It's tough not to be jaded by the revolving door of superfood trends. One day we're hearing about the latest miracle berry pulled from the depths of the Amazon; it promises to shrink our waistline, boost our immunity, give us glossy locks that would make a Kardashian jealous, and possibly cure the common cold. And then by the time we've Amazon Prime-ed it to our doorstep, we're told it's all bunk. The unending cycle is enough to make us want to just face-plant into a bowl of massaged kale and call it a day.
Still, amid the BS and gimmicks, there are some offbeat foods that really do live up to a lot of the hype. Miracle workers they are not (spoiler: nothing is), but their nutritional résumés are nonetheless remarkable—so much so that some of them have even earned endorsements from the likes of Silicon Valley and NASA, in addition to other scientists and nutritional experts. Keep reading to see which superfoods you should really be keeping in your pantry.
Are you screaming yet? Believe it or not, insects are the latest food concept craze to hit Silicon Valley: Fortune recently reported that more than 25 different startups peddling edible critters have launched in the last three or four years, and Exo, a company that makes cricket flour protein bars, just got $4 million in funding this past March. Most of these companies acknowledge the grossness factor as their biggest marketing hurdle, but if you can get past it, it's worth noting that many insects are extremely rich in vital nutrients. Plus it's generally cheap to source with a minimal eco-footprint—hence the immense interest in the startup world.
"Cricket flour is an environmentally friendly source of protein and fat and a good alternative to more standard animal products if you're feeling adventurous," says Claire Shorenstein, registered dietitian at Find Your Trainer. Just a little more than a tablespoon of the cricket flour seen here has 7 grams of protein, 20% of your daily value of riboflavin, and 2% of your daily values of calcium and iron.
Aside from doubling as a tasty cheese substitute, nutritional yeast is packed with nutrients like folic and amino acids, B-spectrum vitamins, and protein. But experts are especially smitten with this brand, which is specifically fortified with vitamin B12—an essential nutrient for body function that's generally found in animal products, leaving those with plant-based diets out of luck. Sprinkle it on popcorn, salad, or pasta for a boost of savory flavor.
If it's NASA-approved, you know it's good. Word first got out about this dark green algae after astronauts began using it as a supplement during space missions, to great success. In addition to containing an extremely high concentration of protein (70%) as well as vitamin B-12, iron, and vitamin A, spirulina doesn't contain cellulose, which makes it a lot easier for the body to digest. Shorenstein also points out that it has anti-inflammatory properties, to which I can attest firsthand: It's the only hangover remedy I ever use.
Every time you strain out the goopy liquid in your canned chickpeas, you're essentially pouring nutritional goodness down the drain. The water that chickpeas are cooked in actually retains a lot of the good stuff that the beans themselves are known for, including folate, protein, zinc, and iron. But aquafaba is actually taking Pinterest recipe boards by storm this year for another interesting reason: "It's now known to be a great egg-white foam substitute in cooking and baking for vegans," says Shorenstein.
Keeping our hormones in check is tricky business, especially when there are so many seemingly innocuous things in our world that can through them out of whack (giving you the stink-eye, nail polish). But studies show that maca, a root that is generally dried and ground into a powder, has a balancing effect and can thus be helpful in boosting energy, stamina, and even alleviating PMS symptoms. It also has a delicious butterscotch-like flavor.
Scientists have been showing a growing interest in this little-known plant, thanks to promising studies that highlight its anti-inflammatory and de-stressing properties as well as its high content of flavonoids, aka the same variety of antioxidants found in red wine. But perhaps the most noteworthy nutrient found in Sea Buckthorn is omega-7, a very rare fatty acid that aids with inflammation, lowers bad cholesterol, and is even associated with weight loss.
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