The Healthiest Foods You’ve Never Heard Of

A couple of years ago, the term “superfood” was coined when fourteen foods – to name a few, blueberries, oats, salmon, walnuts, and spinach – were crowned as the most nutritious, antioxidant-packed, disease-fighting foods. Since then, other foods have made headlines for their same disease-fighting properties. Açai berry was the new blueberry and quinoa replaced oats. More foods – including herbs, spices, and teas – were added to the list, as well as less common and more tropical and ethnic foods such as kimchi, mangosteen, and turmeric. Today, here are six domestic and international foods – that you’ve probably never heard of – that stand up to these dated superfoods.

Kohlrabi is the much-forgotten about younger brother in the brassica family, which also houses cabbage, kale, broccoli, collard greens and brussels sprouts. It’s characteristics are a blend of the former vegetables; its bulb looks and tastes like a small cabbage or large brussels sprout, while its green, leafy stems resemble collard greens and taste similar to broccoli. This tuber is incredibly high in fiber and vitamin C: per cup, it serves 4.9 gram of fiber and more than 100% of the RDA for vitamin C with 84 mg. It’s also high in cancer-fighting glucosinolates, organic sulfur-containing compounds that inhibit malignant cell and tumor growth. Try roasting kohlrabi with garlic and olive oil and serving it with Romesco sauce for a simple side dish, or enjoy its dark greens wilted in a pasta dish.

Aronia Berry
The Aronia berry, also called a chokeberry, are North America’s answer to Brazil’s açai berry and the Himalaya’s goji berry. Aronia berries may rank as the highest fruit on the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scale, giving them incredibly potent antioxidant powers. Aronia berries get their dark purple (almost black) hues from anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that protects against inflammation, age-related neurological deficits, and cardiovascular disease. Scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have also indicated that Aronia berries are effective aids to weight maintenance by preventing the storage of dangerous fat around the abdomen. Aronia berries are known for their tart taste (hence the name chokeberry), but you can still enjoy them sprinkled on yogurt, cereal, or in pancakes for a zesty kick. To tone down their tartness, mix them up into smoothies, mixed berry jams and compotes, or sip on some chokeberry-spiked green tea.

Hemp Seed
You can do a lot more with this seed than sport homemade hemp necklaces. Hemp seeds, which actually are not seeds, but fruit, contain all nine essential amino acids, making them an excellent source of protein for vegetarians and vegans. Omnivores may want to jump on the bandwagon too, because hemp seeds go where beef and chicken can’t: they contain both healthy fatty acids and fiber, making them quite a multitasking food. Hemp seeds naturally have the optimum 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, a balance that is important to maintain cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory health (the average American diet delivers more than ten times the recommended amount of omega-6 fatty acids ). Rounding out hemp seed’s trifecta of macronutrients, they contain fibers and plant sterols that aid digestion decrease your risk of colon and prostate cancer. Though similar to flaxseed oil and chia seeds, hemp seed oil distinguishes itself as one of the only sources of gamma linoleic acid. GLA is an anti-inflammatory fatty acid that supports a healthy metabolism and facilitates fat burning, improves cholesterol, and can help in balancing hormones. Hemp seeds and oil have a mild nutty flavor and can be added to smoothies, baked goods, soups, salads, and oatmeal without overpowering their tastes. Store your hemp seeds in the refrigerator to prevent the breakdown of omega-3 fatty acids from heat and oxygen.

Nori and Kelp
You’re probably already eating one of these sea vegetables: nori is the dark green wrapping around the sushi you order. These foods, both a type of seaweed, are relatively new in the West, but they’ve been enjoyed and eaten in the East for thousands of years. Sea vegetables were held with such regard in Hawaii that only royalty could keep gardens with sea vegetables. These small but mighty vegetables are remarkable for their high mineral content. In fact, 40% of nori’s weight comes from minerals alone, running the gamut from vitamin A to zinc. Sea vegetables are the richest source of iodine, a mineral that is necessary for thyroid efficiency and also plays a role in depression, obesity, and fatigue. Nori and kelp also contain vanadium, a mineral that may help control diabetes and insulin sensitivity by converting blood sugars to storeable starches and preventing the overproduction of glucose. Further distinguishing themselves from other vegetables, nori and kelp contain fucoidans, branched and sulfated polysaccharides. This slimy component of seaweed has multiple benefits: they enhance immunity by increasing natural killer cell activity and the activation of macrophage, B-cells, and T-cells; they act as an anti-inflammatory by blocking inflammatory pathways; and they increase cardiovascular health by decreasing unwanted clotting behavior. Nori and kelp are popular in Japanese restaurants in sushi, salads, soups and tofu dishes. In your own kitchen, try sprinkling crumbled nori on top of rice and other grains. Kelp is a great natural thickener and can be added to soups, stews, and bean dishes for a an extra hearty kick.

Coffee Berry
You may already have heard about coffee berry as a potent ingredient in anti-aging and depigmenting skincare products. It’s a good thing that these same antioxidants are just as beneficial when ingested instead of being slathered on, because one gram of coffee berry is said to have the same antioxidant effects as a pound and a half of blueberries! Because coffee berry is grown at high-altitude areas near the equator, it gets a lot of sun exposure. The protect itself from damaging rays and oxidative stress, the fruit synthesizes antioxidants called phenolic acids – most notably, caffeic acid, ferulic acid, and p-coumaric acid. Phenolic acids, along with bioflavonoids called anthocyanins and proanthocyanins, can protect our skin from the harmful effects of the sun’s rays, too: they react with damaging free radicals to protect the skin’s tone and elasticity. They also have anti-inflammatory properties, which can aid in the treatment of acne, eczema, and dermatitis. Coffee berry is a virtuous fruit, because once inside your body, it helps to preserve other antioxidants already chipping away at oxidative stress, thus improving cardiovascular and neurological health. In the lab, coffee berry extract, which is rich in chlorogenic acid, has been shown to fight diabetes and metabolic disorders by maintaining balanced blood sugar levels and may help in the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders. You can get some of these benefits by sipping a cup of coffee every day, but you’ll get more bang for your buck with coffee berry teas and extracts.

Purslane is regarded as a weed in the U.S., yet across Asia and Europe it’s grown as a staple leafy green vegetable. Perhaps it’s time that we start using it in our dishes too, because this weed packs more of a nutritional punch than several other more popular superfoods: it contains more vitamin C than cabbage; more vitamin A than beets; and more iron and calcium than swiss chard. Like these superfoods, it contains plenty of free radical-scavenging antioxidants, and its vitamins A, C, and E help enhance skin health, immunity, and essential metabolic processes. Like the superfood spinach, purslane also contains alpha linolenic acid, making it a great source of omega-3 fatty acids for vegetarians. But with 8.5 mg of ALAs per gram, it contains five times the amount found in spinach, making it the richest source of ALAs found in a green vegetable. Alpha linolenic acid is a precursor to DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that contributes to cardiovascular health by regulating blood pressure and decreasing cholesterol. Purslane is the eighth most commonly distributed plant in the world, so this supercrop should be popping up in groceries everywhere. Purslane has a lemony taste that is more mild than spinach and arugula. Use it as a salad base or for garnish in meat, pasta, and soup dishes.


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