Looking to add more superfoods to your diet? Yet again, there’s no need to take a trip to the health food store or spend a small fortune on powders and roots from thousands of miles away. Just rifle through your cupboards — you may already have a pantry full of superfoods.
Here are nine more of our favorite pantry super foods:
Kale may be the favorite child these days, but cabbage is another superstar in the cruciferous vegetable family. Chock-full of anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and cancer fighting glucosinolates, cabbage is an excellent source of vitamins C, K, A, manganese, folate, and dietary fiber. Additionally, cabbage has cholesterol-lowering benefits. When you eat cabbage, fiber-related nutrients bind together with some of the bile acids in your intestine, which causes them to pass through you (you know what I mean) rather than being absorbed. Your liver then needs to replace these bile acids and does so by using up some of your existing supply of cholesterol, which then causes your blood-cholesterol levels to go down. Cabbage for the win!
Ever been told to eat the rainbow, or to seek out brightly colored fruits and vegetables as the most nutritious? But the pale-white cruciferous cauliflower is a noteworthy exception to this rule. Loaded with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory health benefits, cauliflower is just as rich in phytonutrients as its green cousins, and is an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate. It is a great source of vitamin B5, potassium, dietary fiber, and a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, vitamins B1-3, and iron.
Another widely-believed nutrition rule that cauliflower is an exception to is the idea that raw vegetables must be healthier. In fact, lightly cooking cauliflower by steaming or roasting improves its ability to bind with bile acids in our digestive tract, making cooked cauliflower a heart-healthy choice. With all this goodness, ain’t it great that cauliflower is such a versatile vegetable? Make cauliflower rice, cauliflower pizza crust, buffalo cauliflower “wings” and more, and feel good about getting this superstar veg into your diet.
What’s not to love about lentils? A nutritional powerhouse rich in plant-based protein, these lovely little legumes are a quick and easy mainstay of any diet. In addition to protein, lentils are a very good source of dietary fiber. The combination of protein and fiber slows the passage of food through the digestive tract leading to increased satiety, all the while helping to keep blood sugar stable, and providing a steady source of energy. But the benefits don’t stop there; lentils are a rich source of non-heme (plant-based) iron. They’re also a great source of heart-healthy folate and magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, zinc, potassium, and B6. Unlike many other legumes, lentils don’t require any soaking prior to cooking, so they can be out of the pot and into your mouth in just about 20 minutes.
It’s pumpkin season, and those beauties aren’t just for carving! Pumpkin, and other yellow-fleshed winter squash such as butternut, acorn, and spaghetti, are jam packed full of nutrients. Carotenes, the compound responsible for their yellow colour, are a pre-cursor to vitamin A, which is important for our vision. Pumpkin (and other winter squash) is also one of the richest available sources of plant based anti-inflammatory nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for a strong immune system. But in addition to that, winter squash contain several important antioxidants such as carotenoids, vitamin C, and manganese. All that plus a good dose of blood-sugar regulating dietary fiber, vitamin B6, B2, copper, potassium, folate, vitamin K, magnesium, and niacin. Let’s get eating those Jack-o-lanterns!
While we’re on the subject of pumpkin, be sure to save those edible seeds you scooped out from the center. They’re a great source of healthy oils and fats including linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid, and oleic acid, which is the same monounsaturated fatty acid found in olive oil. And you can roast up and chomp on the seeds from other winter squash as well. Try it out next time you dice up a butternut or acorn squash.
Dating back thousands of years, yogurt is one of the original super foods! Sure it’s packed with protein, calcium, and vitamin B12, but did you know that probiotic yogurts have been found to lower blood cholesterol levels? Not only that, but the live bacteria culture can become active in our digestive tract, supporting our digestive health and enhancing nutrient absorption. Yogurt also can provide blood sugar benefits by moderating the passage of food through our digestive tract.
It’s important to note that not all yogurts are created equal. There are no set regulatory guidelines around the use of the term “probiotic” and while most commercially sold yogurts do contain at some live bacteria, the health benefits of truly probiotic yogurt are noted at levels of millions of live bacteria per gram of yogurt. Read those labels!
If you’ve been adding flax seeds to your diet for a while now, consider switching things up with the humble sesame seed. Sesame seeds, like flax, are a good source of cholesterol lowering lignans. You may have heard that sesame seeds are a good source of plant based calcium, and while this is true, whole sesame seeds with their hulls intact provide nearly twice as much calcium as hulled seeds do. Tahini paste is most often made with hulled seeds, but there are certainly brands out there that use whole seeds, so check your labels. Copper is another important mineral found in sesame seeds, which contributes to joint health via anti-inflammatory and antioxidant enzymes. Sesame seeds are also a source of manganese, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc and dietary fiber.
If you’re still lamenting the end of summer produce, look to the freezer for some super food goodness. Frozen peas are low in fat, high in dietary fiber, and are a good source of protein, but they’re also loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients including beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc. The high fiber content in peas coupled with protein is helpful both in lowering cholesterol and stabilizing blood sugar levels. Not only are peas a super food, but they’re also considered an environmentally friendly crop as they provide the soil with nitrogen and help prevent soil erosion.
Wrapped in their own environmentally friendly packaging, bananas have got a lot going on under that yellow skin. They’re a great source of potassium, which is an important mineral for our cardiovascular health. Additionally, bananas contain small amounts of fats called sterols, which are structurally similar to cholesterol. Because of this similarity, these sterols can block the absorption of dietary cholesterol, which in turn is beneficial for our blood cholesterol levels. Bananas are also a good source of dietary fiber, including water-soluble pectins, which act to slow the rate at which carbohydrates are digested, which in turn prevents blood sugar spikes. Another fiber-related benefit comes from unique fructose-containing carbohydrates called fructooligosaccharides, which are typically not broken down in our digestive tracts. Rather, they remain intact until they are eaten by friendly bacteria in our lower intestines, which supports our bacterial colonies and overall digestive health.