Superfoods are just what their name implies: ultra-healthy foods that help us get the most nutritional bang out of each and every bite. Because of superfoods’ exceptionally high nutrient density, which includes concentrated vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals, regularly consuming superfoods promotes everything from improved immunity, mental performance and energy to faster healing and increased vitality. The abundance of benefits makes superfoods arguably worth their weight in gold, but that doesn’t mean every superfood has to break the bank.
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Many superfoods are surprisingly affordable and encouragingly easy to find. As supermarkets continue to expand their natural-food sections, bags of heirloom grains or pouches of “super seeds” are becoming ubiquitous pantry staples. Farmers markets are growing, too, and, especially during warm weather, offer an impressive array of berries and greens—unassuming, everyday foods that are superfoods in disguise.
Whether local or exotic, these 10 affordable superfoods promote long-term health—the best investment of all.
Blueberries: A long-studied superfood, blueberries offer numerous vitamins and dietary fiber, and are particularly commended for their concentration of anti-aging antioxidants known as anthocyanins, evidenced by the berries’ deep color. Cut costs by purchasing blueberries in bulk at the peak of their season and sticking them in the freezer, or buy frozen instead of fresh.
Chia seeds: A tiny seed, but a nutritional powerhouse, chia is an excellent plant-based source of essential fatty acids (EFAs)—important fats that support heart health and tissue function. Chia is also energizing; high in fiber; contains easily digestible protein; and has a wealth of minerals, most notably calcium and iron. A little goes a long way—an average serving is 1-1⁄2 tablespoons—making this superfood very affordable per serving. Neutral in flavor, using chia is as simple as sprinkling on salads, cereal, smoothies…or just about anything.
Chocolate: The benefits of chocolate are many: It provides an excellent mineral boost (in particular magnesium and iron), offers special antioxidant compounds called flavonoids, and can enhance positive mood states and increase energy. Though raw cacao powder is the most nutrient-dense form, cocoa powder as well as dark chocolate (with a high cocoa content) still offer huge benefits. Cacao powder and unsweetened cocoa powder can be used interchangeably in recipes.
Flax seed: A shiny brown seed slightly larger than a sesame seed, flax seed is known for its profile of EFAs (omega-3, -6 and -9), anti-inflammatory macronutrients that support joint health and boost the immune system. It also contains a notable amount of protein, is exceptionally high in fiber and offers an excellent supply of valuable lignans—a class of phytochemicals (with antioxidant properties) known to help balance hormone levels. Flax seeds digest best when they are ground prior to consuming, and may then be mixed into foods such as oatmeal and homemade energy bars or added to flour mixes for baking.
Ginger: This potent root has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities. Ginger is used for everything from reducing nausea to strengthening the immune system. With just a couple of slices of fresh root or a small scoop of ginger powder needed for benefits, the cost per use is in the pennies range.
Kale: All leafy green vegetables are packed with nutrients, but in many ways kale is king. Just a cup provides incredible amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein and important phytochemicals such as quercetin, an anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer antioxidant.
Nori: The salty flavor of sea vegetables such as nori is a marker of high mineral composition including calcium, potassium and numerous trace minerals. Nori also offers protein, beta-carotene, chlorophyll, digestive enzymes, amino acids and fiber, making it well-rounded and highly flavorful. Though we’re most familiar with nori as a sushi wrap, it also makes a savory addition crushed on vegetables, popcorn and even stirred into soups.
Quinoa: Although quinoa is grainlike, it’s actually the nutritious seed of a vegetable that’s a closer relative to spinach, which means it’s also gluten-free. Abundant in vitamin E; protein (including all eight essential amino acids); and minerals including magnesium, potassium and zinc, quinoa does a delicious and nutritious job functioning as the starchy component we crave in our food. Use it chilled in salads or warm to replace rice and other starches.
Strawberries: New health studies abound regarding this favorite berry, with regular consumption linked to lowered cholesterol, lowered blood pressure and increased heart health, to name a few. A low-sugar form of vitamin C, strawberries are an anti-inflammatory fruit that supports healthy skin and joints, plus a well-functioning immune system.
Watercress: Its stores of vitamins C and E, beta-carotene and more make watercress a proven anti-aging and beauty-boosting food, promoting healthy skin and hair. Add in its cancer-fighting phytochemicals and antioxidants, such as lutein (45 times the amount found in tomatoes), and you have a superfood all-star. Buy with the roots still attached, and enjoy snipping off fresh leaves for several days to add to meals.
Because they last a very long time thanks to their extra-condensed nutrition and small serving size, some specialty superfood powders and concentrates can be worth the trek to a local health-food store (always check the bulk section first), or even ordered online at a discount. When we look to purchase nutrients instead of calories, these superfoods are not as expensive as they seem. For example, you’d have to eat more than eight oranges to get the vitamin C content of 1 teaspoon of camu berry powder…and the oranges would cost almost 10 times more. If you’re shopping for nutrients, here are a few adventurous superfoods to seek out. Add them to your smoothies, mix into granola, or even sprinkle on desserts. For more tips on using these exotic superfoods, check out Superfood Kitchen and Superfood Smoothies, both available in the Mother Earth Living store.
• Cacao nibs
• Camu powder
• Dried goji berries
• Hemp seeds
• Maca powder
• Spirulina powder
Julie Morris is a Los Angeles-based natural food chef, superfoods expert and best-selling author of several cookbooks, including her latest, Superfood Juices. Her mission is simple: to share recipes and nutrition tips that make a vibrantly healthy lifestyle both easy to achieve and delicious to follow. To learn more about Julie and superfoods visit juliemorris.net.