Tiny Foods with Big Promises… 5 Superfoods you should try!

It’s amazing how tiny foods like nuts, seeds and leaves can deliver big benefits to our bodies. In a culture where bigger is thought to be better these tiny superfoods can hold their own. Superfoods have been part of a wellness trend over the last decade that has brought to light the importance of eating foods that help fight disease and provide our bodies with essential nutrients.

As someone who is very interested in health and wellness in my community I must admit that I am sometimes slow to try some of these trends. I’m a big believer in holistic health and subscribe to the principle that Food is Medicine, but I have a few of my own guidelines when it comes to participating in the “trendy” health and wellness activities. For example, I think eating whole foods that are minimally messed with is the best way to nourish our bodies (think eating a delicious organic apple or steaming some broccoli instead of finding a way to get fruits and veggies into your diet without actually eating a fruit or a veggie). I also think less is more and you can eat less by choosing foods that have higher nutritional benefits and focusing on making them a staple in your diet instead of eating more foods of lower nutritional quality. I also love the idea of a “superfood” and I think consuming superfoods in moderation along with a balanced diet is a great way to ensure you are choosing nutrient dense foods. Let’s revisit what exactly it is that makes a food “super”.

What is a superfood? Nutrient dense foods that pack a healthy punch! Foods that are naturally derived and provide the body with essential vitamins, minerals, polyphenols and antioxidants. Just in case you are like me and not well versed in the chemistry of food here are a few definitions:

  • vitamins: any of a group of organic compounds that are essential for normal growth and nutrition and are required in small quantities in the diet because they cannot be synthesized by the body (source: wikipedia)
  • minerals: a solid inorganic compound occurring naturally (source: google)
  • polyphenols:  a generic term for the several thousand plant-based molecules that have antioxidant properties and according to researchers at the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, “play a role in the prevention of various diseases associated with oxidative stress, such as cancer and cardiovascular and neuro-degenerative diseases”
  • antioxidents: a substance that removes potentially damaging oxidizing agents in a living organism (source: google)

5 Tiny Superfoods with Big benefits and How to easily incorporate them into your diet

Chia Seeds: One of the oldest forms of nutrition and a staple in ancient Mayan and Aztec diets, but have only recently been recognized as a popular health food. I just started hearing about them in the last year and finally decided to give them a try this summer. They are derived from a flowering plant in the mint family and is native to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala. You can find them in many mainstream stores like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and other grocery stores carrying natural products. These seeds contain a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and protein and 2 tablespoons equal about 140 calories. Also, chia seeds happen to contain all nine essential amino acids which are the necessary muscle-building blocks our body requires but doesn’t make internally. Although scientific evidence for the health benefits of chia seeds in the human diet are limited, some of the anecdotal health benefits include lowering cholesterol, boosting energy, aiding in digestion and stabilizing blood sugar.

  • How to eat them: Chia seeds soak up liquid and expand so many people make a Chia Pudding  or a Chia Smoothie, but you can sprinkle these seeds on your salad, oatmeal or granola for a fast healthy snack!

Hemp Seeds: These tiny protein powerhouses are derived from the cannibis plant (and no they do not contain THC like other strains of the cannibus plant, so don’t worry about getting drug tested at work). Hemp seeds contain all of the essential amino acids and are considered a complete source of protein. They also contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids which are the healthy fats that provide optimal support for the brain, hormones, and even the heart. They are also rich in magnesium, iron, and potassium. The body needs these nutrients to combat oxidative stress, reduce inflamation, support neurotransmitter function, and balance blood sugar.

Goji Berries: Also known as a wolfberry, these tiny red berries are native to China and have been used for medicinal remedies for over 2,000 years. These little berries are antioxident rich and packed with nutrients like potassium, iron, zinc, riboflavin. Ancient chinese doctors recognized these berries as helpful in improving blurred vision and macular degeneration. Other potential benefits of goji berries include reducing risk for diabetes, reducing high blood pressure, treating poor circulation, fever, malaria, and cancer however there is no published scientific research to date to back this up.

  • How to eat them: Goji berries are primarily found dried, like raisins, and can be consumed by the handful. To add them to your smoothie try soaking them first, then toss them in the blender. You can also add goji berries to your favorite trail mix.

Pumpkin Seeds: We all know where to find pumpkin seeds and if you have ever toasted them after carving your Halloween pumpkins, you’ll know how delicious they are. Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of the mineral zinc and rich in a variety of antioxidants.  These seeds have long been valued for their anti-microbial benefits, including their anti-fungal and anti-viral properties making them a great snack to ward off disease.

  • How to eat them: Opt for raw pumpkin seeds and light roast them yourself to preserve the nutritional quality as high heat can reduce the nutrient effectiveness. Try these suggestions from whfoods.org : Add pumpkin seeds to healthy sautéed vegetables. Sprinkle pumpkin seeds on top of mixed green salads. Grind pumpkin seeds with fresh garlic, parsley and cilantro leaves and mix with olive oil and lemon juice for a tasty salad dressing.

Matcha: I recently tried this green powder as a substitute for my morning coffee and I was pleasantly surprised. Matcha literally means “powdered tea” and just like it sounds, green tea leaves are ground into a fine powder which is then added to boiled water or milk. The difference between matcha and traditional green tea is when you steep a bag of tea leaves you then discard the leaves after the flavor is infused with your water. With matcha, you recieve all the nutritional benefits of the entire green tea leaf which can be 10 times the amount of antioxidents and polyphenols found in your traditional cup of green tea. The nutrients in matcha have been associated with protection against heart disease and cancer, as well as better blood sugar regulation, blood pressure reduction, and anti-aging. Matcha does contain caffiene, but the “buzz” is different and provides boosted energy for a longer period of time. many people claim matcha is an excellent aid in meditation because it provides alertness and enhances concentration with a sense of calm.

  • How to use: Combine matcha powder with boiled water or milk. I like to used almond milk. You can whisk to combine the powder and liquid and encourage a frothy-like texture.

Have you guys tried any of these superfoods? What are some of your favorite ways to enjoy these foods?

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