Superfoods have been buzzy for years now, and we all know we should be eating more leafy greens and blueberries. But leafy greans get old, and blueberries are freakin' expensive in the winter. Let's check out some lesser known foods known for their superior health benefits.
Kimchi has become a bit trendy lately. The praises of this unique fermented cabbage are sung on nearly every food show there is, from Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations to Top Chef. But its history in Korean culture is long and studied — it's even their national food. The biggest benefit of kimchi is as a probiotic. We hear a lot about probiotics in yogurt commercials, but not everyone loves yogurt. Probiotics can help ward off yeast infections and other bacteria, and help replace good bacteria in your system when you're on antibiotics that kill the bad bacteria. Plus, kimchi is made from cabbage which has a lot of its own health benefits: it has cancer-fighting sulfer compounds and is good for prevention and treatment of stomach ulcers. Here is a simple kimchi recipe to try at home or look for it in Korean groceries. If this just doesn't seem like your thing, other fermented foods like unpasteurized sauerkraut, raw pickles and other fermented veggies are great too.
Sesame seeds are another item that's super easy to incorporate — grab a sesame instead of plain bagel, toss some on a salad, etc. They contain unique plant compounds that are known to reduce cholesterol, which a lot of us are concerned about. They also contain calcium, phosphorus, zinc and copper, which helps maintain strong bones.
Yum! Figs may be the most delicious food on this list. Common in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures, they are a great source of fiber (which helps you feel full), calcium and potassium. The most delicious way I've had fig prepared may not be the healthiest: chopped up on a wheel of brie — but it was divine. While fresh figs can be hard to find (the brie experience tipped me off to asking at the cheese counter of the local gourmet grocery), dried figs are right next to the raisins at the grocery store.
We all know we're supposed to eat fish because of the high omega-3's, but eating fish comes with a lot of concerns. We're constantly hearing about the dangers of over catching, mercury content and unhealthy farm-raised fish. (Some have gone as far as to say eating farm-raised tilapia is the equivalent of eating a Big Mac.) Sardines are an easy solution on several fronts. It's way easier to find wild caught sardines throughout the year than it is to find, say, wild-caught salmon. There's no danger of mercury levels because the fish are so small. And it's surprisingly easy to incorporate them into your diet. I've been told to use them wherever I'd use olives, and that's been good advice. Toss them on a salad or pizza, or in a savory sauce. Sardines are a great source of vitamin D and 3 oz. have as much calcium as a cup of milk.
Red Bell Peppers
I'm not sure why green bell peppers are the most popular, their older brothers (red bell peppers are actually more mature versions of the green ones) are milder, sweeter and the most healthy. They contain 11 times the beta-carotene of green bell peppers and way more Vitamin C to boot. There is absolutely no shortage of ways to eat bell peppers, I don't think you need help with this one.
Jerusalem Artichokes are unlike the artichokes we know in America. They're actually much more like potatoes — but a version of potato that doesn't equate you with the couch. They have 500 times more vitamin B1 than white potatoes, which is important for a whole host of organ functions. There's even been research that these babies can help decrease PMS levels. Cook these any way you would potatoes.
Adzuki beans are popular in Japanese cuisine — if you've ever had red bean ice cream, that was them! They have a strong, nutty, sweet flavor. They are lower in calories than most beans that are more popular in America and are great in a lot of the same recipes — salads, veggie burgers and dips. While you're switching out your potatoes for Jerusalem Artichokes, switch out your black or red beans for these.
Who knew this kind of grandmotherly herb has such high antioxidant levels that half a teaspoon of dried oregano has the benefits of a spinach salad! That is good news for those who aren't such big fans of spinach. A lot of times it's fresh herbs that carry the most benefits, and that's true of oregano as well, but even its dried variation packs in the antioxidants — that means it's super easy to incorporate in your diet. Take a page from Italians who use oregano on everything from hoagies to pizza to salad, add a dash to your tomato sauce, or any Italian sauce. Way easier than resolving to eat more spinach. (Another antioxidant spice rack superstar? Cinnamon.)
You can thank Dr. Oz for recommending chia seeds and releasing them upon the national consciousness. He recommended them particularly for women. (Yes, the seeds famous for being the main ingredient in Chia Pets.) They are incredibly high in fiber and an excellent source of protein and omega-3's. They're good for thickening soups because when immersed in liquids they become somewhat gelatinous. You can also sprinkle them on granola, cereal, salads, ice cream or frozen yogurt.
Don't worry, this isn't a hallucinogenic like the tea Hannah drank on girls which tasted like twigs. This is regular old twig tea. It provides all the benefits of green tea since it's made from the twigs of the Camellia Sinensis bush, the leaves of which make green tea. The tea has a smokey flavor and aroma that is actually preferred by those who don't like green tea.