• There’s a lot of buzz about superfoods. They’re supposedly amazing for us with an endless array of nutrients that should save us from myriad health challenges. In most cases, the term “superfood” doesn’t actually mean a whole lot. It’s a marketing term that has become mighty trendy and powerful in promoting the sale of ‘health foods.’
Marketing aside, there might be some great reasons that many of the foods termed superfoods are becoming very popular. Widely used in the health food community, they are now also trickling into the mainstream. I like to think of superfoods as the most nutrient dense and health supportive foods we can enjoy. By this definition, many of the best-for-us superfoods might very well be growing in our own backyards – foods like kale, garlic, onions, blueberries and raspberries.
There are also superfoods we may be less familiar with and which grow further afield. Typically associated with myth and tradition, they often seem a little mysterious and carry some significant claims of healing powers.
In my own work as a cookbook author and culinary nutrition educator, I always do my best to balance it out for my readers and students. We don’t need every superfood in the store, but we might want a few. They key is to do your research, understand the properties of what these foods can do for us and choose the ones that will most benefit us individually. Here are a few of my favourites:
Maca: The buzz – This superfood is also known as Peruvian ginseng and is typically found in powdered form, though it comes from a root. Its benefits are vast and it has been found to help balance hormones, enhance libido and boost stamina. This herb is known to be an adaptogen, meaning it helps us adapt to what is going on in our environment and better manage stress. In this way, it may be viewed as supportive of overall health. With its malted, almost carmel-like flavour, many people enjoy it as a super-powered addition to various meals and snacks. Tips for using: Add ½ tsp. to a smoothie, sprinkle some onto your oatmeal or add a dash to a brewed tea.
Spirulina: The buzz – With its glowing deep green hue and finely powdered consistency, this algae is a fabulous food to help boost energy and fuel your cells. Its health benefits are tremendous as it contains a hefty spectrum of 10 mixed carotenoids giving us maximum antioxidant protection. Spirulina is also comprised of 60% highly usable vegetable protein and GLA, an essential fatty acid. Tips for using: Start out with ¼ tsp., add to smoothies, stir into oatmeal or yogurt.
Hemp hearts: The buzz – In appearance, these are roughly similar to sesame seeds except for some green colouring that is bursting with detoxifying chlorophyll content. They taste nutty and pair well with both sweet and savoury foods. Hemp hearts are powerhouses when it comes to essential fatty acids. These healthy fats boost our immune systems, ward off cardiovascular disease and give our brain function a boost. Hemp hearts are also a great source of plant-based protein as they contain all the essential amino acids and are very easily digested. Tips for using: Sprinkle on salads, throw into trail mix or use as a topper for hot and cold cereals.
Miso: The buzz – This salty-tasting, mineral-rich super food comes in paste form and is the result of fermenting soybeans along with a yeast. The bacteria used in the fermentation process synthesize vitamin B12 and, therefore, the resulting paste is a great source of this nutrient. It is also rich in protein as well as the minerals zinc, manganese and copper. Miso holds probiotic prowess as a result of being fermented and this helps keep our good gut bacteria thriving and digestive systems happy. Tips for using: A little bit goes a long way, as miso is very salty. Stir a few teaspoons into already boiled water for a quick satisfying soup. Add two teaspoons to an oil and vinegar salad dressing in place of salt for a Japanese-inspired flavouring.
Raw cacao: The buzz – Raw cacao comes from the bean of the cacao plant. It is most commonly found in powdered form although the beans can be purchased as well. It is extremely rich in antioxidants as well as many other nutrients. Raw cacao contains massive amounts of the mineral magnesium – essential for bone health – which is believed to be the most deficient nutrient among people consuming a standard westernized diet. This food also contains chemicals, which allow more serotonin to circulate within the brain. This helps to keep our moods elevated and lively. Tips for using: Mix with boiled water/milk and honey for a raw hot chocolate treat, blend into smoothies for a richer flavour or try the recipe noted in this article.
You can incorporate superfoods into virtually any dish, once you get to know their taste and texture. The recipe shown for Iced Mocha Maca Magic from The UnDiet Cookbook is a game changer. Forget the caffeine-packed, dehydrating cup of joe or those horrifically calorie-excessive, chemicalized iced coffee drinks from the chain stores. This ice-cold bevvy provides all the flavour of coffee plus protein and superfood power to make your cells do the running-man.
Meghan Telpner is a nutritionist and bestselling author of UnDiet: Eat Your Way to Vibrant Health. Her follow up, The UnDiet Cookbook, is due out in October. She is the founder and director of The Academy of Culinary Nutrition. More at MeghanTelpner.com
Recipe excerpted from The UnDiet Cookbook: 130 Gluten-Free Recipes for a Healthy and Awesome Life copyright © 2015 Meghan Telpner. Photography Copyright © 2015 Maya Visnyei. Published by Appetite by Random House, a division of Random House of Canada Ltd., a Penguin Random House Company. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.
Iced Mocha Maca Magic
Prep time: 6 minutes Serves 1
2 cups water
10–15 organic coffee beans, ground or
1 tsp. ground organic coffee
2 Tbsp. raw cacao powder
1 Tbsp. Dandy Blend or preferred organic coffee substitute
2 Tbsp. hemp seeds
1 Tbsp. goji berries (optional)
2 tsp. maca powder
1 serving protein powder of choice
1 Tbsp. coconut oil or organic ghee
1 Tbsp. honey or maple syrup
1 cup ice cubes
Make it like so: Blend the water and coffee together and then pour it through a fine mesh sieve or coffee filter. Place the coffee-infused water and remaining ingredients in your blender and blend until smooth.
photo © Ildipapp