Kick those expensive imported miracle foods to the curb and embrace these humble local heroes instead.
The term “superfood” gets bandied about a lot (as in, too much). The darling of both the media and marketers, it’s a moniker that imparts special status upon certain foods, and often those items are shipped across the planet to find themselves in the fancy pantries of those seeking magic bullets. And while goji berries and acai and all of their exotic cousins may indeed be chockablock with antioxidants, there are plenty of equally worthy super-duper foods that don’t require exorbitant travel efforts to end up on your plate. So with that in mind, we offer some of the more unsung stars of the superfood world.
1. ArtichokesThe alien plant form known as an artichoke is one of those items that inspires thanks to whomever it was who decided to first try and eat the fearsome things. Because although they come equipped with thorns and an irritating choke, these buds of a thistle are undeniably delicious and super healthy. According to the USDA, artichokes rank as the number one vegetable in antioxidant content, including the powerful phytonutrients are cynarin and silymarin, which are great for the liver. One large artichoke contains only 25 calories, no fat, 170 milligrams of potassium, and is a good source of vitamin C, folate, magnesium and dietary fiber. A simple steamed artichoke in and of itself is a thing of beauty, but other options are lovely too, like braising them with wild leeks or making an artichoke, kale and ricotta pie.
2. AsparagusFew things say “spring” like asparagus – one bite of the tender grassy spears is nearly enough to banish memories of a long winter into oblivion. And aside from it’s bright vernal flavor, asparagus offers wonderful health benefits. A to 5.3 ounce (20 calories worth) serving provides 60 percent of the recommended daily allowance for folacin which is necessary for blood cell formation, growth, and prevention of liver disease. It is one of the richest sources of rutin, a compound which strengthens capillary walls. In addition, asparagus provides a good source of potassium, fiber, thiamin, and vitamin B6. Try steaming or tossing it with olive oil and roasting it. Or grilling it. Make soup, saute it with orange zest and pine nuts, use it instead of basil for pesto!
3. AvocadosThis may be preaching to the choir because really, does anyone need convincing to eat avocados? Unless you avoid them for their calories, that is, which you shouldn’t. Yes, they are high in fat compared to other fruits, but that fat is of the beautiful monounsaturated kind, a "good fat" that reduces levels of bad cholesterol in your blood and lowers your risk of stroke and heart disease. Plus, avocados have more potassium than bananas, and are rich in vitamin K, vitamin B, vitamin C, and vitamin E. They have 11 grams of fiber, and 4 grams of protein. Plus, they are responsible for guacamole. Amen. For further inspiration, see 10 deliciously radical avocado recipes, from soup to cheesecake.
4. BeetsWhy are beets so detested by kids? Their sweet earthy flavor and swoon-worthy color should make them Kid Favorite Number One. But I digress. Beets may be one of the humblest of superfoods, but super they are. They are loaded with all kinds of great compounds, including folate, betaine, and betacyanin, along with potassium, vitamin C, fiber, magnesium and iron. And their greens provide a good dose of lutein, an antioxidant that protects against macular degeneration and cataracts. In addition, beet juice has been favored by the sporty ever since a British study found that athletes who drank beet juice reported better endurance and a lower resting blood pressure than those who did not. Beets are happy in salads, like this roasted beet salad with green apple, feta and pistachios, but they also really shine in unusual places, like this insanely delicious beet and chocolate cake.
5. Fava beansYes, they may take a bit of work to prepare, but the buttery beans will reward your labors with their rich, nutty pea-like flavor. Plus, they may provide the key to immortality. Not really, but they are known for their high levels of L-dopa (dopamine) – an amino acid that is a neurotransmitter in the brain, and that plays a part in activities like memory, energy and sex drive – and something that declines as we age. Aside from that, they are also a great source of protein, iron, and fiber, and offer vitamin C, vitamin A, and potassium as well. Saute them, grill them, add them to a salad, toss into pasta, make a fava bean puree.
6. Fresh figsFresh figs are cheeky little things. Plump and irregular in appearance, within their skin resides that wonderfully sweet and uniquely perfumed fruit that is a goldmine of fiber and nutrients. The average fig is nearly a quarter fiber and is a good source of vitamin A, niacin, folate, potassium, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids … and they are loaded with antioxidants.
Eat them raw, with goat cheese and a drizzle of balsamic; make fig brulee, or grill them and serve with honey and homemade ricotta.