We’re getting smarter about food — checking labels, researching their effects on our bodies and sharing our discoveries — always trying to get the most benefit out of each calorie. This collective effort has led to the rise of superfoods: fruits, vegetables and grains that provide an abundance of essential nutrients, offer dietary variety and flexibility, and serve as healthy alternatives for vegetarians and people with food sensitivities.
Let’s take a closer look at five superfoods you should add to your grocery list in 2017, with the help of Susannah Covey, a registered dietitian at OhioHealth McConnell Heart Health Center.
1. Chia Seeds
Much more than a crummy holiday pottery gift, “Chia seeds are actually an extraordinarily nutrient-dense superfood,” says Covey. “Chia is high in Omega 3 fatty acids, which can lower triglycerides. They’re also high in fiber. Two tablespoons of chia have 9 grams.” Chia is gluten-free, too. You can eat them whole, or as a garnish on salads and cereal. And if you soak them in water for 30 minutes, the seeds form a gel that you can add to yogurts and smoothies, or use as an egg substitute in recipes.
An excellent source of protein, fiber and minerals, legumes like lentils, broad beans and chickpeas boost energy, help lower high blood pressure and reduce LDL cholesterol (the bad kind). They’re an inexpensive substitute for meat and can keep you feeling full without a lot of calories. “What’s new about beans is that roasted beans are breaking out as a snack option” says Covey. “Roasting beans with a little bit of olive oil and spices can be a healthy alternative to potato or corn chips.”
3. Swiss Chard
When it comes to lettuce greens, the darker the better. The rich, green color of swiss chard is a sign of high levels of disease-thwarting phytonutrients, calcium and vitamin K. “What’s great about chard is that none of it has to be thrown out,” says Covey. “It’s most common to cook the leaves or eat them raw in salads, but you can also chop up the stems and pickle them, or use them in soups.”
Another welcome addition to gluten-free diets, amaranth grain must be prepared or cooked to be digestible. When ground into flour, amaranth has a nutty flavor similar to wheat flour and outperforms wheat nutritionally in several categories. “Amaranth is a good source of iron when it comes to grains. It also contains the amino acid lysine, which is rare in grains. Lysine aids calcium absorption and can promote healing,” says Covey. “You can pop amaranth grains like tiny popcorn and add them to yogurt, salads and cereal. It’s showing up in a lot of granolas too.”
The tart, crunchy seeds, or arils, of a pomegranate are considered one of the world’s leading sources of antioxidants, which are thought to prevent cell damage and inhibit disease. “Pomegranate is also a good source of fiber, vitamin C and potassium,” says Covey, “helping you lower cholesterol and manage blood pressure.” You can find ready-to-eat pomegranate seeds at your local supermarket, but with a sharp knife, an online video tutorial and a little courage, you can enjoy a healthy snack and save some cash.
Covey says if you’re planning to introduce new foods or make changes in your diet, it’s worth having a conversation with your doctor or nutritionist beforehand. “You’ll get a better understanding of how these superfoods may impact your health or interact with your medications, and how to get the most benefit out of them.”
You can find tips on healthy food choices and a host of healthy recipes in the Nutrition section of the OhioHealth Blog.