If we were all living on unlimited resources, we could certainly find some amazing superfoods from all over the world. There are a number of tropical fruits that fit into this category (acai, goji), but they are just too expensive to fit in on a tight budget. Thank goodness we have some amazing powerhouse fruits and vegetables that are native to our own backyard, which means you can either grow them or find them locally at a great price. (OK, I’m going to cheat and include a few tropical items that are still reasonably priced and so give good bang for the buck….:)
Here is my list of superfoods that you should include regularly in your diet:
1. Sweet potato: OH, this is one of my favorites. Cheap, delicious, nutritious. The Big Three. Sweet potatoes are loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals, and they have the added benefit of stabilizing blood sugars, which helps curb your appetite. Not to mention anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, and the amazing ability to add a little zing to an ordinary potato recipe.
2. Free-range eggs: Yes, there is a difference. Regular eggs are OK. Free-range eggs are superfoods. There is a huge difference between the yolks of free-range eggs and conventionally-farmed eggs (which are laid in “chicken warehouses” with thousands upon thousands of chickens smashed together): free-range yolks are a brilliant, vibrant orange. Yes, that’s right- egg yolks are SUPPOSED to be orange, not yellow! Though they may cost a dollar or two more a dozen, they still come out in the affordable range (a good free-range egg costs 30-40 cents a piece, so if I eat two for breakfast, I am still under $1- a cheap meal!). Rich in anti-oxidants, choline for brain development, and protein, eggs are a food to include!
3. Broccoli- Loaded with cancer-fighting anti-oxidants, vitamins, and fiber, broccoli is not only cheap, but also incredibly nutritious. When we are in the midst of the winter doldrums, I’ll load up on the broccoli for a good nutritional boost. If you garden, blanch and then freeze as much broccoli as you can grow. Organic broccoli is much preferred, since there is no skin to peel off.
4. Bananas- Potassium! Fiber! Protein! Vitamins! Need I say more? Bananas are good for your bones, blood, organs, and even mood. They are dirt-cheap, and though a tropical fruit, so shipped a gazillion miles to get to your door, I had to include this one. In a rush? Grab a banana, it will buy you a bit of time until you can get a good meal. And remember to go organic- bananas are sprayed with some pretty serious fungicides that leach through the peel. I’ve even seen organic bananas at Walmart lately- so it’s getting easier to find them.
5. Blueberries: We are in the middle of Michigan blueberry country, so I’m biased. But seriously, blueberries are a major brain food. Antioxidants, vitamins, fiber, taste. Yum! We grow or buy all of our organic blueberries in the summer (when organic blueberries are a mere $2.50 per pint), and freeze them for year-round use. Go blueberry picking! It’s a lot of work, like many fruit-picking experiences, but boy does it feel good to eat those blueberries, knowing exactly where they came from! My 18 month-old son LOVES frozen “babooms”. I keep them on a low freezer shelf so he can grab the bag himself. He thinks they are a treat (aren’t they, though?), and I think they are just awesome!
6. Oatmeal: Proven to lower the “bad” cholesterol and full of fiber, oatmeal is cheap, filling, hearty, versatile, and nutritious. Steel cut oats are the best, but take longer to cook. Try grinding them up in a coffee grinder to shorten the cooking time to a mere 7-10 minutes. You can cook a big batch and freeze in individual portions for a quick and nutritious breakfast. Otherwise go for the old-fashioned, which are better than the quick cooking (nutritionally speaking). Add some raisins, “babooms”, craisins, cinnamon, molasses, and/or yogurt – all of those boost your nutritional bang and your taste bud zing. Alternative: add in some multi-grain cereal for a truly wholesome breakfast.
7. Quinoa- One of the world’s oldest and healthiest grains, this ancient rice substitute is a powerhouse of protein. In fact, quinoa is a suitable protein substitute because it has an amazing array of amino acids. It is also fairly easy to cook, makes a great stuffed pepper recipe, and can be used to boost up dishes like meatloaf without even knowing it’s hiding in there! If you’ve never cooked with quinoa before, it’s time- and it’s a great food to get your kids to like.
8. Purple cabbage, beets, and other “purples”- Rich in anti-oxidants (purple cabbage has 36 anti-oxidants alone!), the purples are always a great bet. They contain an especially beneficial antioxidant, anthocyanins.
9. Avocado: OK, here is another tropical gem. Avocados are rich in vitamin K, dietary fiber, potassium, folic acid, oleic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin C, copper, and healthy calories. Some developing countries use avocado as a main source of nutrition, because they are THAT healthy. SO many ways to enjoy them, too. I think here in the US it is more common to turn them into a salty dish such as guacamole, but when I was in Sri Lanka, we ate avocados fresh from trees with a sprinkling of sugar on them. I was surprised at how tasty and refreshing they were that way. You can add them to smoothies for an extra boost, or eat them with mayonaise like they do in Japan (you can add tomato, chicken, or tuna that way). Yum! You can find them in the summer cheaper and fresher, and if you mash them up you can freeze them for later.
10. Leafy greens: THese green plants are SO easy to grow, and if you grow them yourself, they are super cheap. Kale and chard will keep growing all summer if you pick off the leaves regularly and provide a bit of shade, and they will still grow well past the first frost. That means you can have a source of leafy greens from as early as March until well into November. Chock full of nutrition, greens are a powerhouse of health: low in fat, high in dietary fiber, and rich in folic acid, vitamin C, potassium, iron, calcium, and magnesium, as well as containing a host of phytochemicals, such as lutein, beta-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene. A daily serving of leafy greens can significantly lower your risk of many ailments, including diabetes, bone disease, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer!
11. Healthy supplements: A quick and easy way to boost the nutritional value of almost anything you eat is to add one or more of the following, all rich in vitamins and minerals: nutritional yeast, sea kelp, wheat germ, flax seed oil, and molasses. Nutritional yeast has a light cheesy taste and so works well in anything “cheesy” like pastas and meatloaf, but a little bit is undetectable in yogurt, smoothies, etc. Sea kelp is salty and slightly fishy, so works good in Japanese food, or anything with a strong flavor that will hide it. Wheat germ and flax seed oil are mild and hidden well in most foods, and molasses is perfect in anything slightly sweet or earthy.