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12 accessible superfoods for 2012

Easy-to-find choices to boost your health, vary your diet

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Last year, every food pundit and hack journalist in North America told you to run out and eat acai and goji berries and Jerusalem artichokes. Trouble is that most grocery stores don't carry any of those things.

A year later, you are no healthier and really no closer to everlasting life.

I have a different approach. I believe that many of the foods you should be incorporating into your diet are relatively easy to find.

A few of the foods on this list may be unfamiliar, but that doesn't mean they are difficult to find or hard to work with. In many cases, a quick Google search will turn up dozens of recipes.

Most of the items are plants and seeds, and if they replace a little of the meat and cheese in your diet, you'll be better for it.

Food seeds are usually high in fibre, omega-3 fatty acids and alpha linolenic acid. Sheila Innis, director of nutrition and metabolism at the University of British Columbia's Child and Family Research Institute, still likes good old ground flax seed as an inexpensive, high-nutrient option.

Here are 12 superfoods that will not only make you healthier, but that you also have a fighting chance of finding at your neighbourhood grocery store.

Pomegranate

When other fruits start to disappear from stores, pomegranate comes to the rescue. Rich in polyphenol antioxidants, pomegranate is touted as a potential cancer-fighter and may help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. It's also loaded with vitamins and potassium. "These benefits almost categorically refer to all bright red fruits. Pomegranate gets the spotlight due to its winter season, while most other bright red fruits are in season in the summer time," says dietitian Gloria Tsang, author of Go unDiet. Pomegranate is especially effective at slowing the progression of prostate cancer and improving circulation, Tsang says. Pomegranate seeds are great on their own, sprinkled on yogurt or in salads. To harvest the seeds without staining everything in the kitchen, run your knife around the fruit just deep enough to cut through the outer peel, maybe an eighth of an inch. Pry the fruit in half. Put a few litres of water in a large bowl and turn the peel inside out under the water. Separate the seeds from the pith. Drain and eat.

Quinoa

Quinoa was on every superfoods list last year, and I'm betting you still haven't tried it. But interest was high enough that lots of quinoa products are now easy to find at the grocery store. It's the darling grain for people with celiac disease or other gastrointestinal sensitivities. These tiny seeds have a ton of uses. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is great added whole to whole grain bread recipes. Because quinoa contains no gluten, a lot of people substitute quinoa flour in baking, and any place you'd use flour. As a side dish, it cooks up very much like fine rice or couscous, which makes it a nice match with stews and braises. Cooked and cooled, it makes a nice salad item and it keeps for days in the fridge. Tsang notes that quinoa has a "stellar nutritional profile" and was the overall leader in a recent whole grains faceoff at healthcastle.com.

Chia

This stuff is hot, hot, hot. These are the same seeds that kids smear on cheap Mexican pottery to grow a little green friend. Turns out they're also edible and were a big favourite of the ancient Aztecs. You want digestive regularity? Chia seeds are the WD-40 of the diet world. Want to lower your cholesterol? Chia is an amazingly rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. You want non-meat protein? Chia has that, too. Sprinkle chia seeds on your cereal (some healthy cereals already incorporate chia into their recipes) or sprout them and put them in salads and sandwiches. Substitute chia flour into your baking.

Kale

No superfoods list is complete without kale. It might just be the healthiest food on the planet. Kale is high in fibre, vitamins A, C and K, and contains nearly every trace mineral you care to name. Feeling a little low on manganese? Kale is your new best friend. Kale is a rich source of multiple nutrients, including lutein and zeaxanthins, which reduce the risk of age-related eye disease, according to Innis. Dark green lacinato kale is available in most supermarkets, but you probably just walk right by. Kale is also very easy to grow and loves the rain as much as it does the sun. Simmer chopped kale in your vegetable soup, sauté it with garlic, or add it to casseroles.

Farro

This ancient form of wheat was the fuel that built the pyramids. The ancient Egyptians used farro to make bread and beer. Farro has about twice the fibre of modern wheat and is much lower in gluten, which means it's not great for baking for modern tastes. Farro can be eaten whole in soups, as it is in Turkey, or boiled and baked in casseroles, as it is in Italy. Simmered for 40 minutes, farro is delicious in a salad of chopped herbs, peppers and scallions with a lemon vinaigrette, as it is served at my house.

