage itself is a superfood but becomes even more super once fermented.”
For the most part, hemp seeds are already considered superfoods, but Nielsen says many people don’t realize how healthy they actually are. “We typically talk about omega-3 fatty acids, which hemp seeds have, but they also contain a unique omega-6 fatty acid called gamma linolenic acid that also helps to fight inflammation.”
And if you follow a plant-based diet, you should note these seeds (that can be used in everything from smoothies to salads to oatmeal), also contain a hefty dose of iron and manganese, in addition to magnesium and zinc, she says.
You don’t have to wait around for Halloween to get a dose of pumpkin seeds. These seeds are high in iron and other minerals like zinc and magnesium, Fetterly explains. “[They are also] a source of protein, fibre, phytosterols [for heart health] and antioxidants.” Top your salad with them or add them to a soup.