Even the most health-centric among us are craving more from their food. While the most elemental agricultural products—fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains—may be what you first think of as ideal natural choices, the fact re-mains that today's apple is not the same as the apple your grandparents ate. Although some varieties now appear larger and more attractive, in reality they are often higher in mass and calories with fewer overall nutrients.
To solve this nutritional disparity, attention is turning to superfoods: an eclectic group of plant-based foods that pack in the most micronutrients, or benefits per calorie (a quality known as "nutrient density"). From leafy greens like kale and spinach, to small seeds like chia, flax, and hemp, the nutrient-dense world of superfoods is vast and flavorful—and easy to incorporate into any diet. For those looking to revitalize their health, there are plenty of exciting new foods to try.
The South American maqui berry, also called "Chilean wineberry," is one of the world's most antioxidant-rich fruits.
Nutrients: It has a value of more than 600 ORACC per gram, more than 10 times the antioxidant power of a blackberry!
Benefits: Researchers are studying maqui's role in helping to reduce inflammation, ease arthritis, suppress blood glucose, and regulate cholesterol.
How to Prepare: Mix the tangy, bright-purple powder into smoothies, juice, or oatmeal.
Among the oldest living species on Earth, highly alkaline sea vegetables far surpass the nutrient density of any land vegetable. Varieties include nori, wakame, and kelp.
Nutrients: A quarter cup of kelp (20 grams) provides more than 16 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin K and more than 276 percent of iodine.
Benefits: Vitamin K aids with blood clotting and can help keep bones strong. Iodine supports thyroid health.
How to Prepare: Combine with vegetables, proteins, or grains. Try them in salads or in dried form as a snack. Eat in moderation, as excess iodine can lead to thyroid disorders.
Is chocolate really a superfood? The answer is yes, if it's in the form of cacao—chocolate's natural, raw state. Cacao is native to South America, where it was traditionally consumed ground up into an unsweetened drink.
Nutrients: A 2.5 tablespoon (14 grams) serving of cacao powder offers an antioxidant ORACC value of 950 per gram.
Benefits: Researchers are studying cacao's health effects, such as reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and enhancing skin's UV protection.
How to Prepare: Use cacao powder in place of unsweetened chocolate in dessert recipes or smoothies. Snack on cacao nibs.
Julie Morris is a Los Angeles-based natural foods chef and the author of Superfood Cuisine.