Kangaroo

I know, they look a bit like giant rats. But there are compelling reasons to consider eating kangaroo, for your own health and that of the planet. Planet first: Kangaroos eat forage food on otherwise marginal land and don't produce greenhouse gases when they digest. If you are worried that your steak is accelerating climate change, think roo. Nutritionally, kangaroo is about as good as red meat gets. Roo is very high in protein and contains only one per cent fat. A beef rib-eye contains about 15 per cent fat. Regular ground beef is around 20 per cent fat. Roo is also a great source of iron, zinc and potassium. Butchers that stock game meat often carry kangaroo.

Hemp hearts

You might need a side trip to the healthy food store for hemp seed, but it's worth it. Hulled hemp seeds are spectacularly high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and are an excellent source of protein. The heart of the hemp seed is also extraordinarily rich in vitamin E, phosphorus, manganese and magnesium. Throw hemp hearts in everywhere: smoothies, sandwiches, over cereal and savoury dishes. You can crust meats with hemp hearts, salt and black pepper, or add them to bread and pastry recipes for texture and a nutty flavour.

Spirulina

The single-celled blue-green algae has been slow to catch on in North America, but is widely used in East Asia. Loaded with protein and calcium, spirulina usually comes in powdered form, so it's less a food than it is a supplement. Spirulina is used as a home remedy for anemia and joint inflammation and to reduce appetite for weight loss. Spirulina can absorb toxins where it is grown, so buy only tested organic products from a reputable source. Tsang isn't enthusiastic about powdered vegetables, but highly recommends sea vegetables in their fresh or dried form, especially nori, wakame and dulse.

Black garlic

Leave it to the Koreans to improve on something as perfect as garlic. Fermenting garlic increases levels of S-allyl cysteine, which is touted to lower cholesterol and fight cancer. Garlic is also a natural antibiotic, antifungal and anti-inflammatory. Black garlic has twice the cell-preserving antioxidants of fresh garlic, and that's a lot. Is there anything that black garlic can't do? Put black garlic in dips, smear it on crostini or use to garnish a steak. It's also a natural for creamy pasta sauce. Innis says the jury is still out about the real health benefits of garlic, but she eats B.C.-grown Russian garlic nonetheless.

Avocado

Avocados might just be the fattiest food that is good for you. Creamy and luxurious, avocados can help your body absorb fat-soluble nutrients from the other foods you eat. They are rich in monounsaturated cholesterol-lowering fats, vitamin E and folate, which is particularly important for women of child-bearing age. Though not thoroughly studied, avocados have been shown to reduce cholesterol. Innis notes that avocados are also rich in B6, which is usually found in meat. They are richer in potassium than bananas and contain plenty of insoluble fibre.

Chickpeas

Unglamorous and under-appreciated, the chickpea is an inexpensive source of protein and carbohydrate and an extraordinary source of dietary fibre. Innis notes that one cup (270 calories) will give 71 per cent of an adult's daily needs for folate, 26 per cent for iron, 20 per cent of magnesium, 17 per cent zinc, 28 per cent phosphorus and 14 per cent potassium. Hummus, the creamy dip beloved in the Middle East, is easily made in a food processor with chickpeas, tahini, olive oil and lemon.

Dates and figs

Dried figs and dates are a sweet treat with a better than average nutritional upside. Both are rich in lutien and zeaxanthin (to prevent macular degeneration), and fibre. Innis also likes that dates are rich in iron, copper and potassium. Throw in antioxidant flavonoids and tannins, and you have what many scientists suspect is a natural cancer fighter. Dried figs and dates are also both terrific natural laxatives, if that's important to you. I'm just saying.

-- Postmedia News

Dip without the guilt

Hummus, the creamy dip beloved in the Middle East, is easily made in a food processor with chickpeas, tahini, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. If you like to dig deep when you dip, like I do, dig into this without guilt.

The Green Man's roasted-red-pepper hummus

1 540 mL can of chickpeas, rinsed

2 tablespoons (30 mL) tahini

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1 roasted red pepper

1 teaspoon (5 mL) sea salt

Juice of one lemon

1/4 cup (60 mL) olive oil

Method: Place all ingredients in a food processor and mix until smooth. Pour into a bowl and serve with pita bread, crackers, chips and veggies for dipping.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 11, 2012 C1

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