Unless you’re on top of your smoothie game (anything and everything can be thrown into the blender), it seems you’ll have to settle for a less-than-super diet—or, do you? Superfoods like cacao, chia seeds and seaweed are much more versatile than you might think. Sideline your skepticism for just a moment and see how you can sneak these nutritional all-stars into almost any meal. The only extra legwork required is tossing them into your grocery cart.
Raw Cacao Powder
Chocolate is no longer dessert-exclusive. The real stuff—we’re talking raw cacao powder, before it’s processed and mixed with tons of sugar—can be added to any dish. It’s important to opt for non-alkalized cocoa powder because it retains the highest concentration of flavonoids (antioxidants), which are often removed during processing due to their bitter taste. For breakfast, mix it into smoothies, oatmeal and pancake batter. Making chili? Cocoa adds a rather rich flavor profile, and many existing recipes already include it. And, of course, if you’re serving up any kind of frozen treat, simply sprinkle cacao powder or cacao nibs on top for a health boost that will simultaneously quiet your chocolate cravings.
Seaweed is no one-trick pony. Sushi may be the only thing that comes to mind when you think of the sea vegetable, but what many people don’t know is that this superfood comes in many forms, expanding its utility ten-fold. Dulse is an edible seaweed high in many vitamins and minerals. It’s known specifically for its high iodine content, which helps keep your thyroid functioning properly. You can find dulse at the supermarket in flake form sold in small shakers, like spices. Use it as you would a spice and in place of salt! Shake onto salads, vegetable dishes, pastas, baked potatoes, corn on the cob and soups.
Once a humble, unknown (if you can believe it) superfood, chia seeds have made their way into the mainstream. Smoothies and puddings are not the only way to get more into your diet. Chia seeds can actually be used in salad dressings, sprinkled over oatmeal and desserts, mixed into stir-fries and added to baked goods. One ounce of the tiny seeds contains an impressive 11 grams of dietary fiber. A few tablespoons are enough to keep you full and your blood sugar stable, making them a very diet-friendly food.
“These are a great source of minerals; they’re lower in fat than almonds, and they offer antifungal and antiviral properties,” says Angela Lemond, R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Remember, just one teaspoon goes a long way—don’t overdo it because they’re calorie-dense. These seeds are perfect for breakfast, as they go well in granolas, breakfast porridges and mixed into yogurt. You can also toss them in salads and stir-fries for an easy health boost at lunch or dinner.
More often than not when anyone hears the word “yeast”, they don’t exactly start salivating. However, those familiar with this dairy-free Parmesan substitute know just how good it is. Nutritional yeast is an inactive yeast made from sugar cane and beet molasses. It’s got a nutty, cheesy flavor profile and boasts a whopping eight to ten grams of protein per two tablespoons. Use it exactly as you would Parmesan cheese. You can use nutritional yeast to create creamy, indulgent salad dressings, pour over popcorn as a healthy topping and sprinkle over steamed veggies, stir-fries and pasta for an indulgent dish that only tastes sinful.
“Tried and true, garlic makes most things taste better and contains strong antibacterial powers. It also helps keep small and large blood vessels elastic as you age,” says Lemond. Garlic can easily be forgotten when crafting your diet plan, however, it would serve you well to include more. Chopped, crushed, or minced—whichever you prefer–garlic is perfect for nearly any dish you cook in a frying pan. Use it in homemade sauces or combined with olive oil as a quick rub on meats and veggies when baking. For breakfast Lemond suggests using garlic on sliced and pan-grilled potatoes and in any egg dish. Shakshuka is a healthy, easy option to experiment with. All you need is one skillet, eggs, tomato sauce, a few spices and, of course, garlic!
This leafy green made headlines when it topped the list of powerhouse foods in a study conducted by Researchers at William Paterson University in New Jersey, which measured the nutritional density of various foods. Watercress surprised everyone by significantly outranking kale in the results. Consuming this superfood has been credited with helping to lower blood pressure, cutting your risk for cancer and diabetes and helping to keep bones healthy. Watercress is often used in salads, but it can also be added to pasta dishes, mixed into stir-fries and even added to smoothies. Proceed slowly, however, watercress has a slightly peppery flavor profile and too much could overpower your shake. Start by adding a small amount at first; a little goes a long way!
Spinach is undoubtedly one of the most versatile foods out there. Due to its subtle flavor and texture, spinach can be added to many meals undetected. Toss it in your morning omelets and smoothies, whip up a lunchtime salad or soup, use it in sauces, pasta dishes and stir-fries, or sauté for a healthy side dish. There are even recipes that sneak it–undetected–into brownies! Spinach is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, calcium, fiber and protein, and is also very low in calories. The more spinach you can sneak into your diet, the happier and healthier your body will be.
Small but mighty, these powerful nuts have been found to help suppress appetite and boost energy–among other health benefits. Too often, though, they get passed by in the supermarket. “Pine nuts are an excellent source of manganese, a powerful inhibitor of free radicals, [which cause damage to the body and can play a role in the development of cancer and aging],” says Lemond. “You can add these to anything, but they’re wonderful when sautéing dark green veggies.” Not feeling a sauté? Toss them into salads and grain dishes. Pine nuts also add a nice flavor and texture to pesto, which is a great sauce to pair with pasta and meats. They can even lend a hand to sweeter dishes like Pignoli cookies, which are made with almond paste and pine nuts.