5 Superfoods You probably don't Know About
A healthy diet needn't be composed solely of spinach and salmon. That's right: There are many other lesser-known foods that can make your diet healthy, varied and delicious.
Read on for more information about foods that you're probably not eating, but should be.
Looking for additional protein in your diet? Forget meat or protein shakes; quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) contains more protein than any other grain. Termed a "supergrain" by nutritionists and food gurus, quinoa is derived from the seed of a plant that is related to spinach. A main staple of the ancient Inca diet, quinoa has just recently made its debut in North America.
Quinoa's secret is that it contains an amino acid called lysine, which is lacking in most grains; lysine makes quinoa a complete protein. In addition to the protein you'll receive (the World Health Organization equates the protein levels in quinoa to the amount found in milk), you'll also get your daily doses of vitamin B6, thiamin, niacin, potassium, and riboflavin. Furthermore, quinoa is a great source of copper, zinc, magnesium, and folate.
The best way to consume quinoa is to toast the seeds in a dry skillet (after rinsing them thoroughly). Toasted quinoa can then be combined with oil, spices and water to create a pilaf-type dish. Incorporate fruit, nuts, cheese or fresh herbs into the pilaf to create a whole, well-balanced meal. Cooked quinoa can also be added to soups, stir-fries, casseroles or stews, and cold cooked quinoa is a great addition to salads.
Although quinoa has been around for centuries, it is relatively new to North America; therefore, it is more costly than other grains. However, it tends to triple in size after cooking, so you will get your money's worth.
Amaranth is another supergrain that is extremely high in protein. Amaranth seeds, derived from the amaranth plant, are similar to quinoa in that they contain lysine, the amino acid lacking in most other grains that is responsible for adding protein.
Amaranth contains three times more fiber and five times more iron than wheat, and has more protein than milk.
In addition to these benefits, amaranth also has high levels of vitamins A and C, calcium, potassium, and phosphorous.
Amaranth is a very versatile grain that can be used in a variety of different dishes. It is regularly made into flour and used to create breads, pastas or other baked goods (found primarily in health food stores). Unlike most other grains, amaranth does not contain gluten, which makes it a perfect choice for people with celiac disease or a gluten allergy.
This supergrain is found extensively in health-food or whole-food markets in the form of hot and cold cereals, ready-made bread and mixes for baked goods (such as pancakes and muffins). It can also be used as a breading substitute for meats, fish or chicken, and it can be added to soups or salads (it has a nutty flavor that complements cold and hot foods nicely).
A great meat substitute, a food that contains all the minerals found in human blood and a super-healthy leafy green
Tempeh is derived from fermented soybeans. To make tempeh, soybeans are inoculated with a culturing agent and incubated -- the result is a solid, cake-like substance.
This is yet another outlet of soy that has come to exist as a healthy substitute for meat. Don't get us wrong: Tempeh does not taste like meat (so it will not satisfy a steak craving), but it can definitely provide equal amounts of protein with less fat, cholesterol and calories.
In addition to its high levels of soy protein, tempeh is also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have many health benefits. They have been shown to improve heart health, reduce hypertension, alleviate many autoimmune disorders (including arthritis and lupus), and improve certain mental health conditions, such as depression.
It is also armed with dietary fiber, which can help prevent the onset of many bowel-related illnesses and conditions. In more recent studies, tempeh and other foods containing soy protein have been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer due to their high levels of the isoflavone genistein.
Tempeh is solid and will not fall apart like tofu (another soy protein meat substitute) when cooking, which makes it relatively easy to prepare. It can be seasoned and broiled or baked (like meat), or it can be ground up and added to soups and pasta sauces.
Seaweed (sea vegetables)
Sea vegetables are neither plants nor animals; they are, in fact, algae found in both freshwater and saltwater environments.
Don't worry; you're not eating the bright green stuff that grows along the side of boats -- chances are that you've tasted sea vegetables in some form without even knowing it.
Sea vegetables, most commonly referred to as seaweed, are great sources of vitamin B, magnesium, iron, folate, and calcium. Furthermore, seaweed is a better source of minerals than any other vegetable. Seaweed contains all the minerals found in human blood, as the minerals in seawater are similar to those found in our blood, with nearly identical concentrations.
Seaweed is a low-calorie, virtually fat-free food that has anti-inflammatory and stress-relief qualities, as well as the ability to lower the risk of heart disease.
Certain types of seaweed, such as kelp, also have very high levels of iodine, which is essential in regulating the thyroid -- the gland that controls most of the body's physiological functions.
There are many varieties of sea vegetables that can be used in different ways. In North America, though, you are most likely to find seaweed in Japanese food. It can be wrapped around sushi rolls, served on top of salads or in soups, and eaten (dried) right out of the bag.
Kale is a green, leafy vegetable from the same family as cabbage and Brussels sprouts, but it is much more versatile.
Kale has primarily stood out among nutritionists as an anti-cancer food due to the high amounts of organosulfur compounds it contains. Food and health scientists believe that these important compounds fuel the body to detox carcinogenic substances in the body, thus warding off certain types of cancer.
In addition to its cancer-fighting qualities, kale has also been shown to lower the risk of cataracts, the most common cause of vision loss among people aged 55 and older. This is due to the presence of carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin), which have been proven to ward off the debilitating eye disease.
Kale is also packed with additional nutrients, such as vitamins A, C, E, and B, as well as manganese, copper, calcium, and iron.
Additionally, since kale is a relatively fat-free and low-calorie food, it is a great addition to any healthy diet.
A great way to prepare kale is to sautée it with spices, garlic, onions, and oil, and serve it as a side dish. It has a bitter taste, so it is best flavored with spices or combined with sweeter ingredients. Kale is also commonly chopped for use in soups, stir-fries, pasta sauces, and salads.